Preseason: OL Reign vs Portland Thorns
In a preseason match that never feels like it’s only preseason; it was a tale of two halves Saturday night in Portland, with OL dominating the first half, and the Thorns launching a significantly more cohesive attack in the second half. The Reign still walked away with a 1-0 win thanks to the 18th minute goal by Jess Fishlock.
#BoldTogether 18' Jess Fishlock goal + celebration. Reign ended the half up 1-0 against the Thorns pic.twitter.com/g7zATXbWEB
— Taylor Vincent (@tayvincent6) March 19, 2023
Portland Thorns Takeaways
The first half of the match, the Reign was very much on the offensive. The Reign outshot the Thorns 7 to 3 in the first half. Portland was not taking the time to build up the attack and instead sending through balls behind the backline like Sophia Smith was on the pitch, she was not (out sick). Of the three shots, two were on frame, but right at Reign goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce, who handled them easily.
The first half defensively was not bad for the Thorns. Natalia Kuikka did a phenomenal job of containing Elyse Bennett on the Thorns right flank, and Sam Coffey held the center of the midfield down, limiting the influence of Rose Lavelle and forcing the Reign out wide for a majority of the match.
The second half, the Thorns made some great adjustments, head coach Mike Norris said after the match that it was less of a structural change and more the fact that the players started trusting each other on the ball and believing in one another.
When Rocky Rodriguez and Crystal Dunn were subbed in midway through the second half, there was a noticeable pickup in the attack and Rodriguez had a few shots that were just wide of the goal. Portland finished the match with 10 shots, but was unable to find the netting to get the equalizer.
Of the match Norris said, “Disappointed with the results. Really, really happy with the second half, totally different performance. That’s probably what we want to be this year, and that’s what I told the group at the end… That is a second half that we’re proud of and that we’ll be looking to reproduce on a more consistent basis.”
One big thing from the preseason tournament has been the emergence of Michele Vasconcelos up top for the Thorns. Vasconcelos signed with the Thorns in July 2022 as a national team replacement player and only played 14 minutes for the Thorns last year. After re-signing during the offseason, it appears Vasconcelos is going to play a big part in the Thorns attack. Norris spoke of Vasconcelos’s impact this preseason, “She’s looked more comfortable and settled… she’s had an impact, particularly in the tight [spaces], [she’s] a different type of wide forward.” It will be interesting to see how Vasconcelos’s role continues to evolve in the regular season.
The Thorns open the regular season on Sunday, March 26th against the Orlando Pride at Providence Park. With Seb Hines at the helm, the Pride have had quite an impressive preseason and it will be a good test for the Thorns.
OL Reign Takeaways
The Reign came out on the attack in the first half, once again implementing their impressive high press led by Jordyn Huitema and Bethany Balcer. The persistence of the pressure caused some problems for the Portland defense, but OL was just unable to capitalize.
In the second half, the Thorns definitely held more possession than in the first half, but to their credit, the Reign defense held up against the attacks and was able to close out the match with a clean sheet.
Emily Sonnett once again played the defensive midfielder for the Reign. When asked whether to expect Sonnett to be seen more in that position head coach Laura Harvey said, “[expect] multiple spots on the field for Sonnett… I think she adds something really different to our team. In fairness, I think everyone who’s competing with her in those spots has stepped up too, which is great. It just adds a different dimension to us.”
Although they weren’t seen in the Portland game, the two draftees, Shae Holmes and Natalie Viggiano did see time during the tournament. On what she’s seen from them Harvey said, “I’ve worked with Shae a lot, and the best thing about her was after the game she was so devastated with the goals because she blamed herself for them. Immediately Alana and Lu and Pinoe and Jess, they’re all like, ‘no, you’ll learn from it. You wont do it again.’ Natalie as a fourth round draft pick just comes in… The growth she’s had throughout the preseason is exactly what you would hope for a rookie. Obviously in a World Cup year, having people like that around are gonna be really important for us in the summer, so we’ve got to develop them, [and] make them better. This tournament was a really good eye-opener from them of what it’s actually like to play in the league.”
The Reign will head east next weekend to open up the regular season against the Washington Spirit at Audi field, Sunday, March 26th. With the amount of changeover for the Spirit roster, and the lack of depth in the Spirit backline, the Reign should have a good opportunity to bring home a win. It will also mark the return of Emily Sonnett to Audi Field for the first time since being traded to the Reign in January.
POR: GK Bixby, D Kuikka, D Hubly, D Sauerbrunn (Menges, 46), D Klingenberg (Reyes, 83), M Coffey, M Moultrie (Rodríguez, 74), M Sinclair ©, F Sugita, F D’Aquila (Dunn, 62), F Weaver (Vasconcelos, 46)
OLR: GK Tullis-Joyce, D Huerta, D Cook, D Hiatt, D Barnes ©, M Sonnett, M Lavelle, M Fishlock (Stanton, 90+), F Balcer (Van der Jagt, 64), F Huitema (Latsko, 87), F Bennett (King, 46)
More tournament coverage
Portland Thorns vs. U23s recap
Portland Thorns vs. Racing Louisville recap
Racing Louisville vs. U23s recap
OL Reign vs. Racing Louisville recap