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Reign Report: Playing with Spirit

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NWSL is back in action, and you can catch Reign FC at home against the Washington Spirit.

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What You’ll Watch

Seattle Reign FC return to action this Sunday as they host the Washington Spirit. This will be the third and final meeting between the two teams this season. So far, Reign FC are 1-0-1 with two goals scored and one conceded.

Washington sits in eighth place in the standings with a record of 2-12-4 (10 points in 18 games played; 0.55 ppg) while Reign FC still remain in second place with a record of 8-4-6 (30 points in 18 games played; 1.66 ppg). Last time out, the Spirit lost 1-0 at home against Houston and Reign FC drew 1-1 on the road against Orlando.

This is a very important game for Seattle if they want to stay in second place and retain their shot at earning a home playoff game in the NWSL semifinals. Portland and Orlando are both just one point behind them in third and fourth place respectively, and Chicago is just two points back in fifth.

A Look at the Enemy

Last Five: L-L-L-L-L, one goal scored and eight conceded

Leading Goal Scorer: Ashley Hatch, four goals

Assist Leader: Andi Sullivan, Havana Solaun, Whitney Church, Taylor Smith, Mallory Pugh and Hatch, one each

Injury Report, Suspensions and International Duty

Washington

Out: Cheyna Matthews (pregnancy), Tiffany Weimer (left knee Baker’s cyst – D45), Kelsey Wys (right knee meniscus scope)

Questionable: Arielle Ship (right knee ACL recovery)

Suspensions: N/A | International Duty: N/A

Seattle

Out: Elizabeth Addo (right knee strain), Yael Averbuch (illness), Kiersten Dallstream (right knee sprain), Stephanie Catley (excused absence), Beverly Yanez (right foot fracture)

Questionable: Rumi Utsugi (left calf strain)

Suspensions: N/A | International Duty: N/A

Match Officials

REFEREE: Mark Allatin

AR1: Deleana Quan

AR2: Joshua Haimes

4th: Chad Stewart

What to Watch

Washington’s System

Predicting how the Washington Spirit will play and line up seems to be more luck than skill this season. Head coach Jim Gabarra has rolled out both a 4-3-3 and a 3-5-2 formation in recent weeks. Part of that has been due to injuries to some of his key players. Another part is in response to Washington’s continued struggles to get the ball in the back of the net.

Defensively, Washington hasn’t given up the most goals this year in the league, but the team has faced the highest number of both shots and shots on goal. Much of that has to do with their lack of consistency in the midfield, which has put far too much pressure on the backline. Gabarra has relied on rookie Andi Sullivan to be the anchor in the midfield. Sullivan has showed signs of promise, but also has struggled to get comfortable in that position, a statement that’s a bit unfair to her, as she’s been asked to do too much in her first year adjusting to a fast-paced, physical league.

Washington is vulnerable in the space behind the centerbacks — that exact spot where Jodie Taylor likes to make her runs. Expect Seattle to try to find those pockets early and with some more direct balls at the start of the match, as the Spirit have found it difficult to come from behind after giving up an early goal.

Offensively, the Spirit have struggled even more. Again, their midfield has been the main culprit, with the rotating band of players finding it challenging to dominate possession and dictate games. The good news for Washington is that Rose Lavelle just played a solid 45 minutes with the U.S. in the Tournament of Nations and looked close to regaining her pre-injury form — scoring a goal and setting up a lot of chances for her teammates against Brazil. Having her back in the rotation will help the Spirit move the ball forward with more urgency.

While Taylor Smith has become more settled at right back as the season progressed, she looked her best as a wingback in Washington’s last match against the Houston Dash. Although the Spirit still couldn’t find a goal, it wasn’t for lack of opportunities as they were regularly stuffed by Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell and had one of their best games of the season.

Last year’s Reign FC squad destroyed the Spirit after they switched to three in the back — leaving far too much space for Megan Rapinoe and Naho Kawasumi. Will Gabarra risk it again in order to get more numbers in the midfield? It will give the team a lot more width than they usually have in the attack.

Washington has attempted the second fewest crosses in the league — 194 to Seattle’s 258. Instead, the team moves the ball primarily through short passes and dribbles, with left back Caprice Dydasco leading the team in touches and passes, and second in the league behind Lindsey Horan in touches. Dydasco is an underrated player on a team that has struggled, but she is strong on both the offensive and defensive end and did a great job stifling Megan Rapinoe in this year’s home opener, which caused the Reign attacker to move to the right side late in the match.

Washington also could see the return of Mallory Pugh, who was easily their most important player at the start of the season before suffering a knee injury. If she does get time on the field, Washington’s attack will be much more dangerous, with center forward Ashley Hatch posing a threat shooting from distance and in the air, and Francisca Ordega often making speedy runs toward the back post to steal a goal or two.

The Spirit have struggled this year, but this is a team boasting plenty of individual talent. With a few key players missing for Seattle, it will be all the more important for those 11 players on the field for the home side to stay organized and dictate play through the midfield. If they can do that, the team should hold onto second place.

How to Watch

Date/Time: Sunday, August 5 @ 6:00 PM PT

Location: UW Medicine Pitch at Memorial Stadium — Seattle, Washington

Streaming: nwslsoccer.com