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Valkyratings: Adrift at the Bay Edition

It's tough when the underlying numbers look good but the sum ends up bad.

Last Updated
13 min read
© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Against the Chicago Red Stars and San Diego Wave, the Reign played well enough for between two and four points, but thanks to sloppy mistakes they came away with zero. Against debutantes Bay FC, the Reign were once (twice!) again in a position to take points, once again made a sloppy mistake, and once again came away with zero. It's frustrating to watch matches where the balance of play is decent to good, and the results are not there. It's frustrating to start the season with a long road trip and lose every match along the way. The Reign return home this weekend for a Red Stars rematch, and in the meantime, we pick apart another loss, investigating the cause of death and the signs of life alike.

Despite another loss where 'good enough for a point' instead turned into zero, I'm still quite bullish on the peak for this Reign side. Keep the faith and kiss the homies. This team is good enough to score, good enough to win matches, and good enough to put points on the board. But they badly need to reset, make like a goldfish, and forget this disastrous road trip.


Claudia Dickey – 6 (Off 59' for Laurel Ivory)

It started so well for Dickey, and it ended in gut wrenching fashion. She had the best half in goal we've seen from her in Reign colors. In the 14th minute, she made an exceptional save on a stunning Racheal Kundananji chance, leaving the dynamic Zambian striker to talk to the claw. In the 32nd minute, she calmly saved a wickedly deflected shot from Deyna Castellanos. She commanded her area confidently, and even though the Reign were largely outplayed in the first half, they went to the locker room with a 1-0 lead, frustrating the home side.

And then, minutes into the second half, Dickey went down awkwardly, twisting her knee beneath her in the course of conceding on a badly defended set piece. She initially stayed in the game, but 10 minutes later, the Reign conceded again, with Dickey screened (arguably, by two offside players, one of whom had to duck to allow the shot to pass her) but unable to move properly anyway, and she was forced to leave the match.

Going Forward: We all hope for a quick and uncomplicated recovery for Claudia. :( In the meantime, it's in Laurel Ivory's hands.


Lily Woodham – 6 (Off 71' for Phoebe McClernon)

Lily Woodham put in another serviceable outing in another difficult match. Her choice of pass was mostly good, and she did well to keep her shape defensively, despite clearly showing some fatigue from the international window and fading as the match went on. Her best moment was in the 27th minute, when she delivered a wicked cross to a nigh-undefendable place, leaving Kayla Sharples and Alyssa Malonson with the choice of attempting to cut it off, dangerously, or letting Bethany Balcer have a clean look at goal. Opting for the former, Sharples scored for the Reign, and while it won't show up in xG, it was exactly the sort of chance the Reign need to see from their outside backs. In the 40th minute, she combined with Jess Fishlock to find Balcer's foot in the penalty area, but this chance was saved.

In the second half, Woodham was less impactful, and with the Reign trailing and on their backup goalkeeper, she made way for Phoebe McClernon in the 71st minute.

Going Forward: It's easy to see what Woodham offers to the Reign when she's on. She still needs to deliver it more consistently.

Lauren Barnes – 5

With 86 touches, 65 completed passes, a massive 9 clearances, and her characteristic always-a-step-ahead-of-the-play read of the game, Lu Barnes was the most active Reign player on the field, and turned in exactly what we expect from her: stout defense, organization, and leadership in the back four. She was also just straight up beaten badly on Bay FC's equalizing goal, failing to seriously challenge goal-scorer Kayla Sharples, as several Reign players converged on the danger and none made a play.

As has been the case for three games now, Barnes shares in the blame on collective, unforced defensive failures that cannot keep happening. It's unfair to pin them all on her, and I absolutely do not – but she is also the steady veteran presence, and she's the one we should expect to get a body on the shooter, get a head to the ball, put her laces through it on a clearance. The Reign have been failing at these little things too consistently.

Going Forward: Even on a night with a couple major furts, Barnes adds a frankly incredible element of poise and calm to the Reign's defense. We need her, and the entire back six, to clean up the little mistakes that keep costing points.

