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Valkyratings: Parting the Wave Edition

A whole-team performance for the ages.

Last Updated
14 min read
Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

Winning is more fun than losing. Writing about winning is way more fun than writing about losing. A legendary, lore-building come-from-behind win, playing down a player for more than 100 minutes and coming back on determination, magic, and pure, distilled xDAWG is so much more fun than folding after seeing red and limping to a sixth consecutive loss.

On Friday, the San Diego Wave came to Lumen Field, looking to pick up just their second-ever win against the Seattle Reign, looked like they had the field tilted in their direction and a downhill track to secure three points, and left with absolutely nothing as the Reign fought back for a gutsy-ass 2-1 victory.

My friends, my homies, my beautiful and beloved Reign faithful... we did that. Let's dive in to the Reign's second win of the season, with an edition of Valkyratings that actually features some damned joy for a change.


Laurel Ivory – 8 (POTM)

Laurel fucking Ivory faced six high quality shots on target, saved five of them, kept the Reign in the game when another goal would've been backbreaking, and then kept the Wave out of the net when the Reign had a lead and three points to hold on to. Laurel Ivory was phenomenal, superlative, magnificent, absolutely regal. It was the best performance by a Reign keeper this year, and at least as good as any of the exceptional showings by Phallon Tullis-Joyce in 2023.

After an 11th minute scramble saw the Wave immediately and devastatingly capitalize on Tziarra King's sending off with a Kyra Carusa goal, Ivory went Full Solo on the match and refused to be beaten. She made a strong save in the 18th to keep it 1-0, and after Bethany Balcer tied the match late in the first half, she made three more strong saves to keep it 1-1, including an absolutely brilliant 48th minute denial on Emily Van Egmond from 13 yards.

Then, after Veronica Latsko's go-ahead goal, with three points up for the taking and the Wave throwing everything they could to try to tie the match up again late? Laurel fucking Ivory denied Jaedyn Shaw one last time, deep in stoppage time, preserving the win and sending Casey Stoney's crew back to San Diego sad and disoriented.

Going Forward: I couldn't contain how good Laurel Ivory was to just two paragraphs. With no shade to Claudia Dickey, who has also played quite well, Laurel Ivory should be the starter until she shows otherwise, and that's just that on that.


Phoebe McClernon – 7 (off 90' for Shae Holmes)

With the left back spot in flux and up for grabs, Phoebe McClernon came up with a strong argument that it should be hers until further notice. After Tziarra King's marching orders, McClernon was an indispensable part of an organized back line that refused all advances. She racked up three tackles won, two interceptions, and two blocks as she denied the Wave any easy buildup from her side of the field, consistently forcing attacks outside, and working seamlessly with Lauren Barnes to limit the danger to Laurel Ivory's goal. Mostly attacking up her side, Elyse Bennett was a non-factor; her skill, speed, and relentless pressing coming up short against Phoebe time after time.

And McClernon even found time to get in on the attack occasionally, providing calm assurance advancing the ball and providing four entry passes into the final third. Combining with Jess Fishlock in the 15th minute, McClernon found Emeri Adames in a lethal area, and while Adames couldn't get her volley on frame, it served as an announcement that the Reign weren't planning to fold under pressure.

Going Forward: McClernon doesn't have the crossing touch of Lily Woodham at her best, but she adds so much in defensive prowess, positional awareness, and grit that it's really hard to argue she shouldn't be starting.

Lauren Barnes – 7

Sixty-two touches, two blocked shots, two interceptions, three dribblers absolutely annihilated, and four booming clearances to snuff out danger. Oh, and Lu Barnes was also the player most consistently making successful progressive passes to players in attacking positions.

Barnes didn't necessarily have a lot of the ball, but every time she went into a challenge, every time she cut off a passing lane, every time she saw where the danger was, she was there to say no, this will not come to pass. Barnes anchored a back four that hardly put a foot wrong after conceding in the 11th minute, giving the Reign all the time and breath they needed to fight back for the win.

Playing a player up and chasing their elusive second victory over the Reign, San Diego came at the back line in, natch, waves, and Lauren Barnes broke them like a nondenominational holy woman dispatching the waters of an unnamed sea.

Going Forward: Performances like this, organizing the back line and demanding the opposition come at her and take it, are a big reason why Laura Harvey trusts Barnes so much. While I've been more critical of Barnes in the past, you can't watch her marshal the defense like this and not understand how much you give up without that leadership and experience.

Alana Cook – 7


Like her partner at centerback, Alana was commanding and imperious, allowing no nonsense and no shenanigans to develop in her defending third. She added to the defensive corps' ridiculous 12-for-15 day disrupting the Wave's attempts to make space on the dribble with two won tackles of her own, passed aggressively and incisively throughout the match, going 22-for-24 on short- and mid-range passes, and consistently made the right choice when the Reign needed to just get the ball the fuck out of Dodge and breathe for a minute.

About the only thing we're still waiting on from Alana Cook is the precision on her long passing, and, well, this was not the game state where she was going to get a chance to showcase it. An easy mulligan, and hardly a blemish on an exceptional performance.

