FanPost

Reign Rankings, week 1: Goalkeeping Changes Games

Mike Russell

I'm going to make an effort to re-watch Reign games this season and provide subjective rankings, much in the same way Realio provides for the Sounders. Rather than reinvent the wheel I'll use a ranking system similar to his with a scale from 1-10, where 1 is a performance so poor that the player should not play again, 4 is a replacement level NWSL player, 6 is an average NWSL starter, 9 is an all-star performance, and 10 is an MVP-quality performance.

This week was all about players getting comfortable and figuring out their teammates after an all-too-long off-season and an all-too-short pre-season. The game started with a few nice opportunities for the Reign, but then Sky Blue took control and peppered Haley Kopmeyer with shots for most of the half as Seattle's midfield struggled to effectively link play through the middle of the park. Seattle regrouped and started the second half strong, but Sky Blue continued to press and look for fast counter attacking opportunities. Neither side broke through until a pair of penalties midway through the second half, but without an outstanding performance from Kop this easily could have been a 3-1 victory for Sky Blue.

Starters

Haley Kopmeyer (9, POTM) – Kop clearly put in a lot of work this off-season. She came out ready and was put to the test early and often. Eight saves, three of them massive (20’, 53’, 88’), were critical to the Reign coming away with a point. She nearly stopped Sky Blue’s penalty kick, too. It's impossible to fault her for the goal. The only negatives were a few sloppy long clearances that went directly out of play.

Carson Pickett (7) – Carson looks much more comfortable and composed than last year. She did a good job dealing with Sky Blue’s speedy attacking corps (particularly Kelley O’Hara and later Maya Hayes). Positives on the defensive side included several intercepted passes and a critical clearance in the 58th minute. On the offensive side, Pickett had a number of nice interchanges with Megan Rapinoe along the flank along with several precise passes through narrow gaps in the Sky Blue midfield and defense. She also had one very nice run into the attacking third to pick up a long ball from Barnes, but unfortunately her first touch took her wide and she was only able to get off a weak shot. On the negative side, she was caught up field several times on fast Sky Blue counterattacks, including the one that led to Sky Blue’s penalty kick.

Lauren Barnes (6) – The lone remaining starter from the stalwart 2014 Reign defensive corps, Barnes stepped into a new leadership role this year as co-captain and commander in the back. Not quite as active in my notes as her partner McNabb (which might speak more to smart positioning and Sky Blue preferring to test the rookie), Lu still had an impressive number of interceptions, blocks, and through balls to set up counter attacks. In particular, she had a beautiful long pass into the Sky Blue box that unlocked Carson Pickett, although her eventual shot was from a tough angle. Most of Lu’s negatives came early in the game when everyone was still shaking off some rust – twice in the 5th minute she found herself mispositioned and saw attackers dribble past her and shortly thereafter she tried to dribble out of the back and lost the ball. The biggest negative, however, came on the play that led to the Sky Blue penalty kick. With Pickett still up field after an unexpected Reign turnover, Sam Kerr moved into the vacated space. Barnes started to track her, but then opted to move centrally into a space already covered by Nairn. Kerr received a wide open pass and was able to put in a cross entirely unchallenged which would have found Kelley O’Hara on the far post if not for Mathias’ foul.

Kristen McNabb (6) – You wouldn’t have guessed this was her first ever professional appearance. Her early minutes were marred by a few long passes up field that went to no one in particular, but after those early jitters she settled down and primarily kept her passes short and targeted. Mostly showed good positioning and had a number of interceptions and clearances, including an important clearance in the box in the 40th minute. McNabb also did a good job shifting over to cover for Mathias when she got caught up field in the 78th minute, preventing Kerr from getting another open opportunity to cross. Negatives were mostly related to her lack of familiarity with teammates and opponents – she was a little slow to make passes as play circulated around the back, was out run by Sam Kerr a few times, and kept Kerr onside while the rest of the defense stepped up on a good Sky Blue chance in the 82nd minute.

Merritt Mathias (5) – Yes, she gave up the penalty after Kelley O’Hara got past her near the post. However, she was one of the early bright spots for the Reign, connecting several excellent through balls to attackers in the first 15 minutes before being pulled back to hold down the back line as Sky Blue started pressing. When pushed into a more defensive role she showed some weaknesses, losing track of the player she was meant to mark a number of times and suffering several bad passes and failed dribbles toward the end of the first half. Things trended more positive again in the final 15 minutes of the game, as she did well pressuring Sky Blue players into making bad passes, although a bad throw-in by her after one such pressure in the 81st minute led to a Sam Kerr shot just over the crossbar. She also put in a nice cross while playing as the central attacker in the 89th minute and nearly scored on a header off a cross from Stott in the final minute of the match.

