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Valkyratings: Grounding the Current Edition

Before we get to dissecting the bad outing, let's look back at a slightly better one.

Last Updated
14 min read
Seattle Reign goalkeeper Laurel Ivory gives a high-five to a fan after a game at Lumen Field.
© Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

This one was always going to be hard.

While a win would have been nice, the Seattle Reign should find some solace in another very strong defensive performance. Faced with short rest, playing against the most dangerous offense in the league, and dealing with yet another jumble and shuffle of the starters on the back line as Alana Cook was a late scratch for illness, the Reign did what no other team in the league had done this season, and held the Kansas City Current scoreless through 90+ minutes.

It wasn't always pretty. One might even call it 99 minutes of low block struggle-ball. One can call it whatever they like. The Reign needed to avoid a loss more than they needed to get into a track meet with a team like the Current, and picking up a point and a shutout against the runaway class of the league is, in this case, fine as a result. The Current assembled a staggering 227 touches in the attacking third, and 34 in the Reign's penalty area, but thanks to solid, disciplined defending, created shockingly little danger out of it. Defending like that will win the team points regardless of what they can create going forward.

With that said, coming away with the draw put more pressure on the Reign to get their wins away at Portland (oh no) and Orlando. And it was, undeniably, a pretty miserable match to watch. I rewatched it and suffered through it so you don't have to, and I endeavored to rate players fairly despite the rather miserable brand of soccer that they played very well. Let's dig in!


Laurel Ivory – 8 (POTM)

The commentary might fool you into thinking otherwise, but the Current – by far the best attacking side in the league – only created two particularly dangerous chances the entire match, as the Reign defense was staunch. One, a 51st minute effort by Bayley Feist, sailed harmlessly off target and never troubled Ivory's goal. The other was a first-half stoppage time strike from 6 yards out by Claire Lavogez, who brought down a cross, took a spectacular touch to create a shot, thought she had an overcommitted Laurel Ivory dead to rights, and could only watch dumbfounded as Ivory snatched the very prospect of a goal right out of her thoughts anyway.

She also made four other decent saves, though none of the other shots she faced (from Kansas City – she also made a stunning save on an accidental Sofia Huerta effort along the way) were particularly dangerous. While a couple of her other saves look good on the highlight reel, they were ultimately all saves you should expect a keeper to make at this level.

But – and this is key – Lavogez's chance? Opta places the post-shot xG value at a ridiculous 0.97. Ivory made the game-changing, game-defining save in that moment. Once again, Ivory, when called on to change the game, fucking changed it.

Going Forward: With Claudia Dickey still injured, Ivory has seized the opportunity to stamp her name in ink on the lineup card. I really don't see how you return her to the bench after yet another performance like this.


Phoebe McClernon – 7

Phoebe went 6 for 6 on tackles, 3 for 3 on ground duels, and 2 for 2 on aerial duels. Kansas City spent 60 minutes trying to attack her side of the pitch and got absolutely. fucking. nothing. While nobody's passing was great on the day and McClernon (going 24 of 40) was no exception, with tired legs and a relentless Kansas City press keeping proceedings mostly confined to the Reign's half of the pitch, McClernon also added six successful passes into the Current's final third to help relieve pressure and give the defense time to reset. Sure, the Reign didn't really do shit offensively with those moments, but breaking things up like that was important to absorbing the pressure and preserving the shutout.

McClernon, perhaps more than any other player not named Laurel Ivory, understood the assignment, and she delivered upon it.

Going Forward: Phoebe seems like the presumptive starter at this point. She doesn't add a lot going forward, but with the team struggling to find any sort of consistent form, just not giving up soft goals is important.

Shae Holmes – 6

Shae Holmes stepped into the lineup for Alana Cook, who missed the match with illness, and turned in a competent and careful shift against a tough, tough attacking opponent. Touching the ball 71 times (second most on the team), she was also clean on her passing where it mattered, completing 41 of 46 passes under 30 yards. She doesn't have the touch Cook does on long balls, but most of the time, when she hit the ball deep, the most important thing was to just get it the hell out of Dodge, and she refused to fall victim to the recent Reign struggles with just clearing it the fuck out.

An interesting note is that the two centerbacks, Holmes and Lauren Barnes, attempted zero tackles and were only involved in three aerial duels between them. Kansas City struggled to build centrally, hit a brick wall whenever they came up the flanks, and constantly settled for speculative shots from distance and bad angles. The backline play was cohesive, well-organized, and rarely even allowed Kansas City to get to the point of challenging the central defenders.

