A very busy week for Seattle Reign FC saw a midweek visit to the Houston Dash, which resulted in Houston’s first-ever victory over the Reign thanks to the strength of two second-half Dash goals. Seattle dominated most aspects of the game, out-passing the Dash by nearly 250 passes and holding a 62%-38% edge in possession, but the Reign faltered in the second half as Houston pressed higher. After ceding a mere 3 shots (none on target) in the first half, Seattle was peppered with 15 in the second, and never recovered from the Dash tactical adjustments.
With three games in eight days, and the latter two on the road, Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski faced some challenges in setting his lineup for each game to deal with fatigue, injuries, and the expected tactics of his opponents. In this match he opted to make only one defensive change – swapping in goalkeeper Michelle Betos for Lydia Williams. The back four and two defensive-minded midfielders remained unchanged from the weekend match against Chicago.
The attack saw more changes, with Elizabeth Addo earning her first start in place of Jess Fishlock, while Bev Yanez took Megan Rapinoe’s place. All of the Reign subs were similarly in the attack, and by the end the Reign defense was showing signs of significant fatigue. Games like this are challenging to rate, since as good as Seattle looked in the first half, they were equally awful in the second.
Michelle Betos (4 saves, 2 goals conceded; 6) – With fixture congestion, Betos got the nod in goal this game rather than former Dash keeper Lydia Williams. Betos had a couple of good saves in both halves, coupled with a few questionable clearances and short passes that the Dash nearly capitalized on after they started pressing more aggressively in the second half. There wasn’t much she could do on either goal – the first came on a scramble off a set piece that her defense failed to clear, and the second took an unlucky deflection after she’d already committed to the original trajectory. On the first she might have been a bit more aggressive to charge out and punch the ball, but with six Reign defenders in the area it was reasonable to expect one of them to get a head on the ball.
Alyssa Kleiner (6) – Oh what might have been, if Kleiner’s shross in the waning moments of the game found the corner of the net rather than the corner of the post. But we’re focused on the rest of her performance in this game, and on that I would say she did just fine. She got involved in the attack quite a bit, pushing forward and putting in crosses, although the accuracy of many of them weren’t spectacular. Only once did I notice her get beat on a dribble where a Dash attacker was able to make a turn and put in a dangerous cross.
Kristen McNabb (caution 67’; 4) & Lauren Barnes (5) – Seattle used the same back line on short rest. In the first half when Houston only had one forward providing any sort of pressure, the Reign back line looked great. Everyone was passing the ball around and holding possession, and if you only looked at the statistics you would be excused for thinking that the Reign defense absolutely dominated the game. McNabb finished with 96% accuracy on 78 pass attempts, which is almost unheard of at this level, while Barnes was just behind her at 86% accuracy on 95 passes. As the game progressed the entire back line looked out of sorts and exhausted, a likely combination of short rest, travel, and the mugginess of Houston. By the end they were getting turned in circles and taking bad angles on Dash attacks, and it led to both Houston goals. McNabb took a yellow for a needless tactical foul near midfield when Seattle had numbers back to defend, and both she and Barnes got spun around and pulled out of position by Kgatlana’s long counterattacking run at the death. Hindsight is 20/20, but Seattle will rue not starting or even subbing in at least one defender with fresh legs to deal with Houston’s speed and the conditions.
Steph Catley (5) – Catley pushed forward incessantly, putting in crosses and challenging for balls fairly high up the pitch since the Dash dropped back in numbers to defend. However, after they shifted tactics in the second half, Houston liked to send counters into the space she vacated. On the winning goal, Houston was attacking in a 2v4 counter, but Catley inexplicably shifted over to help defend Kgatlana, leaving Latsko unmarked for the pass. She adjusted back over in time, but backed off Latsko to prevent a dribble into the box and was unlucky to instead deflect the shot rather than block it or force a pass.
Allie Long (7; PotM) – Like the centerbacks behind her, Long was a possession sponge this game. She had 110 touches and 94 passes, of which 90% found their intended target. She was also a key target on Reign set pieces. She headed a corner kick just over the bar in the 10th minute, and in the 38th she was involved in a big collision with Jane Campbell and Rachel Daly while challenging for another aerial ball. If NWSL handed out secondary assists like MLS, she would have been on the score sheet thanks to her quality pass to Jodie Taylor.
