Cookie Consent by Free Privacy Policy Generator Skip to content

Valkyratings: Breaking On the Wave Edition

It's tough when the defense does everything right for 95 minutes but the game lasts 101.

Last Updated
13 min read
Reign goalkeeper Claudia Dickey leaps to claim a ball above several teammates and San Diego opponents.
© Julia Kapros-USA TODAY Sports


It's been nearly two weeks since the San Diego Wave got their first ever win against the Seattle Reign. I took a long walk, head down, dejected like Michael Cera in one of his early roles. I confided my soul-deep disappointment in the cats. I got dumplings from the excellent dumpling spot down the street. And, eventually, I got to rewatching the game analytically, expecting a slog.

While it's small comfort, the Reign were mostly fine, for most of the match, while down a couple key players and (per club accounts) dealing with the aftermath of a nasty outbreak of respiratory illness. They were a bit (a lot) boring, a bit (a lot) uninspiring, but good enough for a point for 95 minutes. And then, with a determined Wave attack coming in (natch) waves, and an exhausted Reign with nothing left to give scrambling to hold out those few minutes longer, they weren't good enough to pick one up for the last five.

There were positives to go with the negatives, and there's plenty of upside on this team, but the goals have to start coming from somewhere, and the results have to start coming from somewhere. The Reign have had few – if any – genuinely bad showings from any players, yet they find themselves on just 3 points in 3 games, consistently wanting for someone to do something special.


Claudia Dickey – 7 (POTM)

On a difficult night for the entire squad, Claudia Dickey was frequently quite good. She made four saves, two of them early, high difficulty stops – an enormous save in the 8th minute against Alex Morgan, and again in the 27th minute against Jaedyn Shaw – that on another night might've been game changing. She showed improvement in her distribution, and good communication with her back line. A 40th minute pass straight up the middle into pressure was ill-advised, and Savannah McCaskill immediately turned it into a shot back at Dickey's goal, but it was not a particularly threatening one, covered by the defense, and blocked out.

Aside from that hiccup, Claudia scarcely put another foot wrong. Deep in stoppage time, the Reign surrendered a series of very good chances. Two found the back of the net. One of those was deemed to be a good goal. Dickey was screened on the play, the Reign were disorganized, disassembled, and exhausted, and there was little she could have done to change the outcome.

Going Forward: Despite the result, this was Dickey's best outing on the season. She made a couple of the big saves that went wanting in her prior match, recovered well from her only real mistake, and is showing more command and more comfort on the ball every week. The Reign have been blessed with a surfeit of plus goalkeepers over the years – from Hope Solo to Haley Kopmeyer to Lydia Williams to Sarah Bouhaddi to Phallon Tullis-Joyce – and Claudia Dickey looks well-positioned to keep the Reign goal secure for the seasons to come.


Lily Woodham – 6 (off 76' for Ryanne Brown)

Less defensively involved but showing a somewhat better choice of pass and especially a better touch on her crosses than prior weeks, Lily Woodham turned in a serviceable but unspectacular performance. She was beaten by Sofia Jakobsson on the 27th minute sequence that led to the Wave's third-best chance of the evening, but otherwise was rarely tested defensively. She found Bethany Balcer's golden head in a good position in the 30th minute, but it wound up a fairly routine save for Kailen Sheridan.

Going Forward: Having a genuine crossing threat from both outside backs will go a long way towards answering the Reign's offensive struggles, but it's not there yet. Woodham still needs to develop chemistry with the rest of the team.

Lauren Barnes – 6

The Reign played a conservative formation and a conservative game plan, and Lauren Barnes saw a lot of the ball (with 65 touches, the third most on the team), was characteristically active defensively (with 3 clearances, 3 recoveries, a blocked shot, and an interception), and competently shepherded a defense that, for 90+ minutes, held a dangerous Wave attack to few opportunities, fewer good opportunities, and a lot of frustration.

In the waning minutes of stoppage time, with the entire side flagging and the Wave coming hard, Seattle needed somebody to step up and make a play. Nobody could, and Lauren Barnes was slow to react and could only watch as Emily van Egmond slotted the ball past Claudia Dickey.

