NWSL Game of the Week: Portland Thorns vs. Seattle Reign

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PORTLAND, Ore. — On Sunday, Portland Thorns FC host the first NWSL Cascadia derby when the Seattle Reign visit JELD-WEN field. With over 14,000 expected to witness Portland’s home opener, the new country’s new women’s league will see its first five-digit crowd. In their first of four meetings this season (one which will be streamed on the league’s YouTube channel), Portland versus Seattle is our NWSL Game of the Week.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Can you have a rivalry against a team you’ve never played?

It seems illogical two teams who’ve never played will automatically will be rivals, but this is Cascadia, and this is soccer. While a new NBA team in the Emerald City may not spark instant tension with the Trailblazers, Cascadian soccer culture mandates the Thorns and Reign be rivals.

“It’s articulated in the Sounders-Timbers rivalry going back decades,” Reign owner Bill Predmore said, alluding to the NASL legacy of the regions MLS teams. “I think there’s going to be a lot of crossover from fan perspective. You’re going to see Sounders fans who are Reign fans, Timbers fans who are Thorns fans … I think that’s a great fit.”

For the Thorns, the rivalry allows them to build on that Timbers-Sounders intensity, something that could help the city’s new team share support with its MLS brethren. For Predmore, the dynamic could prove an important part of his nascent club’s growth.

“It think [the rivalry is] pretty important,” Predmore said. “Right now, for instance, our best selling matches are the two we’re going to play in Seattle against the Thorns … we’re absolutely seeing the budding rivalry is driving fan interest.”

But is the rivalry really budding? It’s impossible to know until game time. As Seattle head coach and general manager Laura Harvey said, “all that matters is what happens Sunday at two o’clock.”

Until then the question lingers: Can you truly have a rivalry before playing a game. Here’s what seven principles said when asked:

Dignitary Response
Cindy Parlow Cone
Head Coach, Thorns FC
“I don’t know. Don’t you guys set up the rivalries more so than we do? (It’s) the fans and the media.”
Laura Harvey
Head Coach/General Manager, Reign FC
“All that matters is what happens Sunday at two o’clock … It’s something the fans look forward to, the players look forward to, the coaches look forward to.”
Alex Morgan
Forward, Thorns FC
“All of Portland knows that it doesn’t matter what it is. Seattle and Portland always have a great rivalry … It’s just the way it is, isn’t it?”
Bill Predmore
Owner, Reign FC
“I think there’s probably a deep-seated rivalry just between the cities … Hopefully it creates a great environment for the fans in both cities when we’re playing.”
Christine Sinclair
Forward, Thorns FC
“It’s hard to built a rivalry when it’s both team’s second game ever and we’ve never played against each other before.”
Keelin Winters
Midfielder, Reign FC
“I definitely think they can. I know a lot of players who play on Portland. Words have been exchanged. Not saying anything exciting, by any means, but obviously both teams want to win.”

source: Getty Images2. MLS venue means MLS atmosphere

Thorns FC had a number of advantages coming into the season, the biggest of which will be seen on Sunday. The crowd at JELD-WEN will eclipse the combined attendance of the league’s four Week 1 games, and while the club has been reluctant to boost the 14,000 projection that’s been floated this week, a crowd between 16,000 and 17,000 is possible.

Particularly for players who aren’t national team regulars, crowds that size are exceptionally rare.

“The last time I played in front of that amount of people was in 2008 at the Under-20 World Cup,” Seattle midfielder Keelin Winters said. “Emotions are going to be high, playing in front of a big crowd like that. It pumps the players up, maybe a little too excited at times. I think the atmosphere’s going to be awesome, especially because it’s like a Northwest derby.”

It’s the most common refrain among players during this week’s buildup. Yes, the rivalry’s big, and it’s going to be good to get another game until their belts, but the opportunity to play at a Major League Soccer venue in front of Major League Soccer-caliber support is Sunday’s big selling point.

“I think the crowd is going to be awesome,” Thorns defender Rachel Buehler said, excitedly. “I hope that really carries over for us.”

It’s guaranteed to, at least in proportion. Thorns FC have over 7,000 season ticket holders, more than the maximum attendance at all but one of the league’s other seven venues.

3. Two very different midfields

Though Cindy Parlow Cone said the entire team could improve on their Kansas City performance, midfield was a particular area of concerned. Thanks in large part to the play of FCKC’s Desiree Scott, Portland’s midfield four saw supply to Morgan and Sinclair completely cut off. The Thorns failed to score from open play, and until moving Sinclair into an attacking midfield role near the hour mark, the team couldn’t find an alternate route into attack.

