Thorns FC Opponent Dossier: Seattle Reign - Aug. 17, 2013

Megan Rapinoe lead reinvigorated Seattle side in NWSL regular season finale

Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign FC

Photo Credit: 
(USA Today Sports Images)

In their final game of the NWSL regular season, Portland Thorns FC travel up the I-5 to take on the Seattle Reign this Saturday (8pm PT, Webstream). Here is the lowdown on their Cascadia rivals.

TACTICAL VIEW

What can the Thorns expect?
Seattle is a different team to the one that the Thorns first faced back on April 21 in their second outing of the season. The teams have squared off twice since then, but this should be their closest contest yet as Seattle has finally found their groove. Not only do they have key players available, but they have identified a style of play that suits them and one that gets results.

That style of play centers on a 4-5-1 formation, where the creative talents of Megan Rapinoe and Jessica Fishlock are able to thrive. With two players of their quality, it is hardly surprising that things have changed for Laura Harvey’s team and they are now a real threat. The Thorns can expect them to attack from out wide, but drift into the middle where they will try to unload shots from distance.

Who are their main threats?
The obvious threats are Rapinoe and Fishlock, who can pop up with crucial goals, while Christine Nairn is their assist leader and another midfielder who can be a difference-maker. Up front, Liz Bogus makes life very uncomfortable for opposition defenders and they try to get defenders forward too, so the likes of Kiersten Dallstream, Ellie Reed and Lauren Barnes can often be spotted in attack.

Seattle started the season with a fairly balanced roster, but clever dealings during the campaign added some much-needed guile and grit. Those who came in were Emily Van Egmond, Stephanie Cox, Renae Cuellar, and Rapinoe, while the return to fitness of star goalkeeper Hope Solo also had a big influence on turning their form around.

Where are they most vulnerable?
There is no doubt that Seattle is most vulnerable in defense as they have second-worst record behind Washington Spirit and they have not kept one clean sheet. With a team like the Thorns, who is one of the league’s highest scorers, there's a real chance to take advantage. But they will have to work for them as Seattle has tightened up somewhat in recent weeks.

The other area of note with this Seattle team is their midfield, which is constructed to allow their creative players to roam freely. While that works for them in an attacking sense, it sometimes leaves them short when a team launches a counter attack as they often commit several players forward. For the Thorns, who can transition from defense to attack quite quickly, this is something to be aware of.

Why does this one matter even more?
Not only do the Thorns want to complete a clean sweep of four victories over their Pacific Northwest neighbors, this game also gives them the opportunity to potentially secure home field advantage for the postseason playoffs. While much still has to happen with other games happening throughout the weekend, a win by Cindy Parlow Cone’s side will help put them in the best position.

KEY PERSONNEL

Head coach: Laura Harvey
A promising player before injury cut short her career, Harvey moved into coaching at an early age with Birmingham City Ladies and a number of England underage teams. But it was when she took over at Arsenal that her talent really stood out as the Gunners won 11 trophies under her watch, including three league titles. She was named as Seattle Reign’s first head coach last December.

Star Player: Megan Rapinoe
This former Portland Pilot has developed into one of the most skillful players in women’s soccer and will surely cause the Thorns a lot of problems. Now 28, she has the maturity, experience and technique needed to outwit opponents and the United States international has emerged as a leader for Seattle since arriving from a stint with Lyon in France.

One To Watch: Kiersten Dallstream
Able to play in a variety of different positions, this Washington State graduate is a tough competitor and won’t be easily brushed off the ball. The 5ft 7in player uses her speed and strength well to get up the pitch on supporting runs, while she is solid defensively when in one-on-one situations. Having played almost every game this season, she has proved to be a shrewd pick-up.

FLASHBACK

What happened when the teams last met?
Second-half goals from Danielle Foxhoven and Meleana Shim handed the Thorns a 2-0 victory over Seattle in front of 13,802 supporters at JELD-WEN Field. The Sunday afternoon game was a feisty one and it took a big save from goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc from a Nairn penalty to ensure that the home team took all of the points.

What did the Thorns learn from that game?
When it comes to rivalries, the game plan can often be reduced to “win your individual battles and the rest will follow”. While that held true for this game, the Thorns discovered that it is the team that matches that effort with technique who comes out on top. Take for example, the first goal when they won possession and moved it quickly into Foxhoven, who curled in a superb shot from inside the penalty area.

Even though the penalty call from referee Robert Sibiga was debatable, it was a sign that Seattle does not give up easily. Both teams were missing a lot of their star players due to international call-ups, but that possibly made this even more competitive as those who played had something to prove. Yet, the Thorns played with the same composure that has become their trademark and that, ultimately, made all the difference.

What did the Thorns camp have to say at the time?

Portland Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone
“It took us a little while to get really organized and understand where everyone needed to be – it was a new system. At half-time, knowing that we were okay, I just felt that we needed to push further up the field. [We want to be] sharper on every little thing.”

Portland Thorns midfielder Meleana Shim
“In the first half, we sat off them a little bit and didn’t press them enough defensively and gave them too much time and space and we talked about that at half-time. Going into the second half, we just put a little bit more pressure on them and we had better chances by winning the ball further up the field. I think that was the big difference.”

How has Seattle fared since then?
Seattle has played 11 games since last meeting the Thorns and that leaves them an overall record of 5-13-3 with 21 goals scored and 34 conceded. In that last series of games, they have secured four of those five wins (beating Chicago Red Stars (twice), Western New York Flash and Washington Spirit). While their form has gradually improved, they have lost their last four outings to remain second from bottom in the table.

Did You Know?
It took Seattle 12 games to record their first win of the NWSL season as injuries left them short of key players and they struggled to do enough to collect three points until late June.

Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandThornsFC.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.