Going Forward: Look, we all know what Lu offers. She still offers it at a high level. With Alana Cook, Phoebe McClernon, Shae Holmes, and Julia Lester on the roster and getting healthy, she'll likely have more appearances off the bench than we're accustomed to, but Lu's got the quality and experience to be an asset for years to come.

Phoebe McClernon – 6 (off 58' for Alana Cook)

The Reign played a conservative formation and a conservative game plan, and Phoebe McClernon was the less active of the starting centerbacks, but generally chose the right pass, closed off dangerous central passing and shooting lanes, and helped the Reign suffocate the danger in the middle of the pitch. As was the theme on the night, she was solid but unspectacular before subbing off for the long-anticipated return of Alana Cook.

Going Forward: McClernon has a huge role to play on this team, as a multi-position defender with good recovery speed, good ball skills, and good instincts. With Alana Cook returning, the Reign may have five starting-quality center backs for two starting positions, but McClernon should be frequently among those two.

Sofia Huerta – 6

Once again, Huerta found a ton of space and saw a ton of the ball. She was second on the team for touches (69), and showed some long-awaited signs of life from her necessary crossing. She found Ji So-yun in good positions in the 38th and 45th minutes, found Jordyn Huitema in the 48th, and found Olivia van der Jagt in the 60th, and while none of these chances turned into gilt-edged opportunities, her four shot-creating actions led the team, and she's showing more connection and confidence in her passing. She paired that with a huge tackle, an interception, two blocks, three clearances, and five recoveries in a solid two-way performance.

If it weren't for the last five minutes, Huerta would've been an important piece of a hard-fought 0-0 draw on the road. Unfortunately, in those last five minutes, a fading Huerta backed off of the ball, missed the opportunity to close on either of the potential shooters, and screened her own goalkeeper as the exhausted Reign couldn't muster themselves to defend one last Wave onslaught.

Going Forward: Huerta finding Ji and Huitema in good positions is essential if the Reign want to solve their offensive woes. We saw a little bit of life, and hopefully it's a sign of more to come. There's 23 games still to play, and we'll need Sofia to be at her lethal, early-crossing best, as NWSL campaigns seldom get easier as they mature.


Olivia van der Jagt – 7

Playing as the defensive foundation of a midfield square with Angharad James-Turner, Olivia van der Jagt was the key engine of a defensive structure that largely smothered the Wave for 97 minutes. While her passing left a lot to be desired, with a rather dire 23 of 41 passes completed, she was a relentless destroyer of buildups for the home side, racking up three clearances, three interceptions, three blocks, and a big defensive tackle won. San Diego had one big opportunity early in the game, and then found themselves snatching for scraps for nearly ninety minutes (before the Reign, unfortunately, folded late), and Olo was emblematic of their offensive struggles on the night.

Unfortunately, like most of the team, Olo faded late in stoppage time, and her hard defensive run ultimately took her out of the chaotic play that ended with van Egmond's game winning goal. After a scrappy defensive performance that earns a point on most nights, the glue came undone as the last minutes ticked away.

Going Forward: Olo covers a huge amount of ground, is absolutely excellent in the air, and reads danger extremely well. Asked to step in for Quinn, she filled the midfield destroyer role admirably. We should have few concerns about her defensive chops, but she still struggles to find space and find the easy pass in possession, and can sometimes be punished for it.

Angharad James-Turner – 7 (off 89' for Nikki Stanton)

Playing as the defensive foundation of a midfield square with Olivia van der Jagt, Angharad James-Turner turned in the best performance yet of her short Reign career, helping anchor a back six that hemmed in a dangerous Wave attack for 90 minutes, severely limiting their chances and doing what should have been enough to walk out of Snapdragon with a point. Tasked to be more of a facilitator than her partner, Haz responded with excellent choice of pass, including completing 4 of 4 long balls and a team-leading 6 passes into the final third, while keeping the grit and sandpaper she's shown on full display and calmly winning and keeping possession in the middle of the pitch when the Reign needed it.

