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Valkyratings: The Fault In Our (Red) Stars Edition

Sometimes everyone has a bad moment all at once.

Last Updated
12 min read
Goalkeeper Claudia Dickey and the Reign defense watches as a Maximiliane Rall header gets past them for a goal.
© Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of a decade of NWSL play, it's become a frustrating pattern to, on balance, be the better side in Bridgeview and come away with nothing to show for it. The Reign once again went to the midwest, created more chances, had more of the ball, had a solid plan, played a solid game, and lost on one or two moments.

Despite the loss, and a really bad blown coverage on Maximiliane Rall's game-winning goal for the Red Stars, it was on the whole an encouraging performance, showing a Reign side that should be expected to grow into themselves with more reps and better execution.

Also, the Red Stars are apparently the first team to finish last on the table one season and then start the next season 2-0, as one commenter insistently pointed out in the game recap. Kind of an odd, niche stat, but you know what? Good for them.

Footie is a game of fine margins, and NWSL a league of finer margins than most.


Claudia Dickey – 6

This was the hardest ratings call to make over the course of rewatching and taking notes on the match. Dickey made a very good save on a 6th minute Mallory Swanson shot, the only time Swanson really got free through the entire match, did a good job sweeping up the trash and cutting off potential attacks before they could materialize, and in general showed well for herself. Her distribution was excellent, and she combined well with both Lu Barnes and Phoebe McClernon. She got a hand to Julia Bianchi's opening goal in the 42nd minute, but the shot was well-struck and she couldn't keep it out. She still sometimes struggles to command her area vertically, but the Red Stars were unable to make any serious danger out of it.

This was a tough match for Dickey, and if she comes up with a save on either of the Red Stars goals, it's a very different match for the Reign. At the same time, neither of the goals she surrendered was an easy save. While it's unfair to expect the game-changing save from any keeper, she had two opportunities to make it, and came up with neither.

Going Forward: Tough match aside, Dickey continues to look like a solid steward of the goal. NWSL has a surfeit of excellent keepers, and Dickey has shown she belongs amongst them.


Lily Woodham – 5 (off 69' for Ryanne Brown)

This was the second-hardest ratings call to make. For much of her shift, Woodham put in hard work, and put in good work. She had seven recoveries and five clearances, with three of those recoveries in good positions high up the pitch, and she was frequently key in a Reign defensive effort that effectively starved Swanson and Allyson Schlegel of service in transition. She also struggled in possession, completing 34 of 50 passes and 0 of 6 crosses, and struggled to create danger from the wide vertical positions she often found herself in.

...and then there's the second Red Stars goal. While there are more than a few failures on the sequence, as the Reign repeatedly failed to clear their lines, the biggest individual failure was Lily's – she completely lost Rall's run behind, allowing a somewhat speculative long aerial pass to turn into the single biggest chance of the afternoon. Rall, unfortunately, made no mistake with that gift.

Going Forward: Outside back should figure to be a major strength for the Reign, and Woodham should figure to be a big part of that. She needs to execute, and she needs to stay on her mark defensively.

Lauren Barnes – 7

Tasked with a menacing transition team with a scintillating talent in Mallory Swanson leading the charge, Luuuuuuu Barnes showed a cagey, controlling veteran presence. The slowest player on the field was first to the ball repeatedly, with 12 recoveries, three clearances, and the clear defensive vision to repeatedly win position over stronger, faster attackers and shield them off of dangerous runs. Barnes' leadership and experience is virtually always a plus on the back line, and she played a hard 90 minutes against tough opposition and showed well throughout.

On both goals, Lu was, unfortunately, also part of a team effort to collectively fail to clear the damn ball. She had an opportunity – under pressure – to hit the shit out of it in the 42nd minute, and after her attempted clearance fell short, the Red Stars scored seconds later. She also had an opportunity to hit the shit out of it in the 68th minute, with similar results. In both cases, there were far more concerning breakdowns later in the play, but in both cases, a little more willfully putting her foot through the ball might have prevented the chaotic sequences and concessions in the first place.

