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Reign Report: We thought she’d never be Royals

It’s the first match against former Reign FC boss Laura Harvey and the Utah Royals. Weird.

NWSL Championship: Seattle Reign vs. FC Kansas City - Photos Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

What You’ll Watch

Seattle Reign FC head on the road for a mid-week match against some familiar faces, as the team battles for the first time against former head coach Laura Harvey and the Utah Royals, which also is the new home to former Reign FC defender Rachel Corsie. Harvey coached Seattle for five seasons, while new Reign FC coach Vlatko Andonovski led FC Kansas City — now the Utah Royals — for those same five seasons.

The friend is now the foe, at least for a day.

The Royals currently sit in sixth place with a record of 4-3-5 (17 points in 12 games played; 1.4 ppg) while Reign FC are in third with a record of 5-3-4 (19 points in 12 games played; 1.6 ppg). Utah and Seattle enter this match hungry for three points after both teams suffered defeats in Week 13 of NWSL play. The Royals fell 2-0 to the Chicago Red Stars on the road, while Reign FC fell 4-1 to the North Carolina Courage at home.

A Look at the Enemy

Last Five: L-W-W-L-W with 10 goals scored and 10 conceded

Leading Goal Scorer: Diana Matheson and Brittany Ratcliffe, two each

Assist Leader: Gunnhildur (Gunny) Jónsdóttir, two

Injury Report and Suspensions

Utah

OUT: Alex Arlitt (left knee strain – SEI), Mandy Laddish (right hip contusion – SEI), Kelley O’Hara (right hamstring strain)

Seattle

OUT: Yael Averbuch (illness), Lauren Barnes (concussion), Kiersten Dallstream (left quad strain), Jess Fishlock (right quad strain), Jaycie Johnson (right knee sprain – D45)

Match Officials

REFEREE: Malik Badawi

AR1: Chris Elliott

AR2: Deleana Quan

4TH: Hamed Sadeghi

What to Watch

Reign FC supporters don’t need to read much analysis from me to know how a team under Laura Harvey approaches the game. Despite having a changed roster from the one she oversaw in Seattle, Harvey’s approach to the game and style of play isn’t much different. Utah lines up in a typical 4-3-3 formation and relies on possession, building play from the back, and pressure high up the field to win the ball back in good attacking positions.

It is no surprise then that the Utah Royals have maintained more overall possession this season than any other team in the league (53.6%). Utah also has the most passes (5,563) and best pass completion rate (72.4%) in the league. Don’t be shocked if it feels like the Royals are dominating the Reign when it comes to time on the ball — that should be a given heading into the match.

However, most of Utah’s possession has been in their own defensive half. While Harvey’s teams often used that possession to score a lot of goals, the Utah Royals this year have taken the fewest shots, and only Sky Blue has put fewer goals in the back of the net. That all could change with the newest addition to the Royals roster. That would be U.S. star Christen Press, one of the most dominant forwards in the NWSL for the last five seasons. If Press plays on Wednesday, their attack just got infinitely more dangerous. She is lethal from anywhere on the field and can create a shot out of nothing. (Please don’t start her, Laura.)

Press could also prove to be just what Utah needs to unlock Amy Rodriguez, whose movement off the ball and runs are some of the most dangerous in the league. Since Rodriguez returned from an ACL injury, she has looked threatening on goal, but hasn’t had enough service from her teammates — making it easier for opponents to defend her. It Press lines up by her side, it will be important for Seattle to stay organized on defense.

When it comes to breaking down Utah, they make it really tough. Backed by Becky Sauerbrunn, one of the best defenders in the world, the team doesn’t let many balls slip behind them. Being adjusted to the high altitude is a huge advantage for the Utah side, making their high press even more effective. They have some vulnerabilities on the flanks, however — especially after right back Brooke Elby, who was having a breakout season, was traded to Chicago. Reign FC could create some strong opportunities by spreading the field and utilizing their width.

Going up against Harvey is going to be strange. But at the end of the day, when that whistle blows to kick off the first half, the only thing on Reign FC’s mind will be coming home with three points. Those road points are going to be crucial heading into the weekend, when Seattle takes on Portland in the only home match against their rivals this season.

Quick Keys

  • Take the ball to the endline: The Red Stars scored on the Royals by sending a throughball to Sam Kerr, who took it endline and pulled defenders into the box. She then cut the ball back to the top of the box to an onrushing Vanessa DiBernardo. That looks to be a potential weak spot — if there’s any — for the Royals defensively and one the Reign should try to exploit.
  • Use the width: See above. Spread their defense. Create that space.
  • Take advantage of restarts: Use those corner kicks, set pieces, and throw-ins to Seattle’s advantage — putting bodies into the box or quickly restarting play to spring an attack.
  • Finish those chances: Utah is not going to give teams many opportunities to get a good look at goal. The Reign have created plenty of chances lately, but the goals haven’t been there. They’ll have to be better on Wednesday.

How to Watch

Date/Time: Wednesday, June 26 @ 7:00 PM PT

Location: Rio Tinto Stadium | Sandy, Utah

Weather: It’s predicted to be sunny and 90 degrees at kickoff

Streaming: go90.com (U.S.), NWSLSoccer.com (International)