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Valkyratings: Return of the Queen Edition

The Reign's two forwards got the job done when called upon.

Last Updated
8 min read
Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

It's good to hit the pitch in black, blue, and bold again.

The new-old look Reign scored early and absolutely stifled the Washington Spirit behind an early Bethany Balcer penalty, a late (and controversial) Aubrey Kingsbury red card, and some occasionally exquisite midfield play by newcomer Ji So-yun and returning icons Quinn and Jess Fishlock. The margin was narrow, the execution wasn't quite there, but the outcome was rarely in doubt, with the opposition mustering just north of absolute zero on the danger meter and the Reign showing veteran composure to see the result out.

Reign, forevermore. We're so back, baby!


Claudia Dickey – 6

Asked to do very little against a hapless, toothless, and utterly superlativeless Spirit attack, Claudia was up to the task. She made a fairly routine save on a fairly routine header. She completed 26 of 34 passes, mostly short, mostly to her center backs. She was serviceable in commanding her area, getting to the balls you would expect her to get to. Aside from a Casey Krueger goal rightly waved off for a foul in the 69th minute, she was a steadfast wall against an entirely stoppable force.

While she wasn't tested much, the Reign goal continues to be in good claws.


Lily Woodham – 6 (off 62' for Lauren Barnes)

One of four players making her Reign debut on the evening, Lily Woodham accounted for herself well, showing a mix of solid defensive chops, purposeful attacking intent, and a willingness to get into the mixer with a very physical Brittany Ratcliffe, who found herself on the ground on more than one occasion after getting up in Lily's grill. She was involved in two of the Reign's more dangerous chances, though both ultimately fell short.

An intriguing first match from a player who looks to have a lot to offer, Woodham should get many more opportunities to show her stuff.

Shae Holmes – 7 (off 94' for Ryanne Brown)

Two tackles, a blocked shot, a surfeit of safe possession-saving passes, and 63 touches, good for third-most on the team – all things you might expect from a centerback comfortable with the ball at her feet. Not content to simply snuff out the negligible danger Washington had to offer, Shae also added multiple incisive moments in the attack, with a successful dribble, multiple progressive passes, and a 33rd-minute foray wherein she took on the entire Spirit outfield and found them wanting, walking the ball right into the area and taking a well-placed shot on Kingsbury's goal from a tight angle. Kingsbury made her best save of the afternoon to keep it a 1-goal match.

On a stacked centerback corps, Shae Holmes may not catch the most attention, but she's proven yet again that she's more than up to the task when called upon.

Pheobe McClernon – 6

With two tackles, two blocks, and a tidy 41 of 51 passing, Pheobe McClernon was the less offensively-minded of the centerback pairing, often staying home to cover for Holmes' adventurous forays. Washington struggled to generate danger down the middle of the field, and McClernon was a big reason why, part of an organized and competitive Reign defense that had no time for the weak sauce the Spirit tried to serve up.

With Sam Hiatt traded, Lauren Barnes no longer a 90-minutes-every-week player, and Alana Cook still out injured, Phoebe figures to be the anchor of the back line for the time being.

Sofia Huerta – 6

Huerta was active early and often, covering ground up and down the flank, progressing the ball with intent, and regularly serving as a key link in the attack. As aggressive as she was, Huerta's touch and delivery were a bit off the whole afternoon, and she struggled to find the heads and feet of her teammates in truly dangerous spaces. Tasked with taking the majority of the Reign's set piece deliveries, she also failed to generate much danger from dead ball situations.

Going forward, Huerta is still an elite crosser, in the conversation for best in the league. The execution should come.


Jess Fishlock – 7

As usual, our Tiny Dragon did a bit of everything and was a plus everywhere she popped up on the field. Her tireless running and keen vision create opportunities. She put a shot from distance in a spot to force Kingsbury to save early, and she put a volley from in close in an awkward spot that forced a rebound that, sadly, no Reign player could get to. She and fellow Welsh international Lily Woodham combined to find Huitema for an early chance, and she and Ji So-yun later combined to give Bethany Balcer a golden opportunity that Boats couldn't quite put on frame.

She may be 37, but even the mere suggestion of the breath of the thought that she might be slowing down seems premature. Fish still has a thing or three to teach the kids.

Quinn – 7

With 65 touches, two successful tackles, four interceptions, and 25 carries, Quinn was a destroyer of the Spirit's hopes and dreams and a consistently active force in building down the middle. They struggled, as much of the team did, with that last bit of execution in the final third, but showed a willingness to hit the shit out of it from a distance, and keeping the threat of another big, gay goal alive should help keep defenses honest down the line. Ostensibly the defensive midfielder in the diamond, they frequently found themselves higher up the pitch than either Anghard James-Turner or Jess Fishlock.

Last season, Quinn played relatively limited minutes for the Reign, and while Emily Sonnett's emergence as a legitimate six helped cover for it, they bring a particular mix of grit and skill in possession that's hard to replace.