“We had so many issues [against Kansas City],” Parlow Cone said. “We weren’t playing well together as a team. We weren’t playing well between our lines – the midfield linking up to the forward, and the defenders linking to the midfielders. Those are things we have to clean up.”

Defensive midfielder Becky Edwards eventually came on after a difficult start, but the rest of the midfield was ineffectual. Allie Long, on the left of a narrow line of three, was the most active midfielder, but she was never able to convert her touches into product. Angie Kerr was a non-factor trying to operate in front of Scott and Jen Buczkowski, while Nikki Washington failed to have a influence as play tended to build through the other side of midfield.

source: Getty ImagesUnfortunately for Portland, Seattle may present even greater problems than Kansas City. Whereas FCKC played a 4-2-3-1 that often saw attacking Lauren Cheney stay well above of the space in front of defense, Laura Harvey’s likely to use a 4-3-3 that will leverage Winters, defensive midfielder Kaylyn Kyle, and first week standout Jessica Fishlock (right, playing last December in Australia).

“Jess came up huge for us defensively (against Chicago),” Winters explained. “She made countless tackles. She didn’t just go into a tackle. She won the tackle.

“I think she was an unknown coming into this league, coming from Wales. Nobody knew what to expect from her. (After) that game against Chicago, people are going to be a little more wary of where she is on the field in relation to them, especially when they have the ball. She’s coming after you whether you like it or not.”

Fishlock will default to the highest, more pressing role in what seems to function as a traditional win-pass-go trio. Winters, known as a defensive midfielder, can hold or play box-to-box, while Kyle’s main responsibilities will be in front of the defense.

Yet Harvey doesn’t want to limit her versatile players to those roles.

“We can play any three of them in any of the three different positions in midfield,” Harvey says, explaining how she’d ideally like her midfield to function. “Defensive mid – all three of them can play it. [Box-to-box] – all three of them can play it. The No. 10 role, playing behind the forward – all three of them can play it. That’s how I like my midfield to be anyway.”

The system’s designed for a lot of interchangeability, a potentially daunting task for Portland considering the trouble they had breaking through Scott and Buczkowski. For Winters, the Reign can learn from Kansas City’s plans, even if the players aren’t identical.

“Desiree (Scott) did a really good job in the game against Portland,” Winter said, commenting on Kansas City’s ability to keep Portland’s midfield from connecting with Morgan and Sinclair. “I was definitely looking for what she did well and worked for her in the game. At the same time, I’m not Desiree Scott.”

“[Morgan and Sinclair] just didn’t have the ball at their feet as much as I’m sure they would have liked,” Winters noted. “One of the things that myself and my midfield and my backline will obviously try (to do is) to deny [those passes]. Whenever they have the ball at their feet, they’re a threat … I’ve seen Sinclair shoot from 30 yards out and score.”

Last week Portland lost the battle of midfields, and they were fortunate they didn’t lose the game. If Seattle can replicate Kansas City’s success in the middle — and improve on the quick transitions Harvey would like to see off turnovers — Portland’s home opener will prove more troublesome than expected.

QUICK HITS

Portland Thorns Seattle Reign
Star to Watch Alex Morgan – Portland’s No. 9 looked tired last week, understandable considering the hectic month she endured leading up to the season. On Sunday, Morgan will be well-rested. Jessica Fishlock – The Welsh international was Seattle’s Week 1 standout. If she can pressure Edwards at the based of midfield, Portland will have to find another person to organize play ahead of the middle third.
Still Important Angie Kerr – Just like last week, the linkup between Sinclair and Portland’s most attacking midfielder will dictate how the game is played. In Kansas City, where the linkup non-existent, the game was played on Kansas City’s terms. Michelle Betos – The 25-year-old came up huge in Chicago in place of Hope Solo. With Seattle’s back line devoid of any star defenders, Betos will have to continue providing stellar performances.
Win if … … they get Sinclair and Morgan more involved, which means solving the midfield problem. They can afford defensive mistakes if they’re scoring goals, but without service to their strikers, Portland can’t get into a shootout. … they win the midfield battle, transition like Harvey wants, and use Christine Nairn and Kiersten Dallstream to stretch Portland’s vulnerable defense. Tactically, Seattle appear to have a series of advantages that should give Portland problems.