Going Forward: While the likes of Phoebe McClernon, Alana Cook, Shae Holmes, and Julia Lester provide a ton of energy, quality, and exciting potential at center back, Barnes' experience and leadership are indispensable, and she should see a ton of minutes for the Reign this season.

Phoebe McClernon – 7

As part of a defensive pairing with Barnes, McClernon was extremely active defensively, effectively blunting Chicago's transition game and holding Swanson to just a single clear shot throughout the match. Her four recoveries and five clearances were paired with two strong tackles in the middle third that put the Reign in good attacking position, and her pass to Woodham started the sequence that ended with Ji So-yun's golazo. A late yellow card for a tactical foul might not have been strictly necessary, but with the Reign chasing a goal, was an understandable choice. Despite some shaky appearances last season, McClernon has grown into an incredible plus as a defender, and she brings a mix of energy, urgency, and surprising foot speed to the position.

No defender showered themselves in glory on Chicago's two scoring sequences, and Phoebe is no exception. She was a touch slow to recognize the danger developing on Bianchi's strike in the 42nd minute, and ultimately failed to close the shooting lane. In the 68th, she let a speculative pass go by her as the defense lost its shape on a defendable delivery and run, and Rall scored less than a second later.

Going Forward: Even with Cook returning and Barnes still playing at an extremely high level, McClernon keeps making the case she should be starting. Her ability to play as a plus at centerback and left back should keep her on the field regardless of who else is available.

Sofia Huerta – 5

On a day when Chicago ceded acres of space to her and a single good delivery could have changed the narrative, Huerta was uninspiring. She got into good attacking positions, but couldn't execute from them, with a miserable 0 for 10 completion rate on her crosses, consistently failing to find runners in dangerous positions, and generally creating no danger. She was largely a nonfactor defensively, recording a single successful tackle across 90 minutes, and mostly watching on both Chicago goals.

As part of a collective effort to concede as embarrassingly as possible in the 68th minute, Huerta covered space where nobody was, effectively defending neither the assisting pass in, nor the potential run in behind her. It was neither the worst nor the most impactful piece of the defensive disarray that undid the Reign, but it was nonetheless emblematic of the general 30-second malaise that cost the Reign points.

Going Forward: The Reign badly need Huerta to create danger from the wide positions, both for its own sake, and to create more space for a scintillatingly creative midfield to shine. She's capable of true brilliance. It's time to execute on that.


Jess Fishlock – 6

Jess turned in a tidy but unspectacular performance in midfield, showing her characteristic mix of good vision, hard running, and astute reading of the game. She found Jordyn Huitema with a beautiful ball over the top in the 14th minute, but Huitema's looping header was well high. A clever combination with Ji So-yun in first half stoppage time ultimately ended in a speculative shot by Ji, but showed flashes of the sort of drift compatibility we haven't seen since Fish was paired with Kim Lethal.

In the 42nd minute, Julia Bianchi beat her to the ball and scored moments later, in what was part of a larger breakdown in defense. Despite a generally professional outing, Fishlock struggled to really make an impact on the match after the first half hour.

Going Forward: Even at 37, Fishlock is a plus attacking midfielder in this league, and her creativity and guile are still major assets. The interplay with Ji So-yun is extremely promising.

Quinn – 7

Quinn sometimes looked slow to react or catch up to the play, and on first watch I had a more negative view of their performance, but on rewatch, they were one of the brighter spots on the field. In the 4th minute, they took two shots as the Reign created some real danger off a Woodham set piece delivery, and while neither were the most dangerous chances, they also put the ball to Huitema's feet in a solid position. In the 80th minute, they took a shot from way downtown that failed to challenge Alyssa Naeher's goal, but did remind everyone that Quinn can score an occasional big gay goal from nowhere. In between, they were defensively active, recovering the ball 16 (!) times, winning three tackles in very good positions, and showing a better sense than most of the team for when to just clear the damn ball.