Going Forward: While she won't displace Cook any time soon, Holmes once again showed that she can deliver on the back line. Given the way the season's gone so far, with absences stacking up and constant lineup shuffling, she should get her share of minutes, and she's more than capable of holding them down.

Lauren Barnes – 6

Lauren Barnes touched the ball only 55 times all match. Usually one of the most active Reign players on the ball, she saw relatively little of it, as the Reign ceded possession (and consequently didn't use her to build out in possession) and Kansas City repeatedly settled for frustrated, speculative and low-quality shots instead of trying to get into it up the middle. While seeing relatively little of the ball, Barnes did have four blocks, seven clearances, and three recoveries, and the one time the Current challenged her in the air, she won the header cleanly and snuffed out any chance that might've come from it.

The back line was disciplined and organized, and Barnes is a savvy veteran presence who takes charge in a way few others can. As I mentioned when talking about Holmes, Barnes was asked to do relatively little hard defending. The Current ran at the Reign, and took a ton of shots, and except for a single moment of brilliance from Lavogez (whereupon Laurel Ivory claimed her soul), created basically nothing of consequence.

Going Forward: Lauren Barnes is Lauren Barnes, honestly. I think the Reign should look at giving her more rotation, but she's still doing Lu things and it's hard to argue she shouldn't be the captain and the starter.

Sofia Huerta – 7

We're going to start with the ugly. In the 32nd minute, Lavogez, finding rare unmarked space out wide, delivered a lethal cross, which Huerta blocked backwards with furious pace directly at Laurel Ivory's goal. Ivory made a stunning save on her own player to keep the match scoreless. It's hard to necessarily blame Huerta for the play, but it was the nerviest moment of the match, and it was largely self-inflicted.

But on the extremely not ugly side, with 77 touches, Huerta saw more of the ball than any other Reign player. She put in an excellent dead ball service in the 88th minute that found Bethany Balcer's head from six yards out and for a glorious moment in time looked destined to smash, grab, and steal all three points for the Reign in a match where they saw none of the ball and created virtually no danger. She was mostly tidy on the ball, she led the side with five blocks and two interceptions, she got it out when she needed to, and she gave the Reign a fighting chance to steal two more points at the death.

Going Forward: Huerta has had a pretty uneven and often ineffective year. There's not anyone better on the roster clamoring for minutes, though, and if she can find the form she showed the past two years – and if the team can set her up to succeed in it – she's potentially a best XI outside back. She hasn't really found it yet, and the Reign are not doing her favors with their tactical approach, but this was a good outing in a difficult situation.


Olivia van der Jagt – 6 (off 62' for Bethany Balcer)

This was a strange match to rate the midfield in. On the one hand, the entire crew was overrun pretty consistently for 90 minutes, and got staggeringly little going in possession. On the other hand, the objective was pretty clearly first and foremost to give nothing up and try to nick a goal if an opportunistic moment popped up. (One such moment ended in a speculative shot by Olo, in the 22nd minute. Nothing came of it, but she understood the assignment.)

Given the opposition and the strategy on display, van der Jagt was fine. She blocked entries, gummed up the works, and mostly tried to force the Current wide, where McClernon and Huerta were brick walls snuffing out attacks. She helped maintain a press that seldom turned the ball over high, but kept a lethal attack off balance enough that it could seldom run at the Reign with purpose. Her positional awareness ended three separate attacks as the Current fouled simply trying to get her away from the ball. It was an ugly performance. It was also a perfectly effective one for what was asked of her.

Going Forward: On short rest, with heavy squad rotation, against a devastating attack, Olo got the job done again. She's not flashy and she doesn't offer all that much going forward, but with Quinn still working their way back from another injury, she's a reliable option to hold things down.

Ji So-yun – 6 (off 90'+ for Maddie Mercado)

This would be a much higher number if either of Ji So-yun's long distance attempts had snuck into the net. In the 27th minute, she deked her defender to create a bit of space and let a wicked curler fly from 31 yards out, but there wasn't quite enough bend, and it passed about a yard high and wide. Eight minutes later, she ran hard onto the loose ball after the chaos of her own set piece and put a strike on net from 27 yards – unfortunately, directly at goalkeeper Adrianna Franch. Either one would have been a goal of the week candidate and a magical moment, and we don't expect her to score those often, but... what might've been.

Aside from that, she was an effective engine in the full-team effort to keep Kansas City off the board, leading the press from the front, challenging the Current to get past her and consistently slowing their ability to build into attacking positions. (She was also responsible for one of the few takeaways the Reign managed in a dangerous position on the field.) Putting in the dirty work, she also had seven recoveries, two interceptions, and went into seven duels in Current territory.

