This weekend’s matchup should be an exciting battle between the No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense (that would be your Seattle Reign). Seattle is currently tied with Portland for the least number of goals conceded (7), and the team is riding a streak of five consecutive clean sheets, an NWSL record.
While opponents have certainly had their share of dangerous chances, Seattle’s ability to dominate possession — combined with a well-organized defense and the return of Jess Fishlock — has made the Reign the only team in the league to hold its opponents to under 90 shots this season, allowing just 87 through 11 games.
On the other side, the Flash have scored 22 goals in 11 matches, a league high, and they show no signs of slowing down offensively. In fact, Western New York just reached an NWSL milestone of its own: most goals scored during a six-game span (19). That includes a 7-1 win over Boston two weeks ago.
Western New York thrives on transition play. With the pace of Lynn Williams and Jess MacDonald up top — who have scored 6 and 5 goals, respectively — the team pushes forward as quick as possible after winning the ball. One of the things that has troubled the Reign backline this season is speed, and Lynn Williams is ridiculously fast running onto the ball. Containing Williams is going to be a big task for Seattle.
A lot of Western New York’s transition play flows through Samantha Mewis in the midfield. Mewis, however, is currently at U.S. Women’s National Team training camp along with Flash teammate Jaelene Hinkle, who has already racked up three assists this season as an attacking-minded left back.
New Zealand international Abby Erceg filled in as a holding midfielder extremely well last weekend, but will face perhaps the strongest midfield trio in the league in Kim Little, Keelin Winters, and Jess Fishlock. Western NY will also be without midfielder Alanna Kennedy, who was named to Australia’s Olympic squad and reported to training camp ahead of their friendly against Brazil.
One other thing puts Seattle in a strong position heading into this game: the style that Western New York plays matches up fairly well with the Reign’s attacking approach. Other teams, especially Portland, have found success compressing the field defensively — pulling their forwards back to cut off balls into the midfield and pushing their backline high to force Seattle to play the long ball.
It’s been fairly effective against the Reign, who scored just one goal in four games prior to last weekend. But the Flash prefer the game to be more open, and like to try to spread defenses. Additionally, the absence of Kennedy and Hinkle leaves the Flash with some defensive holes that players like Naho Kawasumi and the speedy Manon Melis should be able to exploit.
Japanese international midfielder Rumi Utsugi, who hasn’t fully practiced with the squad, will also be available for selection this weekend. She probably won’t start, but could come on as a sub to provide defensive cover if Seattle is ahead.
Saturday’s match takes place at Frontier Field at 4:00 p.m. PT, and will stream live on YouTube. The two teams face each other the following week at Memorial Stadium.