Seattle Reign FC (11-5-8) at Portland Thorns FC (12-6-6)
Saturday, 3:00 p.m. EDT, Providence Park (Lifetime)
All-time series: tied, 8-8-3
For one side, it’s fighting for the chance to defend their title in front of legendary home crowds. For the other, it’s the opportunity to prove themselves against their rival and earn the piece of hardware that’s always eluded them. Last week, Portland surged back after an early Seattle goal to storm to a 3-1 win and snatch second place, earning the right to host this semifinal. Now the stakes are even higher, and neither team is going to hold back.
Vlatko Andonovski couldn’t say for certainty that Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long would be ready for this game, but make no mistake: if they’re at all capable of playing, they will. And the Reign need them. Long can both bring meaningful possession back to the Reign and disrupt Lindsey Horan in the midfield, a necessity for anyone playing Portland. Rapinoe, besides her obvious additions in the attack, can also keep Ellie Carpenter pinned back. Both players are valuable when it comes to taking advantage of crucial set pieces as well. Ultimately, in order to reverse their fortunes, the Reign have to avoid chasing the game and take back some control.
- Reign injuries: OUT – Kristen McNabb; QUE – Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe
- Thorns injuries: OUT – Hayley Raso
Although they gave up three goals last week, the Reign are normally compact on defense, so Portland wants to continue to take advantage of their dynamic wide players to pull Seattle’s backline out of shape. Caitlin Foord and Midge Purce tend to go more for speed, while Tobin Heath prefers to use her ball skills to get a defender to commit before slipping past her, and the variety keeps defenders guessing. However, I’d like to see Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic back in the starting lineup as she provides a physical presence inside the box, hovering at the shoulders of the centerbacks, ready to head in a cross or nudge in a low roller. Portland needs to play quickly and keep the pressure on.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The young Aussie has fit right in with the Thorns, and her explosive movement along the right flank has been a big part of their success. Alongside Purce or Foord, she can keep half the defense occupied, freeing up space for Christine Sinclair to work or Horan to make a late run into the box. That said, she can be caught up the field, something that Rapinoe or Elizabeth Addo could exploit. Carpenter will need to be cognizant of she space she leaves behind her, and Emily Sonnett and Celeste Boureille need to be ready to cover.
The hero of Seattle’s win over Portland early this season, Utsugi tends to be overshadowed by the more attacking players in the Reign midfield. However, not only is she capable of a great shot from distance, but it’s her presence in the midfield that allows those players to go on the attack. She does a great job of hovering in the half space between the backline and the rest of the midfield, cleaning up loose balls and releasing pressure on the defense.
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