The Reign and Thorns are tied with 20 points each in the NWSL standings.
For Seattle Reign FC, any meeting opposite archrival Portland Thorns FC is a big match. And Saturday’s matchup between the two clubs is no different.
The Reign doesn’t want to lose to its rival at home in the second match of the day’s Cascadia doubleheader. The Sounders take on the Portland Timbers earlier in the afternoon. And, after beating Portland last month, the Reign is in contention to win the season series against the Thorns.
More important are the standings. The Reign (5-3-5) and Thorns (5-4-5) are tied with 20 points each, two points behind second-place Orlando.
The Reign haven’t won since May 26 and it needs to earn three points and gain some ground as it enters the latter half of the National Women’s Soccer League regular season.
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“We have to continue to grind games out and take games by the scruff of the neck,” Reign forward Megan Rapinoe said. “Nothing is given in this league.”
Certainly nothing is given against the Thorns, who field an aggressive attack that is third in the league with 20 goals scored.
Even during Seattle’s four-game winless streak, the Reign’s three-tie, one-loss run belies much of the solid play, particularly on the defensive front. Reign goalkeepers Lydia Williams and Michelle Betos have combined for six shutouts — tied for most in the league — with half coming in the last four games.
To limit Portland’s attack — which scored twice against the Reign in a 3-2 loss on May 5 — Seattle will have to shut down two of the league’s top scorers, Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan, who have scored seven and six goals, respectively.
“In 90 minutes, we cannot lose our focus at any point in time because they have such incredible players and attacking weapons that they’ll take advantage of every little miscommunication or misjudgment that we may have,” Reign coach Vlatko Andonovski said.
Even if the Thorns can be tamed, the Reign will need to convert on scoring opportunities, which it has struggled to do of late. The club has recorded at least five shots on goal in three of its last four games, but has scored only once since beating Sky Blue FC on May 26.
“I think that’s just a focus thing,” Reign forward Megan Rapinoe said. “(We need to) understand how important those moments are in the game and continue trying to make sure that we’re focused for them and try to put teams away early.”
Portland has dealt with a slew of injuries since the beginning of the season and is just beginning to return to its intended form, though midfielder Tobin Heath (right ankle) remains questionable and defender Emily Menges (hip) is out for Saturday.
“They’re a much better side now with all these players coming back to them, some of the players that they have added,” Vlatko said. “They’re going to be disciplined and organized and aggressive. … That’s pretty much their identity and we’re going to have to be able to match that.”
Saturday’s game will be the third game in eight days for both teams. They played Wednesday, with Seattle tying Utah on the road and Portland tying Sky Blue FC at home.
For the Reign, playing its archrival at home for a much-needed win may help overcome some of that fatigue.
“(The rivalry) is fun. It brings a little extra something special to the game, a little extra meaning,” Rapinoe said. “Especially coming off a midweek (game), it gives you that little extra boost, extra adrenaline knowing that you never want to drop one at home to those guys.”