On the 68th minute goal (stop me if this sounds familiar), they had an opportunity to clear the ball deep, but didn't get much on it, giving the ball height but little distance. The Red Stars recovered, and a few passes later, scored. One of many players who had a chance to change the outcome of that play by just putting their laces all the way through it.

Going Forward: Quinn has been one of the best players on the field for the Reign so far this year, and they're an incredible asset to have in defensive midfield.

Angharad James-Turner – 6 (off 69' for Olivia van der Jagt)

Once again, James-Turner turned in a quietly professional game, where the Red Stars attack didn't necessarily ask all that much of her, and she touched the ball infrequently (with only 37 touches on the night) but did well to facilitate Quinn and Ji, and to win the ball back in key moments. She could stand to be tidier on the ball, as she also lost possession several times and sometimes struggled to connect with the rest of her midfield.

On the 42nd minute goal, when the ball fell kindly for Julia Bianchi, she was in perhaps the best position to make a play and couldn't manage more than getting a little nudge on Bianchi's back. On the 68th minute goal, she was once again in perhaps the best position to make a play on the assisting cross, but the referee's choice of run inadvertently boxed her out, erasing her ability to defend. Laura Harvey was incensed about it, and Haz probably has a right to be frustrated with how it went down, but on a sequence with that many other defensive failures, well...

Going Forward: Haz James-Turner wasn't the sort of big, eye-catching signing some fans were hoping for, but she provides grit and a ton of the unsung shit-shoveling work that great teams need. She needs to be quicker to find the easy pass to preserve possession, especially against aggressive transition teams, but that should come with reps with her new teammates.

Ji So-yun – 8 (POTM)


What didn't Ji So-yun do? She had 90 touches and three key passes, she had six shot-creating actions, she scored that goal (which deservingly won NWSL's Goal of the Week), she drew four fouls, had seven recoveries, showed her usual exquisite touch and choice of pass in tight corners, won a couple dribbles for good measure... while the Reign are missing that last bit of execution in a number of places, Ji So-yun is already firing on all cylinders and shows every sign of still being exactly the player who carved open every opponent she faced in England.

Chasing a goal after Bianchi's 42nd minute strike, Ji took over the entire middle of the pitch for a solid 20 minutes, feeding her teammates and generating her own chances, missing a difficult technical strike from 28 yards out then minutes later sinking an absolute golazo from 21.

There's not a lot more Ji So-yun could've done to get the Reign a result.

Going Forward: Every minute Ji So-yun plays makes the Reign better. She needs her teammates to take better advantage of her creativity and incisiveness.


Bethany Balcer – 5 (off 81' for Tziarra King)

Unfortunately, Boats was a non-factor for most of the match. She didn't get on the ball much, she struggled to connect with teammates, she didn't create much danger, and while she did a fair bit of running and tracking back, she wasn't particularly active defensively, either. With a creative but clogged midfield and outside backs failing to create much of anything from wide positions, Balcer spent much of her 80+ minutes on the pitch on an island, and was unable to stir up any danger for herself.

She might have disrupted Chicago's game-winning sequence by really challenging for Quinn's high, floating clearance prior to the 68th minute goal, or just fouling her mark there to give the defense a chance to reset, but honestly, the failures were team-wide and hers was not particularly egregious.

Going Forward: The Reign need Balcer to mix it up and get more involved, especially in the penalty area, where she had only two touches in 80 minutes.

Jordyn Huitema – 5 (off 81' for Emeri Adames)

While Huitema had less of the ball than strike partner Balcer, she found it in more impactful places and more dangerous moments. Unfortunately, she also failed to do anything with it. In the 4th minute, she was first to the rebound off Quinn's shot, but her second effort was blocked and came to nothing. In the 14th minute, she rose to meet Fishlock's service in, but mistimed her jump, and her header floated harmlessly over the crossbar. Chasing a goal in the 72nd minute, she made a rare (on the day) connection with Balcer and got a decent look from the edge of the area, but failed to even challenge Naeher's goal.

