The Thorns Are Back! Sorta...
The Seattle Reign handed the Thorns their third loss of the season on Saturday, in an exciting, back-and-forth rivalry match. Our takeaways from the weekend:
1. The Thorns were rusty.
Although the game was far from a blowout, the Reign were clearly the more put-together team on Saturday. They clicked early on, with Kim Little, Jess Fishlock, and Nahomi Kawasumi linking up seamlessly in the midfield. The Thorns, meanwhile, sometimes struggled to maintain possession under Seattle’s relentless high press.
Despite getting a couple good chances early on—including one breakaway where Nadia Nadim got one-on-one with Reign keeper Haley Kopmeyer, only to take a pitifully weak shot—Portland couldn’t deliver, leaving Seattle to notch the first goal in the 27th minute. Keelin Winters booted a long pass to Kawasumi, who, seeing Dutch forward Manon Melis streaking into the box, placed it perfectly just in front of the goal. It was, frankly, a beautiful direct play, and one that’s hard to blame on the Thorns’ defense.
Seattle’s second goal was a different story. Center back Emily Sonnett misjudged Melis’s run, letting her cut inside and nab the ball on what should have been an easy clearance. It was an uncharacteristic error from a defender I’d normally trust with my life.
Things got a little weird in extra time, and Portland finally got one back, an incredible flick by Allie Long off a Tobin Heath free kick that looked like it was guided into the net by the hand of Apollo. But the Reign have their own patron deity in Megan Rapinoe, who put the nail in the coffin not two minutes after Long’s goal, in her first appearance for Seattle all season.
2. Mistakes were made.
It’s hard to pin the blame for this loss on any one factor. Players on both ends of the ball bear culpability: Nadim, in typically frustrating Nadim fashion, couldn’t finish. Most players in the midfield screwed up at one point or another, including an uncharacteristic hard touch by Heath that allowed Seattle to regain possession just before their first goal. In the back, Meghan Klingenberg made some truly ill-advised passes, and, as discussed, Sonnett wrote Melis a blank check.
More than anything, though, the squad just couldn’t get into a groove. The USWNT players, Heath especially, worked their asses off; Long had as good a game as she has all year, looking both crafty and tough at holding midfield. But too often, we saw promising sequences cut short by miscommunication or poor decisions. This was, at the end of the day, a collective failure.
3. This loss isn’t cause for panic.
Losing to a rival like Seattle doesn’t feel good, especially on the heels of the USA’s dismal result at the Olympics. But we need to keep several things in mind—mostly the fact that this group hasn’t played together since June 22. The Reign, who started the season with some decidedly mediocre results, lost only Solo and Rapinoe to the Olympics, and Rapinoe hadn’t even been playing. They’ve been been slowly building steam with the same core group since April.
The Thorns, on the other hand, are now having to rebuild as a team for the third time this season.
What’s more, despite the scoreline, this wasn’t a terrible loss. Portland had a number of real chances, and Seattle only outshot them 18 to 16. They were outplayed, but they stayed in the game until the very end.
Finally, with the playoffs imminent, Seattle are in a make-or-break position in the table, and in front of a home crowd of 5,888—well above their average attendance—they pulled out one of their best performances of the season. “Whenever we’ve been in a position where we’ve had to win at Memorial, we have,” said Reign coach Laura Harvey. “I don’t believe they needed to win the game, but we did.”
4. A highlight and a lowlight
Send your positive vibes to Amandine Henry, who limped off the field in the 18th minute with a back injury (she said the next day it’s “nothing nasty”). Perhaps you can draw inspiration from this moment, which had even the crowd at Memorial cheering:
Heath. Fun. pic.twitter.com/HD5xlLNrv9— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) August 27, 2016