Rumi Utsugi (5) – In defense Utsugi was a dominant force in midfield, with a team-high 7 tackles. In possession, she had a so-so game. Her stats looked decent – 75 passes and 87% accuracy, but several of the passes that she missed led to dangerous Dash counters, including one that Rachel Daly chipped just over the bar in the 7th minute.
Elizabeth Addo (off 46’; 6) – Addo earned her first start of the season as an attacking midfielder in place of Jess Fishlock. Early in the game she was playing as more of a forward, often ending up higher on the pitch than Jodie Taylor, but eventually she settled into a more central role. She won the ball to start Seattle’s counter on the Reign goal, and she showed some other good ideas on through balls and passes, but wasn’t quite in sync with her teammates on most of the others. Her dribbling skill is fantastic and she can do a lot in tight spaces to get herself into and out of trouble, but I’d like to see her do things a bit more quickly when looking for teammates and outlet passes rather than trying to do too much herself.
Beverly Yanez (goal 13’, off 74’; 6) – Yanez started at forward in place of Megan Rapinoe, and quickly rewarded Andonovski’s decision with a well-taken one-touch goal. Although that was her only shot on target for the game, she showed her versatility by dropping to midfield after halftime when Rapinoe entered the match, and then shifted back to forward after Kawasumi subbed off in the 64th minute.
Jodie Taylor (assist 13’; 5) – Taylor had a fantastic shot in the 3rd minute that was a harbinger of things to come for Seattle in the first half. Her assist was a work of art – she drew all three nearby Dash defenders to her before pulling the ball back and crossing it to a wide-open Yanez on the opposite side of the box. After that, Taylor’s night got a bit weird. She had a ton of shots (a team-high 7, with 3 on target), but her shot placement was lackluster. She also was whistled offside five times, and finished with a mere 9 pass attempts (Rapinoe, who entered at halftime, finished with 22.) This wasn’t a reflection of Seattle’s playing style, particularly in the second half when they became more direct due to Houston’s high pressure. Instead, I think Taylor was just burned out after playing every minute to date, and probably could have used a rest in the second half.
Nahomi Kawasumi (off 64’; 6) – This was a game where we saw worker bee Naho, constantly buzzing around in her territory and delivering pollen treats to her hive of teammates in the form of 5 scoring chances created. She didn’t get a look on goal herself and didn’t see a ton of the ball compared to Seattle’s midfield, but when she did have it she was efficient.
Megan Rapinoe (on 46’; 5) – I was surprised to see Rapinoe come on so early in this match, particularly when Seattle looked to be cruising to victory and absolutely dominating the possession game. Related to the last point, Rapinoe’s passing accuracy in this game was way up from her average, with 64% of her passes finding the target compared to her typical sub-50%, and she created three chances in her half of play including a great cross to Jodie Taylor in the 85th minute that was headed just wide, but other than one near-Olympico on her first corner kick she didn’t have any truly dangerous looks on goal herself.
Morgan Andrews (on 64’; 5) – In contrast to my comments above with Rapinoe, I thought Andrews might get a longer run-out in this match and either start or be the first off the bench early in the second half since she had fresh legs. Instead she saw only 26 minutes of action after it became clear that Houston’s high pressure and speedy counter was going to be a constant factor in the second half, and the entire Reign defense and midfield was playing on short rest. Unfortunately, moments after she entered the Dash scored their first, but even then Andrews was able to provide some change of pace and help link up play, particularly to Rapinoe.
Jasmyne Spencer (on 74’; incomplete) – Just moments after entering, Spencer nearly got on the scoresheet with a great pass to spring Jodie Taylor on a breakaway, and was paid back in the 89th minute with a quality Taylor cross that was just behind her.
Daniel Gutierrez (6) – There have been a lot of new-to-NWSL referees assigned to the league over the past few weeks, a seeming indication that the officiating pool needed to be deepened after talent was siphoned off to MLS and USL over the last few seasons. This was only Gutierrez’s second NWSL game (though he has officiated about a dozen USL matches), and I thought he did a fine job. Addo might have had a shout for a penalty near the end of the first half, but the contact wasn’t too significant and she stayed on her feet, so I don’t have a problem with him not calling the foul. McNabb’s caution was well-earned, and there wasn’t much else questionable or beyond the norm.
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