The first of five scheduled meetings this year between Seattle Reign FC and Portland Thorns FC ended much like most of their match-ups over the past few years: with the Reign winning.
This Easter Sunday meeting didn’t count, of course, as the team’s kicked off a preseason round-robin tournament in Portland, but the match at least early on felt similar to a regular-season meeting between these two rivals as each team fielded a squad which could very well be its opening-day XI.
Seattle prevailed, 2-0 with a pair of goals in a three-minute stretch late in the match, first from Havana Solaun and then by Jess Fishlock, who started the sequence which led to the opening goal.
In the 75th minute, Fishlock collected a loose ball inside her own box after it fell to her on a Thorns corner kick, then evaded a tackle and looked upfield and played a long diagonal ball to her partner in crime, 2014 NWSL MVP Kim Little, who settled the ball, stalled, and played another long, diagonal pass over the top to Solaun for the finish. The entire counterattack took about 20 seconds.
Three minutes later, the 5-foot-2 Welsh midfielder rose above the pack and softly flicked in Lauren Barnes’ corner kick to the unmanned far post to give Seattle a 2-0 lead which the Reign wouldn’t relinquish.
Seattle and Portland will somewhat controversially meet four times this season — twice in each city — as part of the NWSL’s imbalanced schedule which places an emphasis on regional rivalries in part to limit extra travel costs. Sunday’s preseason meeting was a preview of a rivalry which has developed through the NWSL’s first three seasons but could, potentially, become overplayed in 2016. The Reign have beaten the Thorns in four of their last five meetings.
[RELATED: Team-by-team NWSL preseason schedule]
New Thorns coach Mark Parsons rolled out his Harlem Globetrotter-type, remodeled team with Christine Sinclair as the striker, Dagny Brynjarsdottir underneath and Nadia Nadim out wide right and Tobin Heath wide left (with freedom to roam). U.S. international Lindsey Horan sat in more of a holding role alongside Thorns original Allie Long, who was just recalled to the U.S. national team by Jill Ellis. Defensively, Emily Sonnett played her first professional match — albeit preseason — centrally in a hybrid three-back. U.S. international Meghan Klingenberg, who was acquired in the offseason as part of the complicated Alex Morgan trade, played as a left wing back.
Seattle coach Laura Harvey showed a first glimpse of what the Reign’s 2015 league-leading defense could look like this season. Rachel Corsie and Kendall Fletcher lined up centrally, somewhat surprisingly pushing Lauren Barnes — who just got her first look in U.S. camp after a stellar past two seasons at center back — to the left. Elli Reed returned to right back.
Harvey is tasked with replacing the steady and underrated former U.S. international Steph Cox, who retired this offseason. Antonia Göransson was supposed to be the answer at left back this season. She was signed in November but was unexpectedly waived earlier this month to return home to Sweden.
So perhaps Sunday was a first-glimpse of what the Reign will look like, minus a possible late-season addition of game-changing Megan Rapinoe, who is recovering from a torn ACL. And perhaps Sunday was a taste of how the under-the-microscope Thorns will look in 2016, minus the mid-season addition all-world French midfielder Amandine Henry.
Watch the full-match replay here:
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