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Image: ISI Photos

The Thorns maintained their undefeated status this weekend in a rough-and-tumble rivalry game against the Seattle Reign. For a Portland side that’s historically floundered on the road—and hasn’t beaten Seattle since 2014—a 1-1 draw is an encouraging result. Our three takeaways from the game:

1. It was a brawl of a match.

Saturday’s game was a bruising, physical bout, especially in the second half. Seattle lost forward Manon Melis to a scary-looking non-contact injury in the third minute, and from their end, it has to feel like a minor miracle that nobody else became a casualty. The Reign’s Beverly Yanez took a knock to the face going up against Allie Long for a ball in the air. Wrecking ball Keelin Winters was involved in several dust-ups, including a collision with Portland’s Nadia Nadim, and a scary moment where she was leveled by Thorns forward Meg Morris while going in for a tackle. In the 90th minute, Morris fouled Elli Reed in the air for a yellow.

Both teams—Seattle coming off a loss in Orlando, and Portland off a painful debacle of a draw against Washingtonwere clearly hungry to gut out a win in this rivalry game. While the demolition derby had participants on both sides, more often than not, Portland was on the instigating end, racking up eight fouls to Seattle’s three.

It will come as no surprise to those who’ve been following along that, yet again, poor officiating played a role. Head official Matthew Kreitzer, clearly a hardcore proponent of the let-them-play school of thought, failed to call a number of rough challenges. In one egregiously bad call, Portland was awarded a free kick when forward Hayley Raso knocked Seattle’s Kim Little to the ground.

“I thought the ref lost control of the game,” Seattle coach Laura Harvey said, plainly frustrated. “Someone was going to get hurt… I’m not saying it would have been one of our players or their players, but in rivalry games, when the referee doesn’t get a hold of the game, things like that happen.”

2. With Tobin Heath suspended, the rest of the roster stepped up.

Right on cue, Danish forward Nadia Nadim—who’s been fairly quiet so far—stepped up in a big way this weekend. Nadim barreled out of the gate in the second half, taking advantage of a miscommunication between Hope Solo and Seattle defender Rachel Barnes to score on a well-placed header in the 46th minute.

Coach Mark Parsons noted that Nadim has looked most effective playing out wide, comparing a blistering cross that Long headed just over the bar to the work of Megan Rapinoe. “Now I’ve seen that, it’s encouraging to get her up wide more often.”

Parsons also commented on a killer performance by Meg Morris, a nominal defender who played up top on Saturday, saying, “She probably pressed and made more challenges, more interceptions than any other player tonight.” Morris, who signed with the Thorns just three weeks ago, likely won’t be starting much when Tobin Heath returns and Christine Sinclair is fully healthy, but she adds real depth to the roster.

3. Portland’s back line is looking better and better.

This week, the Thorns’ defense looked to be their strongest asset, maintaining their composure against a Seattle side that’s tied for second in the league for goals scored this season. In a stark departure from last week, where Washington’s Crystal Dunn squeezed into the box at will, the Thorns’ back line mostly held strong against crafty Scot Kim Little (aside from one brilliant shot that’s too good not to share) and the rest of Seattle’s offense.

Emily Sonnett was in hero mode, shielding the ball with her life; for a lesser player, the decision not to pass here would be foolhardy, but Sonnett is skilled enough to get away with it. Katherine Reynolds, who’s put in strong performances since Portland lost Kat Williamson to a knee injury against Kansas City, was also playing hard, making several great tackles.

More than any individual, though, the back line is looking organized in a way they often haven’t in previous games. Although the Reign maintained possession for the better part of the game, Portland managed to limit the number of real chances they got—Seattle’s lone goal came off a set piece.

A draw isn’t a win, but in a hard-fought rivalry match and the fourth road game in a row, it’s not nothing, either.

The Thorns take on the Washington Spirit at Providence Park at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 21.

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