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Valkyratings: Under a Dark (Red) Star Edition

It's past time for the Reign to play like the Reign.

Last Updated
13 min read
Seattle Reign goalkeeper Laurel Ivory saves a Mallory Swanson shot as defenders fail to stop the ball.
© Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a disastrous three-game road trip where they were competitive in every game, in a position to take points in every game, and came away with zero in every game, on Sunday, the Reign decided to mix things up by shipping two early goals on well-worked but poorly defended counterattacks, failing to assert their will at pretty much any point, and looking all but ready to surrender by the half. While halftime changes breathed a little life into the side and an absolute banger by Tziarra King late gave the Reign a breath of hope, it was too little and too late, and the Reign have now lost four in a row for the first time since 2013, a year that never happened.

I remain fairly bullish on this team, but at some point, this is just going to be who we are: technically capable, but not offensively prolific enough to make up for the one or two Big Defensive Blunders we insistently make every match. At the moment, injuries, lineup inconsistency, and heavy roster turnover from last season can be seen as mitigating factors, but the point at which that simply doesn't matter when assessing the season is approaching quickly.

Let's dive into this mess.


Laurel Ivory – 7 (POTM)

It's odd to give a rating this high to a losing performance where the keeper surrendered multiple goals, but Ivory was excellent. She came in under a lot of pressure, and despite shipping two goals (neither easy saves, both after being hung out to dry by her back line), she turned in a very solid match. With Mallory Swanson running rampant and Allyson Schlegel balling out, it was on Ivory to keep the scoreline merely "respectable".

With six saves on the afternoon, including quality stops in the 29th, 55th, and 69th (nice) minutes, Ivory kept the Reign in the game even as their transition defense made every effort to ship goals. Though Opta shows the Red Stars' total xG as only about 1.0, their post-shot xG was a staggering 2.7, and Ivory's reading the game and good reactions kept a bad scoreline from getting worse repeatedly.

Going Forward: With Claudia Dickey "weeks, not days" away from resuming training, Ivory's got the job for now. Fortunately for us, we have two relatively unheralded but very good goalkeepers on the roster.


Lily Woodham – 4 (Off 45' for Phoebe McClernon)

It's easy to see what Lily Woodham offers, but what she offers is a much more attacking-minded read of the fullback position than our other options there, at the cost of sometimes being too far upfield to recover in transition. This bit the Reign on multiple occasions during the first half of play, but none so sharply as in the 31st minute, when the Reign coughed up the ball, and Woodham, already several steps into her run upfield, could only watch as the Red Stars ran downhill at an exposed Laurel Ivory, and Mal Swanson drove the ball home for a 2-0 lead.

On the other side of the ball, Lily struggled in possession, giving up the ball often and only occasionally connecting with her teammates, but was still all over the Reign's best sequence in the first half, a chaotic 27th minute wherein she had two key passes — one to Bethany Balcer, one to Sofia Huerta, both shots blocked — and a successful take-on to keep possession and drive pressure. If Seattle scores a goal in that 27th minute, it's a different game, and probably a different review for Lily... but they didn't.

Going Forward: The threat of two strong crossing outside backs is a real asset, but when playing fast, lethal transition teams like Chicago, there's a strong argument we should be starting a more astute defender like Phoebe McClernon or Ryanne Brown at left back.

Lauren Barnes – 6

In the 4th minute, the Red Stars won the ball back deep in their own end, ran it through midfield like a traffic cone drill, sprinted downhill with numbers, and caught Lu Barnes in a rare moment where she had no idea what to do, stepped too late to make a difference, and had to watch helplessly as Allyson Schlegel opened the scoring. It was emblematic of much of the first 60 minutes, with the Reign sometimes finding real spells of strong pressure, only to give up a lethal fast break the other way, and seem absolutely lost in defending it.

Barnes cleaned things up after that early blunder, winning three tackles, racking up double-digit recoveries, helping cover for Woodham and Sofia Huerta's adventures, and being by far the most defensively active player on the side, but it was a defensive performance to forget for the Reign, even for their best defender on the day.