There's not a lot to nitpick, but she was caught ball-watching after a good recovery run on Jaedyn Shaw's 26th minute chance. Nothing came of it, but caught between the crosser and the shooter, she successfully defended neither, a problem that's popped up for the Reign a few times this season.

Going Forward: Based on her body of work so far, we should be very comfortable with James-Turner as a holding midfielder, as she's shown the ability to be both a plus destroyer and a plus facilitator across three games. The Reign have some problems to work out, but her position is not on the list.

Olivia Athens – 6 (off 76' for Tziarra King)

With the team set up to defend first and grind out a result second, Olivia Athens spelled the missing Jess Fishlock and did basically what she should have been expected to do. Part of a front four that wasn't really clicking, she had some notable spells of good play, finding Lily Woodham in the 30th minute to start the sequence for the Reign's second best scoring chance, consistently keeping possession with short, safe passes (on which she was 13 of 13) to find Ji, Woodham, and Huerta, and turning in a couple hard tackles to help defend from the front.

It wasn't a vintage performance, but it was a solid and workmanlike one.

Going Forward: Athens is a good passer and a great tackler, but she doesn't offer the creativity or vision of a Fishlock or Ji. She can really shine in a box-to-box role. She probably shouldn't be counted on to solve for the Reign's score-a-damn-goal problem.

Ji So-yun – 6

Once again, Ji So-yun was the offensive standout for the Reign, but on a night where the Reign threatened this little, that's not necessarily saying a lot. With 72 touches and her usual crisp, clean, consistently progressive passing, Ji spent a lot of time on the ball, and on those occasions where the Reign did make a little noise going forward, she was generally right in the middle of it, but with a much more conservative approach, and lacking the supporting creativity of Jess Fishlock's passing and running, Ji was unable to stamp her signature onto the match. She did have a good chance blocked in the 88th minute, a... highly speculative chance blocked in the 38th minute, and she put Tziarra King in on goal late in second-half stoppage.

Relying on Ji to produce jaw-dropping magic – capable though she may be – isn't a sustainable model for offensive production.

Going Forward: When the Reign look good, Ji is at the center of just about everything good they do. When the Reign don't look good, Ji is... still at the center of just about everything good they do. It wasn't her best outing, but she still managed to scratch a chance out of nothing more than once.


Bethany Balcer – 5 (off 89' for Emeri Adames)

In the 30th minute, Bethany Balcer had the Reign's first shot of the night, a headed effort that was probably less dangerous than it looked (and it didn't look all that dangerous), but which at least showed some growing connection between her and left back Lily Woodham. In the 39th minute, she took a speculative shot from distance that was confidently blocked and came to nothing. In the 88th minute, she had arguably the Reign's best chance on the night, gathering Ji So-yun's rebound and taking a shot of her own, which she failed to keep on frame. She wasn't bad, and like strike partner Jordyn Huitema, she tracked back well and turned in some solid defensive plays, including two tackles won and three clearances.

With the Reign hurting for goals, they need to do more with the scoring chances they have. The commitment to defending from the front is good and valuable, but the goals need to come in at least a trickle, and we want Balcer's big contributions to come in the attacking third much more frequently.

Going Forward: Balcer is arguably the best striker on the team, and we know she can score goals in a variety of ways. The Reign have so far struggled to get her clear-cut chances, and she and Huitema have not always combined well in a two-forward setup. Boats may well be the best bet on the team to step up and get a damn goal, but so far, it's not clicking.

Jordyn Huitema – 5

My initial read on Jordyn Huitema's game was much more negative – she was almost invisible offensively, managing a single, meekly taken header in the 48th minute that came nowhere particularly close to threatening Sheridan's goal, and struggling to do much on or (more often) off the ball. On rewatch, I came to appreciate that she was extremely active defensively, leading the team in tackles won (3) and blocks (4), and tracked back tirelessly to help a defense-first Reign side get through ninety-plus minutes while conceding few real chances.

Huitema leading the team in defensive-third tackles and blocks is not an ideal use of her talents, though, and the inability of the forwards to threaten goal or even just keep San Diego honest was a serious problem, inviting more and more pressure as the Reign faded and eventually conceded at the death.

