After an uncharacteristic loss in their home opener, Seattle Reign FC travel across the country to face the Boston Breakers on Sunday, April 24. The match, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. PT, is currently 400 tickets away from a sell-out.
While Boston was at the bottom of the table last season, they have a new coach in former Liverpool manager Matt Beard, and a number of new players who are hoping to help push them higher up this year.
"I felt they grew into the game, and we're expecting a tough game," Coach Laura Harvey said about Boston's first match on the road against the Washington Spirit. "We always find Boston a tough place to go."
Stephanie Yang with The Bent Musket answers Three Questions to help you prepare for Seattle's first road match of the season.
SaH: Like a lot of NWSL teams this year, Boston has a new coach. What kind of team does Matt Beard appear to be building?
TBM: I think he wants a really versatile attack that can shift forwards and mids back and forth as needed while also engaging fullbacks in overlapping runs. He constantly emphasizes off-the-ball movement and he wants to expand the midfield beyond Kristie Mewis this season.
SaH: You've mentioned that you don't believe Boston is going to finish in last this year. What changes has the team made that give you hope?
TBM: I think the primary changes for me are adding Whitney Engen to the back line and McCall Zerboni in the midfield. The team is attempting to strengthen its spine and even though they've lost Alyssa Naeher, I think overall they look stronger down the middle. How much stronger remains to be seen, but I do think the midfield was a bit makeshift last season and this season has been expressly constructed as a midfield, if that makes sense.
SaH: Boston lost 1-0 to the Washington Spirit in its first match. What promising things did you see from Boston in this match? Where do you have concerns?
TBM: Holding Washington to 1-0 after going down to an early goal was good. I think in the past the team might not have reacted as well to that. We still have serious issues in the midfield. Louise Schillgard will need to get into a higher gear, especially if Zerboni has an off day, and we need more shots on goal overall. They have got to get Kyah Simon in front of the goal as often as possible and I wouldn't mind Mewis taking more shots, long range or otherwise, since she has the ability to make those.
TBM: How do you think the Reign will react to losing their home opener?
SaH: I think the home opener was a big wake-up call for the team. After the match, Laura Harvey said that she saw the players make a lot of the same mistakes in the preseason, but they didn't get punished for them at the time. They certainly did last weekend. I'm not sure they'll have it all figured out for this match against Boston, but I suspect they'll come out with a lot more energy and intensity.
TBM: What were some of the problems you saw in the loss to SBFC that you think they'll work to rectify against Boston?
SaH: One of the reasons the Reign dominated the league last season was because of their movement off the ball. They knew teams would swarm Kim Little in the midfield, but when that happened, Little had multiple options due to the team's smart movement. That didn't happen against Sky Blue, and it was incredibly frustrating to watch. I suspect we'll see the Reign making adjustments in their runs to get themselves in more dangerous situations. Hopefully, that means unlocking the speedy Manon Melis, who had one or two good chances last weekend but was otherwise pretty quiet.
As for the backline, which struggled mightily to contain the speed of Kelley O'Hara, we might see a new lineup this weekend — although it's hard to know after just one match. I think they'll be more focused on how they move as a unit to give each other cover, but I also don't think they'll be threatened in the same way.
TBM: Seattle probably has some of the best roster continuity in the league right now. How much do you expect that to factor into their season? Do you think this is another year they should expect themselves to be in the playoffs - and perhaps the final?
SaH: Laura Harvey worked hard to ensure she not only had a similar roster to last year, but that the team would be minimally affected by the Olympics. In another year where teams are going to lose a lot of key players for a good chunk of the year, the Reign are going to benefit from a lot of continuity.
I always hate to make predictions, but I do suspect this will be another year of success for Seattle. Having a player like Manon Melis brings them something they haven't had before — speed on the flanks and a directness toward goal. If they can figure out how to exploit that, it's going to be scary.
The match kicks off at 3:30 p.m. PT on Sunday, April 24, and can be streamed on YouTube.