Ji So-yun – 7 (off 94' for Olivia Athens)

What can you say about a debut like that? Ji So-yun is every bit as good as advertised, and still very much looks like the absolute legend who lit the WSL on fire. Lining up at the top point of the diamond, she found space to attack everywhere – left, right, and center. She gave her teammates good shots, and she created her own shots. She led the team with 67 touches, led the team with 8 progressive passes, led the team with 5 completed passes into the area including 3 key passes, and then also led the team with three successful tackles for good measure. Her vision, touch, choice of pass, and ability to cut defenders out of the play remain absolutely elite.

Last season, with Angelina and Rose Lavelle scarcely seeing the field, the Reign lacked a true, consistent creator out of central midfield. In Ji So-yun, they've got one of the best in the world.

Angharad James-Turner – 6 (off 62' for Olivia van der Jagt)

Next to Ji and Woodham, Angharad James-Turner's Reign debut was a little more subdued. She played a tidy 62 minutes, made no serious mistakes, and effectively covered the ground that Huerta and Quinn vacated when they joined the attack. With only 28 touches and 21 passes attempted, she was the least active starter on the ball, a product more of the system and the haplessness of the Spirit attack than any particular problems with her performance.

James-Turner is at her best as midfield cover and defensive destroyer, and opponents that bring anything (like, literally anything, at all) going forward will likely ask more of her in that role.


Bethany Balcer – 7 (POTM) (off 96' for Emeri Adames)

It's a results-based business, and Bethany Balcer scored the winning goal, a well-taken penalty in the 3rd minute. She got into good positions, but outside the penalty never really managed to put the danger goalward. She put her teammates into good positions, including a first-minute entry pass to Jordyn Huitema that ended in the foul and penalty kick she would later score on.

If there's one real question mark about the Reign, it's who's going to score the goals. If Boats can find her shooting boots, we'll all feel a lot better about that question.

Jordyn Huitema – 7 (POTM)

It's a results-based business, and Jordyn Huitema got the game-changing result twice, at opposite ends of the match. In the first minute, she received a pass from Balcer, drove into the area, and won a penalty as Gabrielle Carle's clumsy tackle found more of her calves than anything. In the 85th minute, chasing down a Fishlock pass, she forced Aubrey Kingsbury into a hard choice, and Kingsbury took a red card for DOGSO handling (after an overly long VAR check) just outside her penalty area.

Still one of the youngest players on the team, Huitema has a ton of time and space to grow into a real terror for defenses, and she's already consistently making an impact with her pressing, running, and holdup play. If she can build on her 5-goal campaign a year ago, she could be a game-breaker.


Olivia van der Jagt – 6 (on 62' for Angharad James-Turner)

Olo came on for James-Turner in the 62nd minute, and, like James-Turner, turned in a workmanlike shift where the Spirit asked little of her, and she did more than enough to keep them hapless for the last half hour. She had nine touches and completed six passes in that time.

Lauren Barnes – 6 (on 62' for Lily Woodham)

Luuuuuuuuuu Barnes came on for Lily Woodham in the 62nd minute, taking over Shae Holmes' center back spot and shifting Holmes to outside back. A savvy veteran on the back line, Barnes helped see the game out with a key tackle, a few shielded balls, and an extremely neat 26 for 29 passing line.

Olivia Athens – N/A (on 94' for Ji So-yun)

Spelling Ji So-yun deep in stoppage time, Athens had three touches, completed two passes, and generally helped see out the last few minutes of the game.

Ryanne Brown – N/A (on 94' for Shae Holmes)

Giving Shae Holmes a much deserved five minutes of rest, Ryanne Brown had a tackle and an interception in a short appearance, but struggled to keep possession, completing only four of nine passes.

Emeri Adames – N/A (on 96' for Bethany Balcer)

Emeri Adames made her Reign debut at the death of the match, replacing Bethany Balcer. She made an exciting run, dropped a sick dribble, and got us all very excited about what this kid's going to do in the future.


Natalie Simon – 6

Okay, so... Natalie Simon was a busy referee on Sunday.

Tasked with keeping things calm in a sometimes slow, rough, and frustrating game, Simon performed generally well. She also had three huge calls to make, and, to my eye, got all three right. In the 1st minute, she pointed to the spot after Jordyn Huitema was taken down in the area by Gabrielle Carle. While it wasn't the coldest or hardest penalty you'll ever see, it's called more often than not, and it's always a risk you take when you tackle in the area. In the 69th minute, Simon went to video review after an apparent game-tying goal by Casey Krueger. On review, it was incandescently clear that Croix Bethune fouled Claudia Dickey on the play, boxing the goalie out and ultimately keeping her from challenging for the ball with an arm around the body. Simon rightly waved the goal off.

Most controversial was the 85th-minute DOGSO play, wherein Aubrey Kingsbury was sent off after handling the ball outside her penalty area. The Independent Review Panel (IRP) has since rescinded her red card, but Christina Unkel makes a compelling case that the IRP has it wrong.

With that said, the length of stoppages for video review were entirely too long. At some point, getting it exactly right has to be less important than preserving the spirit (natch) of the game. Fourteen minutes of injury time, most of it because of the two long VAR sequences, is a nightmare scenario.

The Reign are back in action against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday. Given that it's clearly more fun to win games than to not win them, the Reign should build on a solid opening performance and do something spectacular.