Other games, Week 2

Washington Spirit vs. Western New York Flash (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – Aaran Lines’ team played better than their 1-0 loss hints, but they’ll face a more robust defense in Washington, who took a strong point from Boston last weekend. This one looks like a 0-0, with quick transition play sparked by Veronica Perez coming up short against Ashlyn Harris and a strong Spirit defense.

Others: FC Kansas City and Boston has been postponed, while Sky Blue FC, Chicago have the weekend off.

EFL Cup Tuesday preview: Seven Premier League sides enter

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Seven of the 13 Premier League teams to enter the 2017-18 EFL Cup second round will open tournament play Tuesday, while the remaining six wait until Wednesday.

West Bromwich Albion, Bournemouth, Brighton and Hove Albion, Crystal Palace, Swansea City, Leicester City, and Watford all begin their campaigns Tuesday.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

West Brom is one of two sides facing fourth-tier competition, and Tony Pulis‘ Baggies head to the Crown Ground for a match with Accrington Stanley.

Recently promoted Brighton and Hove Albion hosts its first Cup match as a Premier League side when Barnet comes to town. Ex-New York Red Bulls and New York Cosmos winger Ruben Bover is on the visitors side of the pitch.

Frank De Boer‘s Crystal Palace gets a tricky test from in-form Ipswich Town, as Mick McCarthy’s Tractor Boys are one of two Championship teams to start the season 4-0.

The seven PL sides competing in the Champions League or Europa League don’t join the fray until the third round.

Full slate of Tuesday’s second round matches
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET unless noted

Accrington Stanley vs. West Bromwich Albion
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Barnet
Bolton Wanderers vs. Sheffield Wednesday — 3 p.m. ET
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town — 2:30 p.m. ET
Doncaster Rovers vs. Hull City
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Milton Keynes Dons vs. Swansea City
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
Queens Park Rangers vs. Brentford
Reading vs. Millwall — 3 p.m. ET
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Watford vs. Bristol City

VIDEO: Tribute to Wayne Rooney’s 200 Premier League goals

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Wayne Rooney‘s special night was a bit tainted by Manchester City, but the Everton striker was couldn’t help but smile at the notion of joining Alan Shearer in the record books.

“To join Alan Shearer with that amount of goals, it’s obviously a big moment and hopefully (there’s) a lot to come,” Rooney said after the game.

Rooney scored his 200th Premier League goal — only Shearer’s 260 number more — before 10-man Man City equalized in the second half in a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Monday.

[ MORE: Recap | 3 things ]

The longtime England captain had to give credit where it was due, though:

“I have to say City second half provided a lot of pressure and probably deserved a goal in the end. Overall, probably a fair result.”

“We’ve got a tough week. Obviously tonight, a couple days rest then Thursday and Sunday. We started off with a good point.”

Everton travels to Hajduk Split for a Europa League playoff round second leg on Thursday and then continues its murderer’s row of PL fixtures with a Sunday trip to Chelsea. A visit from Spurs and a trip to Manchester United follows the Stamford Bridge visit.

That doesn’t give Rooney a lot of time to relish history, but he’ll surely enjoy his evening having made it two legends in an exclusive English club.

Three things from Everton’s 1-1 draw at Manchester City (video)

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Manchester City had 10 men for almost 45 minutes, but you could hardly tell as the Etihad Stadium club came back to draw Everton 1-1 on Monday.

[ RECAP: Man City 1-1 Everton ]

An entertaining affair had a bit for everyone, as Wayne Rooney made Premier League history and Everton teammate Morgan Schneiderlin joined City’s Kyle Walker as players to earn iffy second yellow cards.

All that and more, below:

Bittersweet draw for Koeman

Most teams will be quite pleased to take a point at Manchester City.

Most teams don’t have the aspirations of the financial outlay of 2017-18 Everton.

And most teams won’t have played almost a full half with one more man than City, only to manage maybe one more moment of danger against Pep Guardiola‘s men.

So, yes, this Toffees draw feels a bit like a loss. Wayne Rooney had sent Everton into a moment of historical hysteria with a quality first half marker, his 200th Premier League goal off a feed from continuously impressing youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

And when Kyle Walker was given a rather cheap second yellow card in the 44th minute, the Toffees would’ve felt good money for an away win in their quest to join the Premier League’s Top Four contenders.

But City controlled the rest of the match, and it could be argued that a lesser keeper than Jordan Pickford would’ve conceded an equalizer much earlier in the match. Man City was humming.

