Long time rivals Portland Thorns FC and OL Reign played to a scoreless draw on Friday night to kick off the third week of action across the National Women’s Soccer League. It was already their third competitive match of the season after playing twice during the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup group stage, and they’ve now drawn two out of the three as both sides settled were forced to settle for a scoreless draw on Friday.
The latest iteration of their Cascadian rivalry gave some glimpses of what to expect from the two sides moving forward though in many ways it was the weather that was the main story of the night as a rainy, soggy, night impacted the flow of the ball and movement on the pitch. OL Reign leave the match still on the hunt for their first regular season win but can take solace from a night full of strong individual performances, while the Thorns won’t be too worried about a draw either as four points from their first two matches will set them up comfortably going forward.
Let’s take a look at some takeaways from the game
The two Pacific Northwest sides have a decade to long rivalry that dates back to the NWSL’s inaugural season, and this match fit squarely in the spirit of that history. Head coach Laura Harvey referred to the match as “very Portland, Seattle. Frantic, hectic.” during postgame comments.
So, it was no surprise that the two teams played a fairly even match, each recording 17 shots, with each having moments when momentum shifted in their favor despite how tough ball movement proved to be on the wet turf. Despite the whether, however there were moments when Portland’s attacking trio of Sophia Smith, Morgan Weaver, and Christine Sinclair initiated the kind of lightning fast dangerous transitions the Thorns thrive on.
Check out Sinclair’s deeper position, creating space to connect with Smith on an early attempt during the first half.
Hugita’s pass to Weaver led to a quick give and go as Smith continued her run, which ultimately led to an equally impressive save by OL’s Phallon Tullis-Joyce. These are the kinds of moves that Thorns will need to rely if they’re going to have a successful season. Thanks to the weather there weren’t as many of them on the night as they would have wanted, but enough flashes were still there that the team should be confident it was only the conditions that hindered them
That attempt by the Thorns just after a blocked shot by Reign midfilder Jess Fishlock.
OL led the first half in corner kicks, with three opportunities, and it looked like that was the way how they were likeliest to find the net. Specifically Sofia Huerta, who continues to be a revelation after her conversion to fullback, provided the service into the box wish Fishlock was able one-time. It was just the first of many touches for Huerta, who ended the night with a career record 132 touches in the game, which was part of the Reign’s game plan according to Harvey.
“It was intentional. And I think in the first half, we got her on the ball, but we didn’t get her up in the areas we really wanted her to be enough,” Harvey said. “And I thought as the second half went on, she really started to show what an offensive threat she can be… I think that she showed tonight that she can be an offensive threat.”
Huerta’s continued development as an attacking threat is something that could define how far this team goes this month.
All those shots and no goals
Despite the moments of danger, however, the two rivals had to settle for a point as neither side could finish a move. At times it appeared as if maybe the ball might squeeze through goal on the rainy night. The match closed out with each team recording 17 shots respectively though the Thorns had the better of chances on target, with seven shots on goal compared to three by the Reign.
Weaver had prime chance early in the first half as Smith sent a through ball in, the shot sprung over the keeper and the attempt hit the post before ultimately being cleared out by the Reign.
Thorns continued to have chances late in the game, once more from Weaver, and another by Janine Beckie that missed just wide in the 87th minute.
The story of the night, though, was that despite all those chances there weren’t very many great scoring opportunities, and instead it looked like the best chance for a goal would come if the rain forced a keeper to make a mistake. The expected goal count was 1.15 for the Thorns to 0.78 for OL, a fairly low amount given the high shot totals.
Not even a late appearance from Megan Rapinoe could liven things up for OL. She played 23 minutes and only took one shot and completed four passes. Eventually the game plan of getting Huerta into dangerous areas will have to lead to better chances if this team is going to thrive.
New faces standout
As we continue to get familiar with newer faces across the league, first year players for both teams had impressive matches. Japanese International Sina Hugita was acquired by the Thorns during the offseason and signed to a three year deal, and is proving to be an early answer in the midfield for Portland.
The 24-year-old created two chances against OL Reign, while completing 100% of her passes into the final third, and her 84.3% pass completion rate was the best among all Thorns midfielders during the match. Given the attacking options around her, if she can reliably move the ball up the field, the Thorns are going to spend long stretches of time pinning opposition deep.
Reign goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce is in her second year with the club after signing with the team back in April 2021, but has seen nearly zero match time so far except for a final minute during OL’s last regular season game against Kansas City.
However, the 2022 season is shaping up to become the year of Tulles-Joyce, as the keeper had a breakout Challenge Cup performance, registering a pair of shutouts and 24 saves in seven matches — earning a spot on the Challenge Cup All-Tournament starting XI.
Tullis-Joyce adds another clean sheet to her stat records after the scoreless draw against the Thorns, where she faced 15 crosses, and made six saves to close out the night.
Round two of the Cascadian rivalry will be on July 10, as OL Reign host Portland at Lumen Field in Seattle, Washington.