Thorns battle Reign to 2-2 draw at Seattle
The Portland Thorns twice took leads on Sunday, July 10, before settling for a 2-2 draw with National Women's Soccer League rival OL Reign in front of 9,032 fans at Lumen Field in Seattle.
Hina Sugita gave Portland a 2-1 lead at the hour mark, but Bethany Balcer equalized in the 81st minute for the host Reign. Portland went up on an own goal in the 12th minute, but the Reign equalized less than a minute later.
Thorns, 12th minute — Own goal. During a scramble in front of goal, the Reign's Phoebe McClernon had the ball deflect off her leg and past goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce.
Reign, 13th minute — Olivia Athens got a half-step on a defender to run down a ball in the box and slot a shot past Bella Bixby.
Thorns, 60th minute — Hina Sugita meets a delivery from Meghan Klingenberg on the right wing at the far post and converts.
Reign, 81st minute — Bethany Balcer heads in a cross delivered by Veronica Latsko, who chased down a ball into space on the left wing and delivered a sharp ball that Balcer met about seven yards from goal.
Big picture: This rivalry match came with both teams missing significant players on international duty — including six Thorns. The teams tied each of their 2022 regular-season games. The Thorns are 4-1-6 (18 points), in third place in the NWSL. The Reign are 4-2-5 (17 points).
Portland is unbeaten in its last seven (three wins, four draws) and has earned draws in consecutive road games at difficult stadiums. Also, the Thorns are unbeaten (2-0-5) in seven consecutive road matches dating to 2021.
The experience gained by younger players during this international window should serve the Thorns well, and to earn points in the process is a plus.
Still, coach Rhian Wilkinson expressed disappointment that a strong effort for much of the afternoon didn't result in victory.
"We have a very young team, a lot of new faces for the Portland Thorns fans," she said. "I thought we played a better game than the opposition today. So I'm frustrated with the tie, (and that frustration) is pretty exciting for this group."
Momentum shift: The Thorns were dominant in the second half until Portland winger Yazmeen Ryan cramped up and had to leave the game in the 73rd minute. During the time Ryan was being treated on the field, Reign coach Laura Harvey huddled her squad. When play resumed, the Reign were in a new formation and in go-for-it mode. Portland's inexperience at the back showed in that stretch, though it was the inability to keep possession in midfield, rather than a defensive breakdown, that led to the tying goal.
Until that shift, Portland had dominated possession in the second half.
"I think that's where you see a lot of youth or a lot of new faces. They let the energy of the crowd and the opposition sort of get a hold of them, so we ended up coughing up the ball too easily," Wilkinson said.
No Heath debut: Longtime Thorns star Tobin Heath was on the bench for the Reign on Sunday, but did not make her debut for the Seattle club. The Reign recently acquired Heath's NWSL rights from Racing Louisville, the club that claimed Heath in the 2020 NWSL expansion draft.
Wilkinson praises squad: "Our team never stops trying to live the Thorns' identity on the field, and I really love that. I think it's really easy when you've got new people that you resort to the most basic type of soccer, which is launch the ball and use our athleticism.
"Definitely there's a time to go direct. There's a time to live on the ball and play. Under pressure, we saw players really rise to the occasion and play a really cool kind of soccer that I'm really proud of."
Next Thorns match: NJ/NY Gotham FC at Portland, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 16.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.