The tone of the game was set via Nikki Washington, who charged a lost cause ball down to the corner and pressured the Reign defense into caroming the ball off her back and out for a throw. With less than a minute in the game Portland was showing the pressuring, showing the instinct, and showing idea of a game plan that was missing from the very first game against FC Kansas city. This was followed up by Angie Kerr, Christine Sinclair and Nikki Washington combining for a ball knocked out for a corner, and the Thorns were on the front foot less than 2 minutes into the game.
There was a subtle tweak in formation as the Thorns came out in quasi-4-4-1-1 with Sinclair tasked to link up with the midfield behind Alex Morgan. This move paid dividends as, while it removed Sinclair from the continued threat of taking on the back line, it allowed her to get on the ball and start that partnership that she had with Alex Morgan at Western New York Flash.
With Hope Solo out with a long-term injury that will keep her out til late in summer and Megan Rapinoe strategically hanging out with the fine folks in Lyon, the Reign started Michelle Betos in goal and Jessica “I’m trying to fill Levesque’s boots” Fishlock from Wales, who did absolutely nothing in the game to endear her to the Portland crowd. More on that later.
Cindy Parlow kept Nikki Washington out on the right who consistently made early deep runs in the first half pulling players with her. She also had Angie Kerr threatening who frequently tried to push up the field and combine with Washington, Sinclair, and Morgan while Allie Long played the pivot and create role in the midfield.
Speaking of which, congratulations are in order to Allie long who pulled in the first yellow card in Thorns history at Jeld-Wen Field on a play where she came through the back of Kaylyn Kyle and promptly received a card, popped up and ran back into position.
The Reign attempted to threaten on set pieces in the first half but never really could get a rhythm through the active Thorns defense who frequently broke up the attacks towards them and then speedily transitioned to offense. Often time these attacks by the Thorns offense transitioned a bit too quickly and passes would be misplaced into the feet of a dense crowd of players.
Of course 13 minutes in brings us BIZARRO RAPINOE as Jessica Fishlock put an arm through the back of Becky Edwards, a trend that would be continued as Fishlock was the heart and passion of the Reign for most of the night. Fishlock was the majority of the Reigns thrust on the night providing a holding presence in midfield, an attacking presence and the only goal for the Reign.
When the Thorns started to drop into gear they became more and more threatening. Offensively the team transitioned between a 4-3-3, a 4-4-1-1 and a 4-3-2-1, depending on the positioning and the situation. At times (on resets) you could see Nikki Washington pushing up top next to Alex Morgan and playing as a RMF , other times she would drop back and you would have Sinclair playing behind Morgan with Kerr next to her. The only issue that happened (at times) in this game was that the Thorns collapsed into narrowness and lacked the ability to spread the ball out wide.
In this particular game (in the first half at the very least), the fullbacks for the Thorns stayed back and kept defensive integrity rather than bombing up the field. At the 28th minute, off a Thorns corner kick, Portland had their first chance as a rocket Becky Edwards header from a Nikki Washington corner cannoned towards the far post only to be plucked from the air by Betos for a very nice save.
Even with the positive Portland play, the Thorns still had issues with the connection between midfield and the forward position. Both Morgan and Sinclair were required to drift back to the center of midfield to pick up the ball and knock it back to either Becky Edwards or Allie Long. However, as the game transitioned into the 30th minute, Portland started playing with their heads up and moved their lines further up the field. Dougherty (at right fullback) moved up the field establishing the line of contact at the half way line and preventing much of the attempted break out play of the Reign in the later stages of the first half.
Then at the 44th minute, another great delivery from Nikki Washington cruised into Marian Dougherty who hit a glancing header through a crowd of players and past Betos for the first Thorns goal at home. The crowd erupted and the Thorns had their impetus for the second.
From the very first kick of the second half the Thorns were all over the Reign, playing with confidence, and disrupting the passing lanes. Allie Long, Angie Kerr, Alex Morgan all combined with a final shot coming from Nikki Washington and out for another Thorns corner. Fueled by the goal, the Thorns played combinations, triangles, and one touch passing soccer.
However, this wasn’t the reason for the second Thorns goal as that was the result of a turnover by the Reign and Christine Sinclair hustling into position to deliver a killer ball into a streaking Morgan who slotted it home past the keeper. This play devolved the Thorns attack a bit as they then attempted to play the “get the ball into empty space quickly” routine a bit too often after the goal which allowed the Reign (through Jessica Fishlock) back into the game as the Thorns stopped pressing the back line engagement zone up to the halfway line. Fishlock fouled, passed, and made a nuisance of herself until it all paid off in the 73rd minute as she one-timed a misplayed ball past Karina Leblanc for a goal. She then proceeded to pound the Reign badge, celebrate and overjoy herself a might much for many of the fans in Portland.
I would be remiss to point out a few items as well including the thunderous applause for Danielle Foxhoven as the Portland Pilot replaced the other Portland Pilot, Angie Kerr, in the 77th minute. This Thorns crowd knew their history and showed their appreciation for the local talent that many watched play just a few miles up the road.
The game was over, the team saluted the fans, the fans saluted the team and the joy was palpable in the stands. Everything went according to plan, from the fantastic tifo to the beginning of the chants to a Thorns FC 2-1 win. This was the beginning of something new, something amazing, fantastic and, despite all the prognostications and naysayers, it was something organic and authentic.
Certainly a few songs were something you might hear at a Timbers match, just like many of the songs you would hear at a Timbers match you might hear at a Livorno or Chelsea match. However, the passion, creativity and love shown to the team were authentically Portland.
A good day for one and all who came together to root on their city and their team. Next up, the Thorns take on Chicago Red Stars in Chicago. The next home game is May 16th and I hope to see you there.