Alana Cook – 4

Oof. So. I remain absolutely committed to letting Alana cook, and I don't, at all, think this is likely to repeat. But this was not good. Cook struggled to connect with her teammates, struggled to dial in her signature long balls – attempting 22(!) and completing only 9, and failed to seriously trouble the crosser, Emily Menges, on Bay FC's first goal. It wouldn't have been a disastrous performance in other circumstances, especially given her recent return from injury and limited time with the team, but then.

Then, the third goal. While the NWSL scorekeepers officially credited Bay FC's 87th minute match winner to Joelle Anderson – it was at best a low-percentage shross, never going to trouble Laurel Ivory and unlikely to find another attacker – it was Alana Cook's ill-timed foot that put it right past the Reign keeper and, minutes after the Reign climbed back into the match, secured three points for Bay FC.

Going Forward: Look. Let Alana cook. She's going to be better than fine. But whoof, this was not a good match for her. She'll want to shake it off and move on quickly.

Sofia Huerta – 6

While better known for blazing down the touchline and whipping in the sweetest balls you ever saw, Sofia Huerta reminded us that she can be a defensive force when called upon, as she was a big part of the Reign effort that kept Bay FC scoreless in the first half. Five interceptions, three tackles, eight clearances, nine recoveries is a line that both speaks for itself, and speaks for how much pressure Bay were able to keep the Reign under for extended periods of the game.

In the second half, chasing a goal, Huerta came more alive offensively, especially after the shift in attacking formation in the 71st minute. In the 67th, Huerta's legendary left foot put a ball to Olivia Athens that, unfortunately, from close range, Athens couldn't make more dangerous. Six minutes later, she attempted an audacious knuckling volley from range that forced a save and would've been, scientifically speaking, a "freaking banger", had it somehow snuck through.

Going Forward: On a hard road trip with a lot of mitigating factors, we haven't yet really seen a vintage Huerta performance, but the signs are there and she's clicking more consistently with her new-look team.


Angharad James-Turner – 7 (Off 71' for Quinn)

Like all the Welsh internationals, Angharad James-Turner showed some fatigue, and was fading late, but Haz had a good argument for player of the match, and was absolutely massive on another hard night. While she touched the ball only 42 times, nearly every touch was the right one, as she completed 31 of 33 passes (including an unusual-for-her 5 progressive passes), won four tackles in the center of the field, had eight recoveries, and in general made herself an absolutely miserable presence for Bay FC's fast and technical attacking corps to play through or around. With most of the pressure and most of the opportunities for the first 45 minutes, Bay FC routinely settled for low-percentage shots and searching for answers from out wide. James-Turner was the anchor of that.

On Bay FC's 48th minute equalizing goal, she was effectively bodied out of closing on Menges before the cross. She might've read the play better, in that moment, but...

Going Forward: Haz James-Turner has quietly been an excellent midfield destroyer in a rough series of matches, and she's been growing in effectiveness and confidence from match to match.

Olivia van der Jagt – 6 (Off 71' for Veronica Latsko)

Though less active than her defensive midfield partner James-Turner, Olivia van der Jagt also put in a solid shift of destroying hopes and promising attacks, sharing the responsibility in a way that, for the most part, absolutely smothered Bay FC's substantial vertical threat and quality in possession. Two won tackles, two interceptions, five recoveries, and a tidy 26 for 29 passing line don't necessarily leap off the page, but she and James-Turner played well off each other, covering the gaps and keeping the middle of the field locked down.

If there's anything to criticize – and there's really not much – it's that Olo, like Barnes, could have perhaps done a little bit more on Bay FC's equalizing goal. Instead, Kayla Sharples rose over everyone and nodded the ball home.

Going Forward: It's good to have a steady presence like Olo to step in. While Quinn and James-Turner probably offer more on balance as a defensive midfield pairing, there's never a question that Olo's going to be up for it when asked.

Ji So-Yun – 7

On the one hand, it was a comparatively quiet first 60+ minutes for the inestimable Ji So-Yun, as the shifted formation pushed her out left and she found less opportunity to combine dangerously in central areas. As Susie Rantz noted, she completed only a single pass into the final third, and only four progressive passes on the night. On the other hand, that one completed pass, in the 83rd minute, was one of the most spectacular one-touch assists you will ever see in your life, a moment of what-the-fuck-was-that Ji So-Yun magic that we should both grow accustomed to and never take for granted. As with her wonder-strike against Chicago, it was an assist that should have been enough to secure a point for the Reign, and as with her wonder-strike against Chicago, an inexplicable and unforced defensive blunder minutes later erased the impact of a sublimely beautiful play by the creative midfielder.

