Seattle Reign FC hasn't started off the season in as dominant of fashion as the team would have liked, going 2-3-2 and scoring just seven goals in seven matches and sitting in seventh place. If the y want any momentum heading into the August break for the Olympics, players are going to have to step up over the next few weeks.
The good news is that most players, aside from those reporting to international duty, had a week off to mentally and physically regroup, and the Reign return to NWSL play with a healthy and determined Jess Fishlock. While scoring threats Manon Melis and Megan Rapinoe are both still out with injuries, Fishlock's return should give Seattle more attacking energy.
The Reign's latest challenge will be the Houston Dash, a team that currently sits just one point behind the Reign in eighth place. What can Reign fans expect from this match, which kicks off at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday? Alicia Tolar with Dynamo Theory has all the details.
SaH: Dash players have been held scoreless in 3 of their last 4 matches. What's one of the main reasons for the scoring drought?
DT: There isn't a single thing to point at for why the Dash haven't been able to score. Getting the ball into the back of the net has always been a big issue and that's why we have seen quite a bit of roster turn over up top. Losing Carli Lloyd in the midfield also hurts. She had become a huge part of the Dash's game plan and without her they have to fall back to plan B.
SaH: This team has a ton of quality and depth in the midfield, including former Reign player Amber Brooks. How has the midfield been affected by Carli Lloyd's absence, and who sits out when she returns?
DT: When Lloyd went down injured against Orlando she was playing up top with Rachel Daly and Janine Beckie. With Lloyd out we have seen a number of different lineups. Kelia Ohai has started up top with Daly and Beckie, Ubogagu with Ohai and Daly and Daly with Ubogagu and Beckie. A rotational lineup was the plan from the start of the season and it will only continue, but don't expect to see Lloyd on the bench once she is clear to play a full 90.
SaH: Coach Waldrum has been experimenting with the starting frontline quite a bit, and that includes sometimes leaving Kealia Ohai on the bench. What's the primary reason for using her as a sub? Is this a role we'll see her continue to play?
DT: The Dash have more starting talents on their roster this year than they have in years past. With so much talent securing a starting gig isn't as easy as it used to be. Ohai hasn't produced since she was the team's first ever draft pick. In six games, four of which she started, Ohai has no goals and one assist so far, but has been called offsides 13 times. If she wants to start consistently she is going to have to start producing.
DT: The Reign are currently just one point ahead of the Dash in the standings. How would you rate this season thus far compared to last year?
SaH: If we're just looking at Seattle's record, the season began pretty similar to last year. The Reign often take a few games to learn how to make their possession-heavy game work best. However, this year's losses were more dramatic, with the Reign playing two of its worst matches in recent years against Sky Blue and Orlando.
In many ways, this team feels like the same team that won back-to-back NWSL shields, but their inability to be dangerous in front of goal has been concerning. Despite dominating possession, Seattle just hasn't been able to find an offensive spark, which has been the most stark difference from last year.
DT: How has the loss of Jess Fishlock, due to injury, affect the team this year?
SaH: Jess Fishlock is, perhaps, the Reign's most important player. She can quickly transition the team from absorbing pressure to unlocking an attack, and her energy level is irreplaceable. Not to mention, her and Kim Little play so well off one another. In Fishlock's absence, Little and Bev Yanez were both asked to play deeper.
Little can play a defensive role well, but she lacks the energy of Fishlock to quickly spark an offensive attack from a deep position. Yanez is a great distributor and is familiar with the attacking midfield role, which she played in college, but she's more of a goal-scoring threat higher up the field. I'm optimistic that having Fishlock back will solve some of the offensive problems.
DT: The Reign just signed Rumi Utsugi, but she won't be joining the team until July. Do you think that just knowing that she is coming to join the team will affect the Reign players? Who will lose their starting spot once she arrives?
SaH: Rumi Utsugi is an incredibly exciting signing for the Reign. Having another international player who will be unaffected by the Olympics is huge. I'm not sure how much players are thinking about her addition now, but fans are certainly brimming with excitement. It will be interesting to see where Utsugi fits in Laura Harvey's lineup. She can play both leftback and a defensive midfield position, and I could see either working for the team.
If she moves into the midfield, she'd probably play as a holding midfielder alongside Keelin Winters, pushing both Jess Fishlock and Kim Little higher up the field. Getting Little closer to goal is always a good thing. This likely means someone along the front line loses their starting spot, perhaps Merritt Mathias once Manon Melis returns from injury.
The match kicks off Sunday, June 12 at 400 p.m. PT. If you can't make it to Memorial Stadium for the game, you can follow the free livestream on YouTube.