Going Forward: Ji was the only starter in the rotated lineup who showed consistent flashes of offensive potential. A natural force multiplier, the Reign need to give her more force to multiply. That said, she also showed she can play in the hard and dirty side of NWSL and help grind out difficult points.

Angharad James-Turner – 6 (off 61' for Nikki Stanton)

Much like Ji and van der Jagt, it's an odd exercise rating Angharad James-Turner, whose stat line doesn't really jump off the page, but whose work was nonetheless an instrumental part of preserving a shutout on short rest with a heavily rotated lineup against a ridiculously prolific attacking side. She threw four tackles, and won one of them. She had an interception and three clearances. She fouled twice, both times arguably preventing a more dangerous attack from developing, while avoiding getting caught out in the sort of foot race that ends in cards.

She really didn't do anything dramatic, but she stayed organized with her centerbacks and her midfield partners, handed off and took over marking runners smoothly, and, like the rest of the back eight (lol), made shit hard on Kansas City from start to finish. Under relentless pressure for 90 minutes, the assignment wasn't to get into drama, it was to limit drama. Haz, like everybody around her, largely excelled at this.

Going Forward: Haz has been a bit of a lightning rod for fan frustration, stepping into Emily Sonnett's role. The thing I can't help think about is that she's been substantially better than pre-World Cup Emily Sonnett was last year. There are plenty of structural problems for the Reign to work through, but James-Turner has been consistently professional and consistently getting the job done as a defensive mid.

Olivia Athens – 6 (off 62' for Bethany Balcer)

I've written multiple preambles about how weird it is to rate the midfield in this match. Infer yet another one for Olivia Athens, who was sometimes invisible and sometimes a one-woman wrecking crew. She touched the ball 23 times, the second-fewest of the Reign starters, and she won three crunching tackles while denying the Current any ability to cleanly build up the right side.

She didn't do much of anything to build the attack, joining an exclusive club on the Reign side called "basically everybody", but neither did she allow the Current any easy territory. Parking the bus works when the bus is well and truly parked, and Athens played her role and jammed that baby sideways across eight parking spaces.

Going Forward: Like her comrade in Olivia hijinx, Athens probably doesn't start – or at least not often – while the Reign are healthy. The Reign are not healthy, and she is contributing well when called upon. And, as I've noted many times before, she's a fucking ace tackler, a skill that paid real dividends on Wednesday.


Veronica Latsko – 6

Latsko led the press from the front, and was pretty effective doing it. She had 46 touches, far more than her partner at forward Emeri Adames, and more than most of the Reign midfield. While she didn't turn those touches into much attacking intent, her presence and her consistently mixing shit up high on the pitch kept Kansas City from effectively building out from the back, and forced them to constantly scramble against pressure rather than calmly finding the pass to unlock the Reign defense.

Amidst those 46 touches, she had four successful dribbles, by far the most on the team, and while her passing left a lot to be desired when even a little more sharpness might've carved the Reign another opportunity to create something out of nothing, she was dedicated to being a menace and daring Kansas City to put a foot wrong. In this case, it was enough to secure a point, but not three.

Going Forward: I still prefer Latsko off the bench, but I could be convinced she belongs as the second forward in three-back attacking shape, something I would love to see the Reign try. With Jordyn Huitema continuing to work her way back from injury, Latsko provides that dawg in a way not many other players on the team can.

Emeri Adames – 5 (off 61' for Lily Woodham)

By far the least effective outfield player among the Reign's starters, Emeri Adames really tried but didn't find all that many moments. Adames worked hard, but this was not the sort of match to showcase what's promising about her, and the Reign's packed in defense and sputter-stop attempts at offense gave her little to work with and less to just try shit with.

Adames touched the ball 21 times, completed 10 passes, and had a successful tackle as she gamely put in the work Laura Harvey asked of her and helped Latsko spearhead a full-field defensive effort. It was a brave and competent performance, but it was also a mostly invisible one.

Going Forward: The audacious, creatively-inclined 18-year-old attacker did not shine while asked to participate in a hard, nail-biting parking of the bus. This should not detract from how exciting her future is, but this was not the sort of match she was ever going to thrive in.


Lily Woodham – 4 (on 61' for Emeri Adames)

Replacing a mostly invisible Adames in the 61st minute, Woodham came on with the Reign defending staunchly but searching for any sort of spark to shake things up, and was, herself, mostly invisible. She completed four of 10 passes and contributed very little on either side of the ball.

Going Forward: The Reign are not playing in a way that maximizes Woodham's attributes, and this was even more true on Wednesday. She didn't do much of anything to change her position on the depth chart, and probably won't unless the Reign change their approach.

