Reign FC blank Thorns
The Portland Thorns will play only one more time in Providence Park in 2019.
Reign FC put an end to Portland's chances of hosting a National Women's Soccer League semifinal by beating the Thorns for the third time this season, winning 2-0 on Sunday before a crowd of 7,370 at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.
Jodie Taylor scored in the first half and rookie Bethany Balcer added a late goal as the Reign shut out the Thorns for the third time in three meetings this season.
Portland is 11-6-6 (39 points) and will finish either third or fourth in the final standings. Reign FC is 10-6-7 (37 points) and clinched a playoff spot with Sunday's victory.
If the Thorns beat Washington in their last home game on Oct. 12 they will finish third and play at Chicago in the semifinals on Oct. 19. If they tie or lose against the spirit and Reign FC wins at Orlando, the Thorns will play at first-place North Carolina in the semifinals.
Reign FC had control of Sunday's match much of the time. Portland's only high-quality scoring chances came after the Reign lead was 2-0. Substitute Simone Charley put a chance wide from six yards in front of goal. Lindsey Horan sent a 20-yard free kick just wide.
Horan was stretchered off the field late in stoppage time with an apparent head injury. In his postgame comments, Portland coach Mark Parsons said Horan was doing better than when she left the field but he did not give a longer-range prognosis.
Portland played without forward Tobin Heath because of an undisclosed injury. Parsons said he expected Heath to be fine in a couple of days.
Midfielder Dagny Brynjarsdottir took an elbow to the nose from the Reign's Beverley Yanez early in the second half. Brynjarsdottir finished the game with cotton in her nose. Yanez received a yellow card on the play, which happened when both players went up to head a long goal kick. Parsons said the league has to make player safety a priority in such situations.
"When we send a message that (an elbow to the face is) OK, then were heading dangerously down a bad path," Parsons said.
Reign FC has made defense its cornerstone on the narrow field at Cheney Stadium and was especially effective in the first half by winning battles for possession.
"The Reign controlled the game by picking up first and second balls," Parsons said. "They also were smart (defending and playing direct). This is a tight pitch."
Parsons changed formations at halftime, going with three defenders and pushing Meghan Klingenberg and Ellie Carpenter forward as wingbacks. The shift game Portland better possession, but Reign FC was able to limit any serious threats.
Portland knew it would be difficult to come from behind against a well-organized Reign team. But that's what happened in the 29th minute when Taylor, the former Oregon State and Thorns forward from England, opened the scoring with a nice finish on a play that stared with a quick upfield switching ball to Megan Rapinoe.
Rapinoe, last week named FIFA's female player of the year for 2019, hit the crossbar with that transition opportunity. The former Portland Pilot was making only her second start and fourth appearahce this season for the Reign.
Yanez's follow-up attempt from that Rapinoe shot was blocked in front by Emily Menges, but Reign FC regained control and right back Theresa Nielsen sent a ball to Taylor between Portland's center backs. Taylor was able to make a quick turn and strike a right-footed shot past Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.
Balcer clinched things for the home team with a solid strike from 16 yards that beat Franch to the near post in the 18th minute, with Nielsen picking up her second assist of the day.
Next comes an international break, during which the U.S. Women's National team will complete its World Cup Victory Tour with matches against South Korea on Thursday in Charlotte, North Carolina and on Oct. 6 at Chicago.
Parsons called the 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12 regular-season finale at home against the Washington Spirit critical.
"The Washington game is a massive must-win game for us," Parsons said. "But also going into playoffs it's an important game to give us belief and confidence."
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