Going Forward: Barnes is a presumptive starter for Laura Harvey every match, and I get it, but I'm also not convinced she should be a 90-minutes-a-week player. We have enormous depth with McClernon, Lester, and Holmes, and the luxury of matching the skillset to the opponent.

Alana Cook – 5

With Mal Swanson running downstream on an early counter and Allyson Schlegel burning forward to create options, Alana Cook played too conservatively, not even attempting to disrupt the developing chance. Seconds later, the Red Stars had a 1-0 lead. In the 31st minute, Mal Swanson received the ball in the penalty area, dribbled, and took several touches before neatly finishing. Alana watched her cook, marking nowhere in particular, and the Red Stars had a 2-0 lead.

Cook didn't make any glaring, personal errors that will be directly recorded as such, but her defending was passive and tentative when it needed to be assertive. Against an offense that thrives on space and speed, she gave up an extra yard when she didn't need to and left them lanes to shoot and open turf to run. This was a match where vintage Alana Cook could've stamped her name on it. She didn't.

Going Forward: Cook was fine, with some miscues. We need her to be better than fine; we need her to find the touch on her long passing, find the timing on her challenges, find the confidence to get stuck in when she needs to, and find the form that made her one of the best CBs in the league last year.

Sofia Huerta – 5

I'm running out of ways to say "we need Sofia Huerta to play up to her own standards", but we need Sofia Huerta to play up to her own standards. This wasn't a disastrous outing, but it was, again, not good enough, not clean enough, not sharp enough in execution. As with her opposite Lily Woodham, Huerta was all over a blistering 27th minute that the Reign could and probably should have scored on, putting in a hard shot that, though blocked, fell to bestie Veronica Latsko for another immediately dangerous look. As with Woodham, had the Reign scored on that series of chances, the game — and Sofia's rating — probably look very different.

The Reign attempted 34 crosses, no player with more than Huerta's 7, of which she completed only 1 into the penalty area. With the Reign as dominant in the air as they are, and with players like Huerta crossing as often as they do, the service needs to be better. It's a place the Reign are begging for the tiniest bit of execution to unlock their offense.

Going Forward: The Reign need Sofia Huerta to play like Sofia Huerta. We haven't seen it much so far this season.


Jess Fishlock – 7

Some statements are simply uncontroversial. Water is wet, dumplings are the perfect food, the French women's national team has never won anything that matters, and Jess Fishlock was once again quietly (and not so quietly) excellent. A two-way menace as we've long since grown accustomed to, Fishlock consistently got the ball forward passing, receiving, and carrying, threw down three successful tackles and eight recoveries, made herself an outlet, and made herself hard as hell to get off the ball.

She also assisted (hashtag WIFE GOALS) on Tziarra King's Goal of the Week-winning banger.

I can nitpick — she attempted two dribbles and failed both, and a missed tackle in the 24th minute led to a decent chance for Chicago, but Fishlock was one of only a few players in blue who showed up ready to play from the opening whistle and was still dealing at 90+.

Going Forward: It was a forgettable outing for the midfield trio as a whole, but Jess did just about everything she could've to get a result out of this match. The Fish-Ji connection is still growing, and it should pay real dividends in the future.

Ji So-yun – 5 (Off 71' for Olivia Athens)

This was Ji So-yun's worst runout for the Reign. It still wasn't necessarily bad, but she struggled to find the game, and with the Reign struggling to connect and the Red Stars playing quickly on the counter, she showed a few flashes of brilliance but had a largely unimpactful game before fading out entirely in the second half and being replaced in the 71st minute by Olivia Athens.

After the Reign conceded two goals on counters that started in their attacking third and saw Absolutely Nobody make a play, in first half stoppage time, Ji smartly simply took a player out to prevent the exact same counter yet another time, earning a yellow card and showing a little bit of edge that had been sorely lacking.

Going Forward: When your most creative player doesn't create much of anything, you're gonna have a bad time.

