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Valkyratings: Balcer was a baller

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The undrafted rookie outshined national team stars in a great all-around performance

MikeRussellFoto

Reign FC opened their new era at Cheney Stadium last Sunday night with a 1-1 draw against the Orlando Pride, in another match were the Reign will feel like they had the better of play but couldn’t quite get things done in the final third.

There were a few changes for the team coming out of their home opener in Houston, including the return of Rumi Utsugi and Bev Yanez in midfield, which had a big positive effect on the team’s ability to possess the ball and build play out of the back in the style they prefer. Newcomer Bethany Balcer also got her first start at left forward in place of the injured Darian Jenkins (who was previously there in place of the injured Megan Rapinoe), and Kristen McNabb slotted in at left fullback in place of a resting Theresa Nielsen.

Reign FC should take a lot of positives from this match, not the least of which was the performance of Bethany Balcer. She had a great game on both sides of the ball, including scoring Reign FC’s goal.

Starters

Michelle Betos (1 save, 1 goal conceded; 6) – Don’t let the stat line fool you, Betos was quite busy in this game, claiming a lot of aerial balls into her box and facing a number of shots that fizzed just wide of goal. On the Pride goal she, like most of the Reign, got caught by surprise by the bicycle kick and was unable to react in time to get a finger on it. Her remarkable diving save at the end was worthy of a highlight reel, but it could have been avoided with better placement on her initial punch of the ball.

Kristen McNabb (5) – McNabb was asked to play left back in this game rather than her more typical centerback role, and fared reasonably well. The biggest challenge was on set pieces, where she sometimes struggled to track the player she was tasked with marking, as on Kennedy’s goal where she missed that Kennedy stopped her run and dropped back into a pocket of space in order to make a play on the ball. The Reign were able to start some promising attacks off long passes from midfield into the space between Ashlyn Harris and her defenders, particularly in the second half, and some of that was thanks to good long-ball service from McNabb.

Lauren Barnes (7) & Megan Oyster (6) – The centerback duo looked a lot more focused in this game (and Oyster staying healthy for the full match certainly helped.) Their touches and passing numbers were vastly improved compared to the opening match, and in the absence of Rapinoe, Barnes stepped up to handle much of the set-piece duty and provided some quality service. Their one negative was letting Alex Morgan sneak into channels between and behind them at times to run onto chipped through balls, but fortunately the Pride were not able to capitalize on those opportunities.

Celia Jimenez Delgado (off 83’; 6) – The Pride played narrowly on their left side and had their fullbacks frequently tucking inside, which left acres of space along the sideline for Celia to run into when the Reign were attacking. The team did well to find her regularly to shift the focus of attack and to put in dangerous crosses, and it was one of her crosses into the Pride box that led to the Reign goal. Her crosses in the first half were exceptional; the second half wasn’t so great, and it might have been due to the difference in grass in her area of the field. She had one really bad pass in the 31st minute that went directly to Rachel Hill, who had a 1-v-2 opportunity and could have earned a penalty call after Barnes was forced to break up the play with a strong tackle.

Rumi Utsugi (off 89’; 6) – After being an unused sub in the opening game, Utsugi returned to the lineup in this match and her presence was instrumental in settling the midfield. She was lucky not to end up with a caution for some of her reckless tackles, and led the team with four fouls conceded and probably should have been called for a few more. She had a great look on goal in the 19th minute off a Jodie Taylor diagonal pass, but skied the ball. She returned the favor in the 50th minute with a great lofted ball from midfield onto Taylor’s foot at the top of the box.

Allie Long (assist 21’; 8) – Long looked much more comfortable in this game, and got far more involved and had vastly improved passing, leading all starters with 88% of her 65 pass attempts completed. Much of that probably had to do with having another natural holding midfielder on the pitch with her, as well as differences in opposition tactics and pressure. I’m not sure that her pass on the Reign goal was intentional, but even if it was scuffed she gets credit for the assist and kept the ball moving when it otherwise would have been cleared. She was unlucky not to score off a set piece in the 38th minute, when her header ricocheted off the shoulder of Harris, and could have had a second assist thanks to a great flick-on header to a wide-open Shea Groom in the 59th minute. She had a couple of defensive blunders, including a sloppy giveaway to Marta in the 82nd minute, but she chased the ball back down and broke up the play before anything could come of it.

