On Wednesday night at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, WA, Reign FC will host Portland Thorns FC for the first time this season. It is the second meeting between these two teams this season. Reign FC won the last meeting thanks to a goal by Celia Jiménez Delgado, but it is Portland who currently sits higher on the National Women's Soccer League table.
The Thorns are coming off a tough draw with Sky Blue FC last weekend, the Thorns were bumped from first place to second in the standings. Now, Portland will try to regain their winning form and retake the top spot as they face their closest rival.
Reign FC played to a tight 1-0 win over the Houston Dash last weekend. Despite an injury list in the double digits, newly acquired Rosie White scored the lone goal of the match and won the game for her new team. The Reign had been in danger of dropping out of playoff position, but the win help them remain in fourth.
Can Reign FC continue to play through the pain?
The laundry list of injuries sustained by Reign FC players this season has stretched this team to the limit. There are 11 players, including 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup Golden Ball winner Megan Rapinoe. She has been listed out for the match. With so many players unavailable for the match, head coach Vlatko Andonovski has been working hard to rebuild the team.
Goalkeeper Casey Murphy has been one of the brightest spots in that rebuilding. After goalkeepers Michelle Betos and Lydia Williams were injured, Andonovski added Murphy, who had gone to Europe after being drafted by Sky Blue FC. She has been an excellent asset for the team, and has helped keep the Reign in many games.
The biggest problems for RFC have been in the attack. With both Rapinoe and Jessica Fishlock out for the upcoming match, it will be up to rookie Bethany Balcer and Englishwoman Jodie Taylor to provide most of the offensive power. Balcer leads the team with three goals, and the rookie has shown flashes of brilliance in her shooting. The addition of White, who scored the game-winning goal in her second appearance for the Reign, will also be extremely important for the team. It's going to be very important for them to find a way to score at least once, then let the defense and Murphy take care of business from there.
The Thorns get their firepower back
The Thorns now have the unfortunate distinction of having drawn with Sky Blue FC, the worst team in the league, twice this season. Without their United States women's national team players last weekend, the Thorns just didn't have the same level of sophistication that they normally bring to the pitch.
That won't be a problems this weekend. Superstars Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan, as well as goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, will all be back with the team and ready to play. It's hard to overstate the value added by Heath and Horan playing together for the Thorns, and both of those players are capable of completely taking over a game at a moment's notice.
Outside of their USA stars, the Thorns also have Canadian striker Christine Sinclair, who is one of the best at positioning and scoring in the world. The ability of those three players to dictate flow in the middle of the field will be important for the Thorns if they are going to win on Wednesday.
On the back line, both Meghan Klingenberg and Ellie Carpenter are capable of getting into the attack from their wingback positions to provide service into the box. At times they can overextend and get exposed, but the Reign will struggle to exploit that minor weakness.
How to watch
The game will kick off at 10:00 p.m. ET at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, WA. The game is nearly sold out, but there are still a few tickets available. The game can be watched on Yahoo! Sports online, on a smart tv, or on a phone or tablet. For international viewers, the game can be seen on NWSLsoccer.com.