There will be a lot of familiar faces on the opposite side of the field Saturday when the Portland Thorns host the Seattle Reign in the first semifinal of the NWSL playoffs.
The match is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET, and the rivals are meeting at Providence Park just a week after the Thorns thrashed the Reign 3-1 on their home turf in the final game of the regular season.
Reign forward Jodie Taylor didn’t sugarcoat her feelings about the loss when speaking to reporters during a conference call Tuesday, but she insisted the team has shown a desire for revenge in training this week.
“In my opinion, it was the worst game we’ve played this season, and fortunately it wasn’t the playoffs,” said Taylor, who leads the Reign in goals scored with nine. “No one’s in denial. It wasn’t good enough in the slightest and not worthy of even a playoff spot, and we’ve been putting in the work to fix that this week.”
During that game, the Reign certainly felt the absences of Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long, the team’s leading playmakers in the midfield who do well to complement Taylor. Reign head coach Vlatko Andonovski said Rapinoe (ribs) and Long (right knee sprain) have been limited in training and he won’t know their availability for Saturday until they simulate a game situation during Thursday’s training session.
“They haven’t had a full session yet. We’re still being cautious,” said the first-year coach, who led the Reign back to the playoffs after two years not qualifying. “Megan is a little bit ahead of Allie at this point. We’re hoping that they’re going to be able to play and be 100 percent, but as of right now we’re still kind of not sure.”
We've faced @thornsfc 19 times in the regular season but never in the playoffs. That all changes this Saturday.
Tune into @lifetimetv to watch the semifinal showdown, or get tickets for the Reign FC supporters' section and join us in Portland.
— Seattle Reign FC (@ReignFC) September 11, 2018
Whether the two United States women’s national team stars play for the Reign will have no effect on the Thorns’ mindset going into the game, forward Christine Sinclair explained. After going 4-3-4 to start the season, including dropping their first two contests against the Reign, the reigning NWSL champions hit their stride just in time.
“I have to say, the past two seasons as well, we’ve been sort of slow starters in the season. We’ve had injuries and then we’ve been peaking towards the end,” said Sinclair, who leads Portland with nine goals. “I think [coach Mark Parsons] and our entire staff has a good plan. We’re gonna be peaking at the end of the season while other teams maybe are not, and you’ve seen that the past two months.
“This team has, over the course of the past few years, a unique ability to find our best when our backs are against the wall.”
Parsons echoed Sinclair’s confidence in the Thorns’ momentum, while also noting his message to the team has been not to look past this game. With a win, Portland would have a chance to defend its title at home against the winner of Sunday’s semifinal between the North Carolina Courage and the Chicago Red Stars.
“If we could put that in a bottle and get excited about it, but put it to the side, then stay focused on what we’re doing today and tomorrow before Saturday, that’s the goal,” Parsons said.
— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) September 11, 2018