One More Match

The teams were the same, the venue was the same, but the stakes were much higher this time around at Providence Park. Last week determined who and where the Thorns would play. That victory led them right back home against the same team, that one from “north of here.”

This was a very different looking Reign team though. Allie Long and Megan Repinoe were back in the starting lineup. There was also the prospect of making the NWSL Championship game.

The game played out much like the previous one though. While the Reign didn’t score in the fourth minute, they did put the pressure on early. They eventually broke through toward the end of the first half, which almost felt inevitable.

However, like last week, conceding the first goal didn’t seem to negatively impact the Thorns. Not even five minutes later Lindsey Horan had a run up the middle, and just to her left was Tobin Heath. Once the defenders collapsed on Horan, she fed Heath perfectly.

The goal was great, but that reaction? My goodness that stadium was raucous. It was just what the team needed as well, a boost right before the break. Nothing like going into halftime snatching the momentum away.

The second half started with some tremendous pressure from the Thorns. They sensed their opportunity and jumped on it. However, the Reign held strong and weren’t exactly rolling over. For a good amount of time it felt like we would see Extra Time, but then another break through…well almost.

While the goal was called back on an offsides call, it clearly was not. From any angle. There’s bad calls in sports all the time, but this one wasn’t even close, and punctuated a pretty poorly officiated game overall.

This ref was very whistle-happy in the first half, using it liberally on close plays. If there was a collision there was a foul. However, in the second half, that tactic shifted. What was a foul in the first half became nothing in the second. The worst by far was when what constituted a foul in the first half was now a Yellow card.

This impacted both teams and, much like inconsistent officiating does, changed the way both approached the game. It also sent Thorns owner, Merritt Paulson, into a very understandable rant.

Once again, the Thorns were not deterred. They battled back, and didn’t lose focus or drive. Then Horan does what MVP’s do. Christine Sinclair, who had another fantastic game, got the ball after a steal, lobbing a cross into the box. The rest…

That one counted, and sent Providence Park into an eruption of cheers once more. A 76th minute clincher. While it ended that way, the tension was much greater. Maybe it was the half-gallon of coffee I had, but it was by no means a lock. That final whistle was relief as much as it was celebration.

It was a great game, against a great rival/opponent, in a big time moment. Doesn’t get much better than that. To top it all off, the NWSL Championship will be at Providence Park on September 22. Opponent TBD.

While I have yet to mention her by name, Adrianna Franch, deserves her own post for this one. She was incredible when they needed her to be, as she has been all season. She rightly won the Player of the Game, and the below is just one amazing save she made.

I would argue that Franch was more consistent last season (breaking the NWSL record for clean-sheets), but was much more prolific this season. She had moments that transcended entire games from last season. Just an incredible player, that really is showing her brilliance.

While the season still has one more game to go, this has been a bit of an improbable journey so far (40% Homerism, 60% Truth). This team lost starters Nadia Nadim, Amandine Henry, and Allie Long, and role player Dagny Brynjarsdottir (pregnancy). They also were without Hayley Raso for much of the season, first with a knee injury, and now with a fractured back (!!!).

The Thorns filled the gaps, rallied around each other, and didn’t stop fighting all season. Fill-ins Kelli Hubly, Britt Eckerstrom, Ifeoma Onumonu, Ana-Maria Crnogorcevich and Andressinha played amazing, and Midge Purce brought speed and style to the wing. It’s insane to say this about a defending champion, but this team has overcome a lot to get back to the Championship, and they know it.

Portland Thorns Seattle Reign NWSL Playoffs Championship Oregon
Edie Parsons and her BFF Meghan Klingenberg celebrate the Thorns second straight trip to the NWSL Championship (Photo by Jody Lim, The Asian Reporter; September 15, 2018)

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