It's a results-based business, and as last week, where Balcer and Huitema combined to wring a result out of a packed-in defense, this week, Huitema couldn't find the moment to seriously impact the game.

Going Forward: Even on a day the forwards were starved for reachable service from the fullbacks, Huitema found herself in the mixer often enough to make an impact. Goals change games, and she needs to turn in the mixer into hitting the target with greater frequency.


Ryanne Brown – 5 (on 69' for Lily Woodham)

Coming on after Chicago's eventual winning goal to spell Woodham, Brown got a longer runout than last week, helping to shore up possession on the left side, but failing to add much spark to the attack as the Reign chased a goal for the last 20+ minutes. Chicago barely threatened the goal again after going ahead for a second time, and invited to attack an organized defense, Brown wasn't a difference maker.

Going Forward: There's a lot that Brown does well, and as a defensive fullback she compares extremely well to most of her peers. Unfortunately, chasing a goal against a set defense and a lethal transition attack doesn't do much to showcase her abilities.

Olivia van der Jagt – 5 (on 69' for Angharad James-Turner)

Coming on after Chicago's eventual winning goal to spell James-Turner, local legend van der Jagt helped hold down the midfield and was generally fine in a gamestate where the Reign needed a spark. Up a goal, Chicago asked nothing of her defensively, and she was modestly active in possession, completing 8 of 10 passes and taking a speculative shot from a very speculative distance, but didn't make much impact on the match as Chicago successfully warded off the Reign's late attacks and ground the match to an uneventful end.

Going Forward: Olo has a ton of upside and has demonstrated a lot of ability as a holding midfielder, but she didn't add much in this game state, and honestly shouldn't have been expected to.

Tziarra King – 5 (on 81' for Bethany Balcer)

Coming on late for an ineffective Balcer, Zee ran a lot, and was also ineffective, touching the ball four times in 10+ minutes, completing a pass, and managing a lot of not-much. She headed a shot ineffectually in the 90th minute, and given more time to grow into the game, might've provided more impact, but it's impossible to say from here.

Going Forward: Tziarra is talented and tenacious but she hasn't shown the ability to consistently be dangerous from either the winger or forward role. Given the Reign don't have a ton of highlight-reel attackers waiting on the bench, she'll likely get her chances to change the narrative this year, but she needs to change it sooner than later.

Emeri Adames – 5 (on 81' for Jordyn Huitema)

I dithered some on whether to give Adames a 6: while she didn't change the scoreline, she was a very active sub for 10+ minutes, completing 8 of 10 passes and getting into dangerous spots more consistently than any of the other three players who lined up at forward on the night. She took a couple shots, both pretty speculative, had a promising dead ball service, won a tackle high up the field to preserve attacking possession and give her side a chance, and should probably be given more time to make her mark on the match in the future. Kid looks good, but ultimately, the clock ran out.

Going Forward: In limited minutes through two matches, Adames is showing she deserves more. At 17, her vision and instincts look really good. She's made a very good case to be first off the bench when the Reign need an attacking spark.


Rebecca Pagan – 6

The Reign and the Red Stars combined for 13 fouls, and Pagan wasn't called into action for much. She showed two cards, one to Natalia Kuikka early, and one to McClernon late, both warranted. The match was generally controlled, and both sides generally came to play, not to hack. She wasn't asked to make a big call, and she didn't.

Laura Harvey was incensed about her position boxing out James-Turner on Chicago's game winning goal, but it was ultimately inadvertent – and while in an ideal world the referee never interferes with a play, in the world we exist in it's inevitable, and charitably, the Reign had six other players who needed to do something on that sequence, and didn't. It would've been a bit much to call the goal back.

The Reign return to the field away at the San Diego Wave on Friday. Winning games is more fun than losing games, and the Reign should look to continue their strong performances against San Diego and get back in the W column.