Saturday, the perfect Seattle Reign (5-0-0, 15 pts.) will face off against the unbeaten Portland Thorns (2-0-2, 8 pts.). This game has been circled NWSL fans’ calendars since the league’s schedule was announced in early February.
But how will Laura Harvey’s new and improved squad handle the reigning NWSL champions?
The rivalry between the two cities is long-standing, but in the first NWSL season it was decidedly one-sided. Portland won all four meetings between the teams last seasons and outscored the Reign 7-2.
Things have changed markedly for the Reign since last season of course. In fact, at this point in the season last year, the team held last place in the standings. Now, Seattle reigns supreme, holding nearly double the number of points as the second-place Thorns.
“Portland-Seattle is a great rivalry, but Portland are champions,” Seattle coach Laura Harvey said. “They are who they are for a reason. They were the best team in the league last season and for me, they are the favorites in the league this season no matter what the results have been so far.”
Regardless of Harvey’s comments, it hard not to cast Seattle as the early title favorites. Seattle has so far lived up to the expectations created by the off-season rebuild. The team has been great at pressuring their opponents and maintaining possession. The very attack-oriented team has had offensive contributions from eight different players so far this season. To put that in perspective, only one other team this season has even tallied eight goals so far.
The Reign have performed well defensively, too. They have allowed only two goals and only one of those goals has come from the run of play. Seattle also has three clean sheets in five games after not keeping a single shutout in 2013.
Harvey will face some interesting challenges in the coming month. In addition to playing Portland this weekend, Seattle will face Kansas City twice this month as well as the Western New York Flash.
So far, Seattle has seen little in the way of roster rotation even in face of a grueling four games in 11 days. World Cup qualifiers and an injury may soon force Harvey’s hand however. Nahomi Kawasumi, who’s started in place of the injured Megan Rapinoe the last four games will now be unavailable for the next month.
Harvey is unsure of Rapinoe’s status for the game this weekend. Harvey called Rapinoe’s injury a “funny” one. She added that “it’s nothing that appears to be anything major but she’s just sore and in a very weird way we’re in a position where we don’t need to push her…it’s one of those injuries where if you push it too early it will probably be worse than what it is (now).”
If Rapinoe is unable to go this weekend, Harvey has confidence in her bench even though she’s used it sparingly thus far.
“I truly believe we have a really strong bench when and if called upon.”
Regardless of how Harvey’s starting 11 shakes out, the Portland vs. Seattle matchup this weekend appears primed to deliver some exciting soccer.
(Note: In light of the Portland Trailblazers’ NBA playoff game vs. the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET, the Thorns-Reign game has been moved to 7 p.m. ET in order to not conflict.)
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