“Even with one less player on the pitch, they have that high quality on the ball and they can make it difficult. We had a tactical good game, unlucky, the goal. They didn’t create a lot of open chances, but still had the domination of the game and in the counter attack we had some opportunities, but finally it’s a good point and we worked hard for that result.”

The Toffees have loads of promise, and their resilience in holding firm for most of the match is laudable (Mason Holgate‘s clearance into the path of Raheem Sterling is unlucky). Yet three points to start a vicious run of fixtures would’ve been much preferred to the lone marker that made it to the table.

Off day + 10 men = Still a point for City

On a day when Sergio Aguero struggled to find his feet and Walker got his dicey sending-off, Man City was still the better of the two teams and that has to make Pep Guardiola a pleased man.

David Silva remains an important part of City’s attack, and Kevin De Bruyne was pretty good in the draw, but plenty of the hosts’ men didn’t have their A-games.

Aguero had a soft header cleared off the line and wasted a gorgeous first half chance by taking an extra touch. When he was on, like his silky outside of the boot pass to David Silva, the receiver hit the post. Bernardo Silva and Danilo also missed chances that would’ve been fine goals on another day.

Without the “City: Down to 10 men (Walker 44′)” graphic atop the screen, an unknowing viewer would have been stunned upon counting less than 11 City players.

Don’t sleep on Rooney’s day (or Calvert-Lewin moving forward)

Wayne Rooney is one of the best players in the history of English football, and he rightfully joins Alan Shearer as the only players to score 200 goals in the Premier League era.

“To join Alan Shearer with that amount of goals, it’s obviously a big moment and hopefully (there’s) a lot to come,” Rooney said after the game.

While his simple finish through Ederson’s legs lacks the glory of some of his goals (for a reminder, watch below), it’s surprising how many people have absolutely written off England’s all-time scoring leader as a gimmicky signing.

Rooney has two goals in two games, and he linked up well with Calvert-Lewin again on Monday. Koeman was impressed.

“I’m not surprised,” said the Everton manager. “I know the player. I know how eager he was to come back to Everton. Dominic Calvert-Lewin did well. He ran a lot and made it difficult for the Manchester City defenders. Then you can come out of your box and control.”

Perhaps it’s Manchester United overload, or England’s often over-celebrated national team, but Rooney isn’t the sort of player you see every day. Congrats to him on a big day.

Man City 1-1 Everton: Pep’s 10 men tarnish Rooney’s day

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  • Rooney scores 200th (video)
  • Pickford stands tall
  • Walker sent off for MCFC
  • Sterling scores

Wayne Rooney scored his 200th career Premier League goal, but Everton could not hold on to beat 10-man Man City in a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Monday.

Raheem Sterling scored a deserved equalizer for Man City in the draw as both the Toffees and Citizens scooped up their fourth points of the season.

The Toffees went down to 10 men late, as Morgan Schneiderlin joined Kyle Walker in earning a rather soft sending-off.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Dominic Calvert-Lewin dragged a long shot across goal for Everton’s first real chance, while Kevin De Bruyne‘s deflected free kick was collected by Jordan Pickford as Man City tempted goal.

A long feeling-out period followed, but the match sprang to life when Pickford parried a Nicolas Otamendi chance to Sergio Aguero. The striker’s popped header was cleared off the line by Phil Jagielka.

Aguero wasted a gorgeous pass from De Bruyne with superfluous touches in the 33rd minute. The Argentine made up for it with a inch-perfect pass that David Silva cranked off the left post a minute later.

That’s when Everton scored, with Calvert-Lewin squaring for Rooney’s clinical finish through the legs of Ederson.

Gabriel Jesus chested an Aguero trap into shooting position, but Pickford collected the shot.

Kyle Walker took two yellow cards in four minutes to earn a red card from Bobby Madley, and City was down a goal and two men. The second was especially questionable.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Man City had the better of the early second half play, with Morgan Schneiderlin blocking a De Bruyne free kick and Jagielka racing out to stop the rebound.

That’s when Ronald Koeman readied new Everton signing Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Ederson made an outstanding 80-yard pass to a streaking Aguero, and Man City set up a play that ended with Bernardo Silva bouncing a shot wide of the Everton goal.

Pickford made another strong save when Danilo stepped into the right of the 18 with about 15 minutes to play. An Everton free kick saw Ederson collect a Rooney header moments later.

Sterling gave City its equalizer when Mason Holgate was occupied with David Silva and headed his clearance to the top of the 18 for a near point blank finish.

Schneiderlin made it 10 men a piece in the 88th minute when he collected his second yellow card.