Jess Fishlock (8) – Jess does not understand the word "off-season". She started this game in excellent form, with a header just over the bar in the 3rd minute and a classic Fishlock tackle in her own box in the 8th minute to break up a dangerous Sam Kerr scoring opportunity. Fishlock was all over the defensive midfield, breaking up attacks, picking up second balls, and connecting through balls and crosses to find space to start attacks. No player had more notable actions in my chart. I thought she was lucky not to be called for a foul in the Reign box on a push in the 14th minute, and her aggressiveness almost led to a Sky Blue break in the 30th minute when she collided with Kristen McNabb, who was in far better position to play a Sky Blue punt.

Christine Nairn (6; off 74’) – In real time, it felt as if Nairn was a bit lost in the midfield, but upon rewatching the game my notes for her have far more positives than negatives. That said, she had far fewer notes than Fishlock while playing a similar role. She had excellent positioning much of the game, intercepting numerous Sky Blue passes and playing a few important through balls to set up Reign attacks. However, almost all of her notes were on the defensive side of things, indicating just how limited her attacking role was in this game. On the negative side, she had some sloppy early play and a few unforced bad passes, and simply wasn't as involved as you'd like for a central midfielder.

Bev Yanez (6) – Similar to Nairn, Bev felt underutilized in her midfield role. Most of her positive actions were defensive, with a number of instances of good pressure resulting in Sky Blue turnovers, and some good clearances on Sky Blue corner kicks. On the negative side, she had a number of bad first touches on passes to her that ended potential attacking opportunities, and a particularly bad pass near midfield that led directly to the Sky Blue penalty kick, and much like Nairn she wasn't as involved in key plays as you'd like to see.

Nahomi Kawasumi (7) – In a game where the attacking trio struggled to get the ball in dangerous spots, Naho and Pinoe both did an excellent job coming back and getting themselves into the play in other ways. In the first half Naho pressured Sky Blue players numerous times and forced turnovers, and she was the target of most of the rare crosses Reign players were able to serve in. On the negative side, Naho was caught dribbling several times, and had a promising opportunity at the top of the Sky Blue box in the 89th minute where she got the ball caught under her feet and missed her window to shoot.

Lindsay Elston (4; off 66’) – By all appearances, Elston was tasked with harassing Sky Blue defenders and providing the high press that Laura Harvey prefers from her central forward. However, I found her aggressiveness lacking and her step a bit slow, particularly in the first 20 minutes of the game when she was bullied off the ball twice and let Sky Blue’s keeper dally with the ball at her feet several times. As for positives, she had several excellent passes to unlock attacks in the 30th, 34th and 37th minute, and a couple of nice recoveries where she picked the pocket of Sky Blue players, but ultimately a central forward needs to be more assertive and find more ways to be involved.

Megan Rapinoe (7; goal 56’, off 86’) – Pinoe was far and away the most active player in the Reign attacking band, with both positives and negatives to show for it. As usual for her, she had a number of nice dribbles down the flank, often working past defenders with deft footwork or smart interplay with teammates. She had a beautiful cross across the top of the 6 yard box in the 68th minute that just missed connecting with Naho, and showed a willingness to get back and provide defensive pressure throughout the game. However, her performance had also number of notable negatives, most significantly a number of bad passes and first touches that led to dangerous counter attacks for Sky Blue. In particular, a sloppy pass in the 53rd minute led to a Leah Galton fast break which required a Kopmeyer highlight reel save.

Substitutes

Rumi Utsugi (7, on 66’) – Utsugi made a significant impact in her limited time on the field, as she had nearly as many notable actions in her 24 minutes of defensive midfield play as Nairn and Yanez had in their entire performances, and her entrance also enabled Fishlock to push further up field. Almost immediately after entering she had won a strong 50/50 challenge, and provided the key pass to Rapinoe to set up her beautiful 66th minute cross. Utsugi also showed good positioning and picked up a number of loose balls in the middle of the field. On the down side, she had a few poor first touches and passes, and the ball got caught up in her feet on a pass in the 88th minute which led to a quick Sky Blue counter and a Sam Kerr shot that Kop just barely tipped wide.

Kiersten Dallstream (incomplete; on 74’) – Dave made a case for potentially starting up front next week in place of Elston. She showed a willingness to chase the ball and pressure the Sky Blue back line, and was involved in several nice plays during her short time on the field. In particular, she picked up several second balls and rebounds in the attacking third, got back on defense to clear a corner kick, and had a very nice cross into the box in the 92nd minute. The only only negatives I noted were two poor passes.

Rebekah Stott (incomplete; on 86’) – Stott didn’t have much opportunity to make her mark on the game, but she had an outstanding cross into the box in the 90th minute that found Merritt Mathias’ head, but unfortunately sailed just over the bar.

Officiating

Karen Abt (8) Both penalty calls seemed fair to me, and I thought the Reign were lucky to escape without conceding another penalty on a Fishlock collision in the 14th minute. The only mildly controversial incidents beyond that were a probable foul throw uncalled on Sky Blue in the 67th minute, and an odd moment in the 83rd minute where she demanded Megan Rapinoe move back about 15 yards for a throw in, despite Rapinoe being positioned precisely where the ball had actually gone out of bounds.

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