Going Forward: We need to get Jordyn Huitema going if we're going to ascend the table. We need the attacking pieces we have to execute more frequently and more consistently, and we need someone to step up and get a damn goal. Jordyn's arguably the best bet on the team to do that, but she needs to actually do that.


Alana Cook – 5 (on 58' for Phoebe McClernon)

Alana came on in the 58th minute, replacing McClernon, and was definitely a little rusty, a little out of sync with her teammates, and a little slow to the ball. Still, in limited minutes, she had two blocked shots and three clearances, and while her passing touch wasn't quite there, she did drop a couple of those beautiful long balls into the final third. It'll be really nice to have those back.

She didn't tilt the field and change the outcome, but she'll be worth points as the season goes on. Let Alana cook.

Going Forward: It wasn't a storybook welcome back to the pitch, but it was good to see Cook out there nonetheless, and as one of the best in the league at contributing offense from the centerback position, we'll be happy to see her starting as soon as possible.

Ryanne Brown – 4 (on 76' for Lily Woodham)

Coming on in the 76th minute to spell Woodham and help grind out the match, Ryanne Brown touched the ball nine times, struggled to keep possession when she did touch the ball, and didn't make much of a defensive impact.

Going Forward: This looked to be the sort of game state Brown could really thrive in, but it wasn't to be. It wasn't a lot of other peoples' night either, to be fair.

Tziarra King – 4 (on 76' for Olivia Athens)

Tziarra King came on in the 76th minute for an effective but offensively limited Athens, and touched the ball just three times. In the 95th minute, she collected a feed from Ji So-yun and took a shot, which was promptly blocked and came to nothing. She completed both of her passes.

Going Forward: Zee is a fan favorite, and she has the tools to be extremely successful at this level, but at some point, she needs to show something in the minutes she gets. If Emeri Adames isn't already leapfrogging her on the depth chart, it has to be close.

Emeri Adames – N/A (on 89' for Bethany Balcer)

Coming on for stoppage time as the Reign collectively faded and conceded, Adames completed two of three passes, had five touches, a clearance, a block, and found Ji So-yun on the 95th minute sequence that led to King's ultimately futile shot. In limited minutes in an unfavorable game state, she was fine.

Going Forward: Emeri deserves a longer runout to see what she can bring to a game with more time. And it's not like anybody else is lighting up the scoreline, as it were.

Nikki Stanton – N/A (on 89' for Angharad James-Turner)

Coming on for stoppage time as the Reign collectively faded and conceded, Stanton was determined to clear the damn lines, something she did three times in limited minutes. That's about all she did, but honestly, that's what she was there to do.

Going Forward: Eleven minutes of bizarre and chaotic stoppage time aside, Stanton is a capable holding midfielder, albeit probably fifth on the depth chart for a Reign side that's very deep in the role. She'll mop up hard minutes when other options are unavailable.


Alex Billeter – 6

NWSL hasn't had much in the way of scandalous officiating this season. Unlike MLS. Lesson: the union is pretty much never asking for too much and yes it can be so much worse. Alex Billeter turned in another calm, professional refereeing performance, between two teams that once again mostly came to play, not to hack.

We could have some minor nits to pick with Billeter's game, but the whistles made sense, the calls were even-handed, the game was kept under control, and despite the result sucking, the officiating's not going to be anybody's narrative. Arguably the most controversial call benefited the Reign, as San Diego looked to have taken a late lead only for Billeter to wave the goal off, as the AR ruled the ball had previously crossed the end line. With no clear angle to show it hadn't, the call on the field stood. An endline camera might've yielded a different outcome, but we can only ask officials to officiate based off the information they have access to.

It was, however, another game with double digit stoppage time. That's too much stoppage time. It should be utterly exceptional for that board to read + 11. This season, it's been utterly routine.

With the international window behind them, the Reign return to the field at league debutantes Bay FC on Sunday at 5 p.m. PT. Despite the letdown in San Diego, the Reign should strive to maintain their historic levels of dominance over California-based teams, and give me a reason to rate someone an 8 again. Please.