Nikki Stanton – 5 (on 61' for Angharad James-Turner)

Replacing a staunch James-Turner in the 61st minute, Stanton came on, battled hard, and did her best Angharad James-Turner impression, turning in a solid and professional shift where she got stuck in, passed adequately, generally made the most of her 16 touches, and didn't allow herself to be beaten easily, helping the Reign preserve the clean sheet as time ticked away.

Going Forward: Stanton is a great option to have off the bench to spell tired legs and get some bite back in the midfield.

Bethany Balcer – 5 (on 62' for Olivia Athens)

Boats came on in the 62nd minute (but as part of a triple sub in the same window – the clock just kept running), replacing Athens on the roster card and Adames in the tactical setup. Balcer was probably the best of the subs, and her ability to make something out of just about any ball in the air got the Reign their best chance of the night, as in the 88th minute she got her head to a Huerta service from close range only to see the effort blocked wide.

She touched the ball just 14 times, but most of those touches were quite positive, combining with Ji So-yun, Jess Fishlock, and Veronica Latsko. She went up for five aerial duels and won all five of them, breaking up stretches of Kansas City possession and even finding a spark of offense in the midst of a barren field.

Going Forward: Somebody, anybody, fucking anybody put the ball in the air and let Air Boats jump for it. If we give her service she will score. This was a game we were hoping for a late smash and grab, and we got the point, but Balcer keeps showing she's dominant in the air and smart in her movement. She needs service. She desperately needs service.

Jess Fishlock – 5 (on 78' for Olivia van der Jagt)

In the 78th minute, Laura Harvey hit the Emergency Fishlock Button, and Jess took the pitch, replacing Olivia van der Jagt. Unfortunately, the Emergency Fishlock struggled to get particularly involved, looking to build but finding the Reign already dog-tired and Kansas City still attacking in waves. She combined with Latsko for a speculative volley very late, and generally did enough to see out the game, but it was a bit of an empty performance from a player who doesn't often have those.

Going Forward: Fishlock is a talismanic, generational talent near the end of her career. She runs hard even at 38, and she does so much at a better than league standard level, but what she can't do is will an exhausted team from a bunker to victory all on her own in 13 minutes.

Maddie Mercado – N/A (on 90'+ for Ji So-yun)

Maddie Mercado made her Reign debut and played for about 90 seconds. She was credited with no touches and no defensive actions. She sadly did not score a debut golazo in that time, but let's not hold that against her.

Going Forward: We should probably hold off on judging what she can do until she's played at least a number of minutes that can be expressed plurally.


Anya Voigt – 7

Referee Anya Voigt didn't have much to do, and she declined to insert herself into the match in unnecessary ways. She whistled only 10 fouls, four against the Reign and six against the Current, and showed no cards. Her management of the game was hands-off and sensible, an approach that worked well with a pair of teams that were often physical but seldom crossing a line.

It was, honestly, just a refreshingly smooth performance from a PRO ref. She might not have been asked to do much, but not being asked to do much and not doing much don't always correlate, and PRO has shown no hesitation in making inexplicable and game-altering decisions in situations that don't need them so far this season.

A Stray Thought...

As I wrote this eighth edition of Valkyratings 2024, I noticed that the Reign season has been defined by a lot of perfectly average, perfectly acceptable, perfectly professional performances. Those perfectly professional performances are often marred by One Fuckup that shouldn't have happened, and rarely salvaged by One Moment of true quality. While they haven't played smash-everybody soccer, they've played solid soccer, and much better soccer than their record credits them with.

The Reign have also played a style that doesn't seem to maximize the abilities of the personnel they have. Prolifically creative Ji So-yun sees the seams, but never has runners, and the beautiful balls go wanting. Aerially dominant Bethany Balcer gets into the mixer, and the cross she just needs a chance to challenge for never comes. Wicked crosser Sofia Huerta goes hard to the mat, but can't consistently get into an attacking position to deliver service because of the demands of the defensive structure – and when she tries anyway, the back line gets exploited.

The Reign have largely not played badly, but the Reign need to look at different ways of doing things. With the talent available to them, being defined by average, professional, competent performances is an underperformance, and at some point, that has to come back to tactics and game plan. They're dropping winnable points and failing to put their best pieces into their best positions to succeed.

Due to the short turnaround between matches and the 72+ hour replay embargo on NWSL+, we unfortunately already know how the next match turned out. Big thanks to the traveling supporters who gave it all they had, and I am not looking forward to rating the Cascadia disaster.