Ji also created a shot for herself in the 77th, dribbling into the area and shrugging off defenders like rain off her shoulders, but lost her footing as she dialed up to shoot, and scuffed it harmlessly to the keeper.

Going Forward: Ji is going to light the league on fire, and we need to make it matter when she does. She can do something like that in a split second. Also, we need to try to keep her central as much as possible. She's just much, much more dangerous there.

Jess Fishlock – 6

With Ji often pushed out wide, Jess Fishlock was her usual highly-energetic, apparently utterly tireless self, running 90 minutes on limited rest and doing her absolute best to create the beautiful chaos from high up the pitch that she thrives on. It was, unfortunately, of limited effectiveness throughout the first half, as the Reign struggled to hold on to the ball, struggled to do much of use with it when they did, and had only a few moments of genuine threat.

After the 71st minute subs and the tactical shift that followed, Fishlock – sitting deeper, and with Ji high and central – was more impactful, finding Ji in the 77th minute springing a beautiful dribbling sequence that deserved more, and working well in the buildup on a series of decent chances.

Going Forward: Fishlock is tireless, relentless, and good all over the midfield, but in this setup, it was hard for her to find Ji and Olivia Athens, until quite late. The Reign need to find ways to utilize their midfield talents in complementary fashion.

Olivia Athens – 6 (Off 82' for Emeri Adames)

Olivia Athens was fine, not especially impactful, and also not really the problem at any point. The Reign struggled to keep possession and struggled to turn the possession they did have to purpose for much of the first sixty minutes. Athens was no exception, with a number of forced passes not finding their marks. She also got on the end of a lovely Huerta ball in the 67th minute, put a dangerous chance on frame, and while it was saved, she arguably could have won a penalty immediately after, as a Bay FC defender's slide took out her feet after the shot left her boot, despite Athens' effort to avoid the contact.

Going Forward: Athens isn't in the Reign's ideal starting XI, but in a long season with short rosters, she's a very good asset to have to cover the inevitably large number of minutes that will need to be covered.


Bethany Balcer – 7 (POTM)

We've been waiting for Bethany Balcer to get it going, and though the result wasn't the one we wanted, Balcer got it going on Saturday in a promising way. Occupying a single forward role for much of the night, her clever attacking run in the 27th minute forced Bay FC's defenders into the impossible decision that directly created the own goal. Later, with the Reign changing formation and throwing more numbers forward, it was Balcer who hit the shit out of Ji So-yun's sublime assist, hammering home the second goal in a no-hesitation way that the Reign have been lacking, and drawing them back level with the home side. She had a decent chance in the 40th minute, got her head to a ball in the 54th but put it just wide, put Ji into a dangerous space in the 98th, and found Emeri Adames for the final chance of the night in the 103rd.

This was an all-around performance from Boats, from providing danger and an outlet while the Reign were under siege to just winning a damned aerial when nobody else could to throwing it all on the field when the Reign desperately needed a goal to climb back into it. Hopefully, this is just the start of the #GoldenBoats2k24 campaign.

Going Forward: Even in the loss, you cannot imagine my relief to see Balcer finish that chance with authority. We need her at her confident best, throwing down headers, lacing loose balls home, and showing out that Michigan Fight. This was the first match of the season where she looked ready to take a chunk out of the competition.


Laurel Ivory – 6 (On 59' for Claudia Dickey)

It's never easy to come in cold for an injured goalkeeper. Laurel Ivory had a few minutes to warm up, but coming in two thirds of the way through the game for an injured Dickey, Ivory was largely up to the task, positioning herself well and snuffing out the opportunities that came, right up until her own defender put a low-danger cross past her with an ill-advised block. Can't blame that one on her at all.

She didn't change the match, but shouldn't have been expected to.

