Technically the season is only 46 percent complete, but we have more than a week before game No. 12 and I am seizing the chance to take a holistic look back and also preview the second half.
For just a moment I want to go all the way back to the end of the 2013 season. Revisit this Levy Films footage from the last game against the Thorns, the 14th loss of the season. Go ahead, do it. It'll be worth it.
Since the events of that video we've undergone significant roster churn. It has been an eventful 10 months to say the least. Behold the results: midway through 2014 the Reign are 9-0-2 with a +16 goal differential. They are KOing people. The team will enjoy their own sort of World Cup break until June 19th, which coincides with the second national team match against France.
What Has Gone Right?
In short, Laura Harvey's roster building. Harvey's aggressive campaign of trades and acquisitions this past autumn and winter was covered in detail on this site, and excitement for the incoming talent was rightly high. Let's look at some more specific aspects that have made this first half possible:
- The Seattle Cerberus. That midfield. I'm not sure any team gets as much from its midfield as Seattle does, with all due respect to Washington and Kansas City. Kim Little has played like the MVP of the league so far. She has been recognized as such by winning both Player of the Month awards. You know her, you love her. She is invaluable on this team as an attacking midfielder because her on-ball skill and striking accuracy force multiple defenders' eyes and feet towards her and oh look Naho is clear on the wing. She is still a threat even in a crowd. I wouldn't be surprised if Kansas City ace Amy Rodriguez wins the Golden Boot, but Kim will still demand attention for Most Valuable Player. (Kim gifs via Epitome of Loyalty and My Blue Team.) I'd argue that Captain Keelin Winters is the team's second most important player. Her all-around defensive ability is critical to Harvey's 4-3-3. Keelin has great range, is an excellent tackler and controls cleared ball headers. She really is having an excellent year. If you've watched any games you've seen Keelin put her body on the line for the team. Speaking of putting their body on the line, we come to the Welsh Green dragon, Jess Fishlock. Quite simply, Jess attacks the ball, is relentless, and breathes fire. She is wildly quick and has continued to be another viable scoring threat when she is not terrorizing opponents.
- Chicago-like Defense Minus the Cards. The Reign have allowed the fewest shots on goal at 44 (Chicago is at 47). Hope Solo has saved 35 of those 44 shots on goal, or 80%. That ratio is currently the league's best.
- We May Not Be Large, But We Contain Multitudes. Our depth has been very functional. Six defenders have played, and Kiersten Dallstream is the only one of those who has played in fewer than 9 games. She has played in 6 games. Kiersten, a converted forward, is probably our least proficient defender but is certainly not Thorns bad. The Reign defense has also been without first round pick Amanda Frisbie and Canadian National teamer Carmelina Moscato.
What Has Gone Wrong? (or, The World's Smallest Violin)
- Slow Starts. The Reign have a habit of not executing as they should early in games. We've seen their combinations lack sharpness and be more prone to turnovers in many first halves. The opponent has scored first in the the last 4 matches.
- Injuries. The Reign are still missing Megan Rapinoe and, as mentioned, defenders Amanda Frisbie and Carmelina Moscato who would all contribute.
- We May Contain Multitudes, But We Are Not Large. I don't know, I'm nit picking. A lot of our most heavily featured players are tiny. We lose a lot of headers. Our corner kicks are not particularly effective, especially with Sydney Leroux having a quiet year on the stat sheet.
Here is the full remaining schedule, from the NWSL site's Reign page (all times ET. Pardon the fuzziness of my compressed screenshot):
The hardest part of the season is still ahead. Look at the stretch of games bridging July and August. 5 (FIVE) games are scheduled within 14 (FOURTEEN) days. Fortunately three are at home. Every team has a similarly difficult stretch, but it is still intimidating. Last season the top three teams finished with 38 points. The Reign are on pace for 63 points. The current teams in 2nd-4th place are on pace for 38-41 points. We are not going to maintain our breakneck pace, but we only need avoid a catastrophic collapse to secure home field advantage in the playoffs. Can we win 4 of our next 13 games? If Megan Rapinoe can return for any stretch of time I'd be willing to wager we take 4 games in the second half. Maybe even 5!