Beverly Yanez (7) – Last year I had some big doubts about the long-term effectiveness of playing Yanez in midfield, but I’m happy to see that she’s proven me wrong. Back from concussion protocol, Yanez played the full match and was a physical presence in midfield, leading the team with six tackles and conceding four fouls in the process. On the Reign goal she was instrumental in fooling Ali Krieger with a dummy and shielded Krieger off the ball simultaneously, leaving Bethany Balcer wide open for the shot.

Bethany Balcer (goal 21’, off 78’; 8; PotM) – For a player with only four minutes of pro experience leading into the match, Balcer looked every part the veteran attacker in this game. She led all players with five shots and her goal was a textbook example of good placement and the right amount of power, curling past Harris toward the far post.

Even with the vast number of shots, she showed good presence of mind and was thoughtful about passing versus shooting. For example, just after her goal she had a great pass to Taylor at the top of the box for a shot; in the 54th minute rather than dribbling into pressure along the end line, she dropped the ball to Bev Yanez in the corner for a more useful cross into the box; and a few minutes later she had a headed flick-on to spring Taylor behind the Pride defense, but the ball was just a bit too far ahead of her and Harris was able to smother it. It’s still too early to tell how consistently Balcer can contribute at this level of quality, but considering the Reign’s challenges in attack now that Spencer is out for the year, it was great to see such a performance from their attacking depth.

Jodie Taylor (caution 73’; 5) – Taylor’s attacking funk continued in this game, with three shots and none on target. However, her runs were much better in this match, with only one offside call. She had some good ideas in attack, including an attempt to chip Harris in the 50th minute that didn’t quite have enough power. I thought her booking was bogus – she was standing still and Kennedy came over the top of her, but the referee disagreed and felt she’d undercut the Aussie.

Shea Groom (6) – Groom is the epitome of a high risk/high reward player. She chased balls down all night long and hounded Harris and the Pride defense continually. Thanks to that she was nearly rewarded with some spectacular chances, the most notable of which was her block of a Harris clearance in the 32nd minute, which she came within inches of redirecting into goal before it bounced over the endline. She also had a nice shot in the 59th minute that forced a big save from Harris. Her one big negative was her passing, where she connected on an abysmal 39% of her 18 attempts.

Substitutes

Kiersten Dallstream (on 78’; incomplete) – It was great to get the news of Dallstream’s re-signing shortly before the game, returning yet another Reign FC original to the roster. She had a nice cameo, connecting some passes and building play as if she hadn’t missed much of last season to injury. There was one scary moment in the 88th minute when she lost her mark which enabled Kristen Edmonds to put a dangerous cross through the Reign box, but no Pride player was in position to capitalize on it.

Theresa Nielsen (on 83’; incomplete) & Morgan Andrews (on 89’; incomplete) – Both players were late-game subs and didn’t have much impact on the game, with only 10 touches between them.

Officials

Reyna Fonseca (19 fouls called, 3 cautions given; 3) – This was a strangely officiated game, with stretches where Fonesca looked like one of the best officials in the league, and other points where it seemed like she forgot that she was supposed to be calling fouls. On the positive side, I was really happy to see her call advantage in the 59th minute when Emily Van Egmond hauled down Yanez near midfield with a tactical foul, but the Reign maintained possession and were able to take a shot, and still come back a few minutes later to issue a caution when play finally stopped. That sort of delayed caution should happen more frequently.

On the negative side, I thought Utsugi should have been booked for any one of her seemingly reckless tackles, some of which weren’t even called as fouls! There were many hard challenges and tackles of that nature by both teams, and play more frequently than not continued in each case. Conversely, Taylor’s booking seemed uncalled for, and probably shouldn’t have even been whistled as a foul on her.

Both teams had fair shouts for penalties in the first half, first with Taylor getting sandwiched and tripped up between two Pride defenders in the 12th minute, and later in the half when Hill was tackled off the ball in the Reign box by Barnes. Ultimately those canceled each other out, but you can’t rely on just hoping that tough (non)calls will balance out.

Poll

Who was your Reign FC player of the match?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    Bethany Balcer
    (20 votes)
  • 8%
    Allie Long
    (2 votes)
  • 4%
    Beverly Yanez
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Other (note in comments)
    (0 votes)
23 votes total Vote Now