Olivia van der Jagt – 5 (Off 45' for Quinn)

Olivia van der Jagt, likely the best tackler on the team, missed the most important chance she had to make a game-altering tackle in the 4th minute. In that moment, dispossessing Mal Swanson, fouling her, putting a body on her, doing anything other than letting her glide on by into the attacking third, changes the calculus of the entire rest of the match. There was a lot of blame to go around on the opening goal, and Olo shares in it.

She did have a nice pass into the penalty area, and was tidy on the ball, missing only a single pass on the afternoon, but the majority of her passes were "safe", and often left the receiving player with limited options. She ultimately had little positive impact on the game, and left at halftime, with the Reign badly needing a change.

Going Forward: Against another opponent, a midfield three of Fishlock, Ji, and van der Jagt could do real damage, but against the ruthless, direct, and blazingly fast Red Stars transition game, they were pretty consistently either bypassed or run straight through. As players get healthy, we should have more ability to pick our starters for the opposition.


Emeri Adames – 5 (Off 76' for Tziarra King)

Emeri Adames got the start I've been advocating for and was fine. Young players are consistently inconsistent, but it wasn't exactly the barnstorming Adames For President tour we might've hoped for. Largely contained in the first half, she did make some smart off-the-ball runs to open up passing options, only for teammates to miss them. In the second, she managed to get a couple shots off, neither of them particularly dangerous but both of them quickly taken with the sort of speed of thought and try shit mentality that may pay dividends later. She also had two excellent long switches, an element the Reign have consistently lacked this year.

While the try shit mentality is good and needed, there are times it's better to take the safe option, and Emeri could still stand to learn that nuance a little more deeply. She gave up possession too easily too often with a forced pass, when taking a touch and finding the open player might have kept a chance alive.

Going Forward: Emeri's talented as hell, and she unlocks possibilities that don't otherwise exist on this roster, but at barely 18 years old, she's going to have ups and downs. It's part of the process.

Bethany Balcer – 6

Balcer went into 18 aerials and won 12 of them, ran hard, put herself in good positions, and could scarcely buy a shot at a second-hand shots store. Other than a blocked effort in the midst of the 27th minute sequence that the Reign — if not Boats herself — probably should've scored on, she didn't even get an opportunity to change the narrative of the match.

And the thing is, unlike in certain earlier matches, it wasn't for lack of good play on her part. Her teammates needed to find her head with a cross on any of their 34 attempts, needed to put a ball in her path on any of her excellent darting runs, needed to give her the service she needed to put something away. With Ji So-yun ineffective, Lily Woodham consistently out of position, and Sofia Huerta crossing to nobody, Balcer was left to make good runs for no reward, win header after header entering the attacking third without support, and generally grind out a frustrating match where she was poised to make a difference and never had a moment that could.

Going Forward: Balcer is dominant in the air and plays hard as hell every minute she's on the pitch, and we need to find her with service, whether it's coming from the endline, the corner, or the early cross in transition. She wins headers and she scores goals, but she needs to be put in a position to challenge for them.

Veronica Latsko – 5 (Off 76' for McKenzie Weinert)

When you line Veronica Latsko up at forward, you can generally expect a lot of hard work, relentless energy, and pressing that creates absolute chaos for opposition defenses. On Sunday, with Latsko lining up at forward, the Reign got one attempted (and lost) challenge, several lost aerials, and some great link-up play and a dangerous shot during the 27th minute where the entire team, briefly, looked like they really knew how to soccer together.

Latsko is a known quantity, and the somewhat sluggish and listless performance on the press was perplexing but seemed to be a team-wide affliction, as the Red Stars calmly broke out on the counter repeatedly with barely a sniff of pressure, not even the slightest spritz of eau de give me that ball to be had. Latsko's forgettable day ended in the 76th minute as McKenzie Weinert made her season debut.

Going Forward: Latsko is a known quantity and still a serious asset. In the future, we should line up Latsko to press and cause chaos and not simultaneously have her and a bunch of other players play really substandard games.