Going Forward: Ivory showed some quality in limited opportunities last year, and she'll have another opportunity to show quality while Dickey is out. We should be fairly confident she can hack it.

Quinn – 5 (On 71' for Angharad James-Turner)

By the sound of a choir of singing angels, Quinn returned to the pitch for the Reign in the 71st minute, spelling an excellent but exhausted Haz Turner, and was immediately all over the place, touching the ball 23 times in short minutes, connecting with Balcer, Adames, and Ji, finding progressive passes where other players had been struggling to. Quinn unlocks options in the attacking shape that aren't available without them, and has been sorely missed.

Going Forward: We're inching back towards health and ideal starters, but there's a way to go yet. Quinn is a gigantic contributor on both sides of the ball, and their facilitation is largely irreplaceable despite the very good midfield depth the Reign boast.

Veronica Latsko – 5 (On 71' for Olivia van der Jagt)

Latsko came on as part of the aggressive 71st minute formation shift, and ran hard, pressed aggressively, defended from the front, and combined well when she got on the ball. As usual, she wasn't exactly a constant in possession, but she got into good spaces and chose the right pass. She also had what looked to be the (re-)tying goal in early stoppage time. The offside flag, unfortunately, denied her, though the best angle available to us looks very much like the defender's foot kept her on.

So it goes.

Going Forward: Latsko brings energy like few players in the world, and is an absolute spark plug off the bench. With the Reign struggling to create the kind of chaos they thrive on in the attacking third, and with Jordyn Huitema out at least another week, it might be worth giving her a starting nod to jumpstart a more aggressive gameplan.

Phoebe McClernon – 4 (On 71' for Lily Woodham)

Phoebe McClernon spelled an exhausted and fading Lily Woodham, and struggled coming in against an efficient Bay FC right side in Caprice Dydasco and Tess Boade that was, to say the least, feeling it. She did enough, and wasn't a disaster, necessarily, but her choice of pass was often pressured and rarely the right one, and with the Reign needing goals, she failed to provide much help in possession.

Going Forward: A hard game state to come in to for McClernon, but she is capable of much better, and we need to see it from her in hard situations. With the Reign needing a wide facilitator to help keep attacks alive, she offered virtually nothing.

Emeri Adames – 6 (On 82' for Olivia Athens)

I'm running out of ways to say "Emeri Adames needs more minutes", so I'll just say it again: Emeri Adames needs more minutes. She came on in the 82nd minute with the Reign finding some chances but desperately needing a goal, and she immediately put in the pass that created one, finding Ji with an incisive cutback that the Korean midfielder touched to an onrushing Bethany Balcer. Adames was all over the offensive side of the game as the Reign immediately found themselves behind again, popping up for two decent chances in stoppage. In the 103rd minute, she had better options than taking the shot herself, and with time and minutes, she'll hopefully see them more quickly.

Going Forward: I understand easing a very young and inexperienced player into it, but every minute Adames plays, she shows she deserves more minutes. She's audacious, creative, and not afraid to take players on, try shit, and mix it up offensively. The Reign need that.


Katja Koroleva – 5

This was a physical but not especially dirty match; referee Katja Koroleva didn't call much, and didn't need to. There were some high-profile calls, of which the crew got more right than wrong – a disallowed goal for an egregious handball looms large – but there are a few narrow but decisive calls (and non-calls) that frustrate, especially when all three ultimately went against the Reign, when even one going the Reign's way likely would have changed the outcome of the match.

Most frustrating is Bay FC's second goal, where two attacking players were "inactively" offside. While Claudia Dickey likely doesn't make the save anyway, both for her injury and for the screaming nature of the strike, it strains credulity to argue the offside player who ducks to get out of the ball's path wasn't screening her in a way that interfered with the play.

The fingernail-narrow offside against Latsko and the non-call on what looked like a pretty reasonable foul shout on Olivia Athens were also frustrating.

Ultimately, officials can only officiate off the angles and information they have, and NWSL's camera angles for review are not good, so... we're left where we are.

The Reign return home on Sunday, April 21st for a rematch with the Chicago Red Stars. They should choose to score several goals, avenge these frustrating losses on the road trip, and, tactically speaking, finally give us something to get real hype about again.