Sunday, Aug. 29: Reign FC 2, Thorns 1
The goals: Megan Rapinoe scored at the end of a quick counter attack with a hard right-footed shot. The Reign won possession in midfield and Jess Fishlock found Rapinoe with space top run into the penalty area and beat Bella Bixby (1-0 Reign, 16th minute).
Rapinoe penalty kick (2-0 Reign, 40th minute).
Angela Salem struck a volley from 18 yards on a second-ball from a play that started with a free kick deep on the right wing. (Reign 2-1, 45+4).
What it means: Portland lost for the first time since June 26 at North Carolina, a run of 10 matches across all competitions and eight in the National Women's Soccer League. The Thorns are 10-4-2 (32 points), four points up on North Carolina with eight games remaining. OL Reign is 8-7-1 *25 points) in third place.
Reaction: The OL Reign made it difficult for the Thorns to play at the cadence they prefer, and did an excellent job of providing quick defensive pressure that created the counter-attack opportunities that produced goals. With Rapinoe and Le Sommer staying high and wide, the Reign were able to create trouble when they won possession in midfield and caught the Thorns upfield.
Portland controlled the match until Rapinoe struck, with Christine Sinclair and Sophia Smith getting good chances inside the first eight minutes. Once the Reign had a lead, their organization and determination made it difficult to create quality chances.
Salem scored a brilliant volley goal in first-half stoppage time, the second goal of the season for the energetic midfielder whose role is more about breaking up opponent plays and setting up teammates.
The match opened up some in the second half and Portland's passing and movement off the ball were not as crisp as they had been during the two-month unbeaten run.
Coach Mark Parsons said it wasn't his side's best outing, noting that the Thorns were a little off —Â which he chalked up to mental and emotional fatigue at the end of a busy stretch.
The Puget Sound club created both first-half goals by squeezing Portland attempts to play the ball through the center circle, quickly turning takeaways into counters.
"We played a few too many straight balls, vertical passes into midfield under pressure" that led to counter opportunities, Parsons said.
Parsons added there were opportunities to find numbers advantages against the Reign center backs, but that communication was a challenge in Lumen Field.
"I like what the Reign did (tactically)," Parsons said. "But, I think we could have found the two-v-ones with the center back and fullback. We could have taken a bit more advantage of those two-v-ones and then get our midfielder free and faced up like we like to."
Parsons said that while the performance was one of the poorer ones this season, he was proud of the effort at the end of a busy stretch against a more rested opponent.
"We still could have scored three, four goals in a game that we didn't play our best," Parsons said. "I think it was on the lower end on our performances and we still hung in there."
The handball call against Natalia Kuikka was unlucky, as a ball off the foot of Eugenie Le Sommer deflected off of Kuikka's right arm near her body onto her left arm, which was away from her body.
The absence of Meghan Klingenberg (thigh injury) was noticeable in a match where the Reign's formation tested Portland's outside backs. Kuikka, who started in Klingenberg's left-back spot, covered a lot of ground. But Klingenberg leads the team in scoring chances created and is a unique talent as well as one of the team's emotional leaders.
Despite play becoming more scattered as time went on, Portland did have two quality chances in the second half. Smith sent a left-footed shot just high after a Lindsey Horan pass in the 74th minute, and Morgan Weaver got behind the backline in the 80th minute and forced Reign keeper Sarah Bouhaddi to make the most difficult of her five goals.
The announced crowd of 27, 278 at Lumen Field in Seattle is a record for a NWSL match. But Portland's record of 25,218 still is the most for a stand-alone NWSL game, since tickets for Sunday's match at Seattle also included the Sounders game against the Timbers Sunday night.
Parsons said the halftime substitutions — Kelli Hubly for Emily Menges at center back and Morgan Weaver for Rocky Rodriguez — were planned rotations due to the heavy minutes logged during a stretch of five games in 16 days that concluded with this match.
Up next: The Washington Spirit visits Providence Park at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4.
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