Skip to content

NWSL Game of the Week: Portland Thorns vs. Seattle Reign

Apr 19, 2013, 6:20 PM EDT

NWSL logo

PORTLAND, Ore. — On Sunday, Portland Thorns FC host the first NWSL Cascadia derby when the Seattle Reign visit JELD-WEN field. With over 14,000 expected to witness Portland’s home opener, the new country’s new women’s league will see its first five-digit crowd. In their first of four meetings this season (one which will be streamed on the league’s YouTube channel), Portland versus Seattle is our NWSL Game of the Week.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Can you have a rivalry against a team you’ve never played?

It seems illogical two teams who’ve never played will automatically will be rivals, but this is Cascadia, and this is soccer. While a new NBA team in the Emerald City may not spark instant tension with the Trailblazers, Cascadian soccer culture mandates the Thorns and Reign be rivals.

“It’s articulated in the Sounders-Timbers rivalry going back decades,” Reign owner Bill Predmore said, alluding to the NASL legacy of the regions MLS teams. “I think there’s going to be a lot of crossover from fan perspective. You’re going to see Sounders fans who are Reign fans, Timbers fans who are Thorns fans … I think that’s a great fit.”

For the Thorns, the rivalry allows them to build on that Timbers-Sounders intensity, something that could help the city’s new team share support with its MLS brethren. For Predmore, the dynamic could prove an important part of his nascent club’s growth.

“It think [the rivalry is] pretty important,” Predmore said. “Right now, for instance, our best selling matches are the two we’re going to play in Seattle against the Thorns … we’re absolutely seeing the budding rivalry is driving fan interest.”

But is the rivalry really budding? It’s impossible to know until game time. As Seattle head coach and general manager Laura Harvey said, “all that matters is what happens Sunday at two o’clock.”

Until then the question lingers: Can you truly have a rivalry before playing a game. Here’s what seven principles said when asked:

Dignitary Response
Cindy Parlow Cone
Head Coach, Thorns FC
“I don’t know. Don’t you guys set up the rivalries more so than we do? (It’s) the fans and the media.”
Laura Harvey
Head Coach/General Manager, Reign FC
“All that matters is what happens Sunday at two o’clock … It’s something the fans look forward to, the players look forward to, the coaches look forward to.”
Alex Morgan
Forward, Thorns FC
“All of Portland knows that it doesn’t matter what it is. Seattle and Portland always have a great rivalry … It’s just the way it is, isn’t it?”
Bill Predmore
Owner, Reign FC
“I think there’s probably a deep-seated rivalry just between the cities … Hopefully it creates a great environment for the fans in both cities when we’re playing.”
Christine Sinclair
Forward, Thorns FC
“It’s hard to built a rivalry when it’s both team’s second game ever and we’ve never played against each other before.”
Keelin Winters
Midfielder, Reign FC
“I definitely think they can. I know a lot of players who play on Portland. Words have been exchanged. Not saying anything exciting, by any means, but obviously both teams want to win.”

source: Getty Images2. MLS venue means MLS atmosphere

Thorns FC had a number of advantages coming into the season, the biggest of which will be seen on Sunday. The crowd at JELD-WEN will eclipse the combined attendance of the league’s four Week 1 games, and while the club has been reluctant to boost the 14,000 projection that’s been floated this week, a crowd between 16,000 and 17,000 is possible.

Particularly for players who aren’t national team regulars, crowds that size are exceptionally rare.

“The last time I played in front of that amount of people was in 2008 at the Under-20 World Cup,” Seattle midfielder Keelin Winters said. “Emotions are going to be high, playing in front of a big crowd like that. It pumps the players up, maybe a little too excited at times. I think the atmosphere’s going to be awesome, especially because it’s like a Northwest derby.”

It’s the most common refrain among players during this week’s buildup. Yes, the rivalry’s big, and it’s going to be good to get another game until their belts, but the opportunity to play at a Major League Soccer venue in front of Major League Soccer-caliber support is Sunday’s big selling point.

“I think the crowd is going to be awesome,” Thorns defender Rachel Buehler said, excitedly. “I hope that really carries over for us.”

It’s guaranteed to, at least in proportion. Thorns FC have over 7,000 season ticket holders, more than the maximum attendance at all but one of the league’s other seven venues.

3. Two very different midfields

Though Cindy Parlow Cone said the entire team could improve on their Kansas City performance, midfield was a particular area of concerned. Thanks in large part to the play of FCKC’s Desiree Scott, Portland’s midfield four saw supply to Morgan and Sinclair completely cut off. The Thorns failed to score from open play, and until moving Sinclair into an attacking midfield role near the hour mark, the team couldn’t find an alternate route into attack.

“We had so many issues [against Kansas City],” Parlow Cone said. “We weren’t playing well together as a team. We weren’t playing well between our lines – the midfield linking up to the forward, and the defenders linking to the midfielders. Those are things we have to clean up.”