Phoebe McClernon – 6 (On 45' for Lily Woodham)

Part of a double substitution to start the second half, McClernon came on for Lily Woodham and immediately shored up the Reign's disastrous defensive shape. While her passing and running don't tilt the field in the same way Lily's can, her choice of pass was better and safer on the day, and her positional discipline was a night-and-day difference. With the Red Stars running rampant on the counter, Phoebe staunched the bleeding and helped give the Reign a chance to climb back into it.

Going Forward: McClernon isn't necessarily an exciting left back but she's a very good one who provides excellent defense with good recovery speed. With the Reign's current propensity for defensive blundering to cough up winnable points, shoring up the back may be the biggest priority, and she can do that.

Quinn – 6 (On 45' for Olivia van der Jagt)

Part of a double substitution to start the second half, Quinn came on for Olo and immediately shored up the Reign's flagging and ineffectual midfield trio. Their stat line doesn't look special, but their understanding of position and ability to transition defensive possession into attacking possession made an instant impact, and their field vision and recognition of dangerous space saved the Reign from multiple counters they had easily given up in the first frame. They gave the Reign a foundation to try to claw something out of a game where they had already coughed up a two goal deficit.

Going Forward: Quinn should be the locked-in starter whenever they are healthy.

Olivia Athens – 6 (On 71' for Ji So-yun)

Replacing an ineffective Ji So-yun is a big ask, and Olivia Athens is not necessarily the player you'd first ask to do it, but she came on and had an effective run-out in a facilitating role, consistently keeping possession high up the pitch while (largely) leaving Jess Fishlock and Quinn responsible for the higher-risk passing options. The game state might have wanted more creativity than Athens can offer, but she showed she can be effective in a supporting role.

Going Forward: Athens is, at this point, also a known quantity, a plus passer and an incredibly difficult player to take off the ball, and when we don't expect her to be either a primary creator or a take-all-ankles destroyer, she has plenty to offer.

Tziarra King – 7 (On 76' for Emeri Adames)

So, Tziarra King needed a big match to prove the doubters wrong, and she finally did something big, scoring her first goal in more than a year. And that goal was a banger. Go watch it again. She won goal of the week and she gave the Reign life, even if it ultimately wasn't enough for the result. She only touched the ball 11 times and she only completed five of 10 passes, but she made smart runs that forced the defense to choose where to leave space, and in the 79th minute, only a few moments after taking the pitch, she took the shot the Red Stars offered to her and annihilated it from 31 yards out. There isn't a lot more you can ask of a substitute forward.

Going Forward: Hopefully this is the turning point for Zee, and she starts slamming them home on the regular. We've all been pulling hard for her.

McKenzie Weinert – 5 (On 76' for Veronica Latsko)

McKenzie Weinert made her season debut, coming on for an ineffectual Veronica Latsko, and was fine. She touched the ball only nine times, but offered energy and pace that had been lacking, and in the 80th minute, immediately after King's scorcher, tested Alyssa Naeher again.

Going Forward: McKenzie can add a different dimension to the Reign's attack. She offers a ton of speed and has everything to prove. We should expect to see more of her off the bench, even if not necessarily as the first attacker up.


Elton Garcia – 6

The referee was fine, albeit a little lost at times. Would I have liked Elton Garcia to be a little more consistent about what he thought a foul was? Sure. Do I think he had much impact on the match? Not really. Did the cards he pulled generally make sense? Yes.

Can he be expected to defend transitions for the Reign? No.

It was a little bit frustrating — after seeing needlessly long stoppage time in multiple matches in a row — to suddenly have seemingly far less stoppage time than would've been indicated, when the Reign were actually playing well and might've had a chance to pull back level with a few more minutes, but that's life and that's soccer.

The Reign go back on the road to Cary, North Carolina on Saturday, April 27th, at 4:00 PM PT. Playing well and taking zero points is no longer acceptable. The Reign badly need to show something before it's too late to salvage the season.