Defensive midfielder Becky Edwards eventually came on after a difficult start, but the rest of the midfield was ineffectual. Allie Long, on the left of a narrow line of three, was the most active midfielder, but she was never able to convert her touches into product. Angie Kerr was a non-factor trying to operate in front of Scott and Jen Buczkowski, while Nikki Washington failed to have a influence as play tended to build through the other side of midfield.

source: Getty ImagesUnfortunately for Portland, Seattle may present even greater problems than Kansas City. Whereas FCKC played a 4-2-3-1 that often saw attacking Lauren Cheney stay well above of the space in front of defense, Laura Harvey’s likely to use a 4-3-3 that will leverage Winters, defensive midfielder Kaylyn Kyle, and first week standout Jessica Fishlock (right, playing last December in Australia).

“Jess came up huge for us defensively (against Chicago),” Winters explained. “She made countless tackles. She didn’t just go into a tackle. She won the tackle.

“I think she was an unknown coming into this league, coming from Wales. Nobody knew what to expect from her. (After) that game against Chicago, people are going to be a little more wary of where she is on the field in relation to them, especially when they have the ball. She’s coming after you whether you like it or not.”

Fishlock will default to the highest, more pressing role in what seems to function as a traditional win-pass-go trio. Winters, known as a defensive midfielder, can hold or play box-to-box, while Kyle’s main responsibilities will be in front of the defense.

Yet Harvey doesn’t want to limit her versatile players to those roles.

“We can play any three of them in any of the three different positions in midfield,” Harvey says, explaining how she’d ideally like her midfield to function. “Defensive mid – all three of them can play it. [Box-to-box] – all three of them can play it. The No. 10 role, playing behind the forward – all three of them can play it. That’s how I like my midfield to be anyway.”

The system’s designed for a lot of interchangeability, a potentially daunting task for Portland considering the trouble they had breaking through Scott and Buczkowski. For Winters, the Reign can learn from Kansas City’s plans, even if the players aren’t identical.

“Desiree (Scott) did a really good job in the game against Portland,” Winter said, commenting on Kansas City’s ability to keep Portland’s midfield from connecting with Morgan and Sinclair. “I was definitely looking for what she did well and worked for her in the game. At the same time, I’m not Desiree Scott.”

“[Morgan and Sinclair] just didn’t have the ball at their feet as much as I’m sure they would have liked,” Winters noted. “One of the things that myself and my midfield and my backline will obviously try (to do is) to deny [those passes]. Whenever they have the ball at their feet, they’re a threat … I’ve seen Sinclair shoot from 30 yards out and score.”

Last week Portland lost the battle of midfields, and they were fortunate they didn’t lose the game. If Seattle can replicate Kansas City’s success in the middle — and improve on the quick transitions Harvey would like to see off turnovers — Portland’s home opener will prove more troublesome than expected.

QUICK HITS

Portland Thorns Seattle Reign
Star to Watch Alex Morgan – Portland’s No. 9 looked tired last week, understandable considering the hectic month she endured leading up to the season. On Sunday, Morgan will be well-rested. Jessica Fishlock – The Welsh international was Seattle’s Week 1 standout. If she can pressure Edwards at the based of midfield, Portland will have to find another person to organize play ahead of the middle third.
Still Important Angie Kerr – Just like last week, the linkup between Sinclair and Portland’s most attacking midfielder will dictate how the game is played. In Kansas City, where the linkup non-existent, the game was played on Kansas City’s terms. Michelle Betos – The 25-year-old came up huge in Chicago in place of Hope Solo. With Seattle’s back line devoid of any star defenders, Betos will have to continue providing stellar performances.
Win if … … they get Sinclair and Morgan more involved, which means solving the midfield problem. They can afford defensive mistakes if they’re scoring goals, but without service to their strikers, Portland can’t get into a shootout. … they win the midfield battle, transition like Harvey wants, and use Christine Nairn and Kiersten Dallstream to stretch Portland’s vulnerable defense. Tactically, Seattle appear to have a series of advantages that should give Portland problems.

Other games, Week 2

Washington Spirit vs. Western New York Flash (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – Aaran Lines’ team played better than their 1-0 loss hints, but they’ll face a more robust defense in Washington, who took a strong point from Boston last weekend. This one looks like a 0-0, with quick transition play sparked by Veronica Perez coming up short against Ashlyn Harris and a strong Spirit defense.

Others: FC Kansas City and Boston has been postponed, while Sky Blue FC, Chicago have the weekend off.

Latest Posts
  1. Neymar’s recovery from World Cup back injury “almost 100 percent”

    Jul 31, 2014, 9:03 AM EDT

    Neymar AP

    Neymar’s health could be the key to whether Barcelona can weather the Luis Suarez suspension in pursuit of La Liga’s title.

  2. Glazer family to make $150 million in Manchester United stock sale

    Jul 31, 2014, 8:20 AM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League

    The Red Devils’ owners are making more of the club public following the death of patriarch Malcolm, and the club could lose adidas money if on-field success doesn’t return.

  3. Reports: Jermaine Jones coming to Chicago, move welcomed by Fire

    Jul 31, 2014, 7:51 AM EDT

    Jermaine Jones Instagram Jermaine Jones Instagram

    Since putting in a good effort for the USMNT at the World Cup, Jones had been sorting out his next career move and partying with celebrities like Paris Hilton and Mike Tyson.

  4. MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 1-1 New York Red Bulls

    Jul 31, 2014, 12:23 AM EDT

    Chicago Fire v New York Red Bulls Getty Images

    Thierry Henry’s second half equalizer takes earns a point at Rio Tinto.

  5. MLS Snapshot: New England Revolution 3-0 Colorado Rapids

    Jul 30, 2014, 10:43 PM EDT

    New York Red Bulls v New England Revolution Getty Images

    The Revs’ eight-game losing streak ends thanks to another strong night from Lee Nguyen.

  6. MLS Snapshot: D.C. United 3-0 Toronto FC

    Jul 30, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT

    D.C. United's Eddie Johnson scored for the first time since being traded to the club this winter. His 84th minute goal left his team's game with Montréal tied, 1-1. (Photo: AP Photos) AP

    The Red fall nine points back of second place United in the Eastern Conference.

  7. Southampton’s replacement for Luke Shaw: Ryan Bertrand, on loan

    Jul 30, 2014, 8:27 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 3.46.35 PM

    24-year-old defender loaned out for the seventh time.

  8. Ugly scenes in Northern Ireland as Mexican U-19 player attempts to kick opponent’s head during Milk Cup brawl

    Jul 30, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 4.26.41 PM

    Game is eventually cut short after a yet unnamed player aimed at the head of a fallen opponent.

  9. Atlético Madrid latest club linked with Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández

    Jul 30, 2014, 6:46 PM EDT

    Chicharito Getty Images

    Atlético’s interest could develop into Chicharito’s best option.

  10. Nick De Santis no longer sporting director in Montréal

    Jul 30, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT

    500px-Montreal_Impact_(MLS)_logo

    Nick De Santis will stay with the Impact, albeit in an administrative role.

  11. Romelu Lukaku completes permanent, $47 million move to Everton

    Jul 30, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT

    MartinezLukaku Getty Images

    Everton’s leading scorer returns to Goodison on a permanent basis.

  12. NWSL implements cooling break procedure

    Jul 30, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT

    NWSL logo

    With immediate effect, U.S.’s women’s league will pause mid-half if when it’s too hot.

  13. VIDEO: Liverpool fan from New Jersey cries, loses the plot, after meeting Gerrard

    Jul 30, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT

    Liverpool fan

    Liverpool roll into town and people freak out! Watch this incredible reaction to Stevie G signing autographs.

  14. Report: US to play friendly vs. Colombia in San Antonio

    Jul 30, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT

    Brazil Soccer WCup Belgium US AP

    Reports from Texas state Jurgen Klinsmann’s side are playing Colombia in September.

  15. Philadelphia Union sign Algerian World Cup star Rais Mbolhi

    Jul 30, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT

    Germany v Algeria: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    Union grab Algerian goalkeeper Mbolhi, throw MacMath’s future in doubt.

  16. FIFA’s senior vice-president Julio Grondona dies, Argentina mourns

    Jul 30, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT

    FBL-WC2014-QUALIFIERS-ARG-VEN Getty Images

    One of the most influential men in world soccer passed away on Wednesday at the age of 82.

  17. Premier League will use vanishing spray for 2014-15 season

    Jul 30, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT

    Morocco Soccer Club World Cup AP

    After success at the 2014 World Cup, vanishing spray is coming to the PL.

  18. Manchester United’s Luke Shaw agrees he’s not fit enough after Louis van Gaal criticism

    Jul 30, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT

    Luke Shaw Andrea Ranocchia AP

    Shaw: “I didn’t come into United thinking it’s going to be much harder and that’s something I made a mistake on.”

  19. PHOTOS: Scantily clad Cristiano Ronaldo poses for record-breaking magazine cover

    Jul 30, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT

    ronaldo cover final

    Ronaldo flexing the abs as he is set to appear in the largest-ever Men’s Health front cover campaign.

  20. VIDEO: Manchester United dominate Inter, win on penalties in Washington D.C.

    Jul 30, 2014, 11:18 AM EDT

    International Champions Cup 2014 - Inter Milan v Manchester United Getty Images

    United make it three wins from three on their U.S. tour. Watch the highlights from Van Gaal’s men in action.