Going Forward: After an early injury and a rusty start, Cook is starting to find the form that made her one of the league's top defenders a year ago, and if she can build on that, the Reign will be in very good shape.

Sofia Huerta – 7

At a glance, Sofia Huerta's stat line is perhaps a bit less comprehensive than her defensive partners, but she was consistently active herself, getting in with a tackle and three interceptions, and, importantly, she consistently used her recovery speed and pressing ability to force the Wave to make a decision a little quicker than they would have liked, a little more harried, a little less precise. The frequently dynamic Makenzy Doniak, attacking up her side, was consistently rebuffed, struggled to find touches in dangerous places, and repeatedly forced to settle for recycling possession to try to find a crack somewhere, anywhere, in the stubborn Reign defense.

Like McClernon, Huerta stayed at home more throughout the match than she usually might, but made herself an outlet to receive the ball and clear danger consistently. In the 74th minute, she also made a rare foray into the attacking third, getting on the end of a Ji So-yun pass. While there was no hit the shit out of it moment to be had there, it was the start of an increasingly confident stretch for the Reign.

Going Forward: This wasn't a powerhouse attacking showing from the normally attacking-minded Sof, but given the game state, that's to be expected. It was, instead, a disciplined, cagy game from a veteran who knows better than the mistakes she's made in recent matches. I'm taking it as a good sign.

And Another Thing..!

This was a complete, cohesive, dominant performance across the entire back five. The Reign have been starving for such a performance across their entire five game losing streak. We all needed a reminder of just how good, how daunting to attack, this defensive corps can actually be – one without the single moments of absolutely maddening individual whoopsy-doodles that have plagued them of late.

Hopefully it's a sign of better things to come.


Olivia Athens – 6 (off 67' for Ji So-yun)

Olivia Athens was probably the least effective player on the field for the Reign, across the last 90+ minutes while they played with 10. She touched the ball just 16 times, completed eight of her 12 passes, and blocked two entry passes. A plus tackler – arguably, as I've noted in the past, the best on the team – she didn't even attempt one during her 66+ minutes on the pitch.

The thing is, she also didn't need to. Playing up a player, the Wave attempted to avoid getting bogged down in a biting midfield featuring Athens, Fishlock, and James-Turner, their midfielders consistently looking for the wide option. And when they were forced to play through Athens anyway, she made it real hard on them. It wasn't a game-defining performance, but it was a game-acceptable one, a necessary contribution to a whole-squad effort that secured three points against the longest of odds.

Going Forward: I'd obviously rather see Ji So-yun and Quinn start in most matches, but while managing minutes and injuries and looking to make yourself hard to play through for an athletic and physical side, an Athens spot start is a luxury.

Jess Fishlock – 8

This is my favorite stat of the night: against a team playing up a player and largely trying to avoid controlling the midfield for more than 90 minutes of game time, Jess Fishlock won seven fouls (and was fouled another four or so times without a whistle, but more on that later.) Where past Reign performances have begged for even a spritz of eau de give me that ball, Fishlock came with a whole decant of eau de come and fucking take it from me. The Wave could not.

Fishlock did Fishlock things, and frankly, the Wave could've been playing 11v9 and still not had an answer for her. She added four blocks, four interceptions, two dribblers demolished, seven recoveries, and two really good incisive passes that led directly to Reign attacks. She might be 37, but she's still running the kids off the pitch.

Going Forward: Jess Fishlock is a known quantity. That quantity is good, and all these years later, the league still doesn't have a genuine answer for the NWSL's first true international star.

Angharad James-Turner – 6 (off 90' for McKenzie Weinert)

While Angharad James-Turner was slightly more active than Olivia Athens, she similarly served as part of a midfield block that forced San Diego's midfield to constantly push the attack back out wide, where it would be harmlessly shuttled by McClernon and Huerta, audaciously pushed back to the middle to be demolished by Fishlock, or frustratedly recycled. Her 27 touches included a strong tackle and a timely interception, and she yet again put in hard work in a difficult game state, this time actually securing a result.

Like Athens, James-Turner didn't exactly stamp her brand onto the match, and she also didn't need to. All she needed to do was put out the little fires as they came to her, to stop them becoming big fires. For the most part, she did that admirably.

Going Forward: Laura Harvey clearly has a ton of trust in Haz to shovel the shit and do the inglorious work that wins points over a long season, and Haz, while not picking the team up on her back, has been good virtually every time out. This time, her solid professional performance actually got points for the team. Growth era.


Tziarra King – 4

We can quibble about whether the red card was weird or harsh (I think it was both, given the way PRO has called NWSL games this season and in seasons past), but at the end of the day, Tziarra King did pretty undeniably commit that infraction, and she put her team in a tough, tough spot basically right out the gate.

Going Forward: Not long ago, Zee came on with the fury as a sub and demanded starting consideration by finally putting in the sort of explosive showing we know she's capable of. On Friday, she got the start, and left the pitch early. She continues to be a mystery. Hopefully we get more good Zee than bad in the future.

Bethany Balcer – 8 (off 67' for Olivia van der Jagt)

BB8 scored a goal.

And goddamn, she did so much more. This was an absolute clinic by Balcer in how to play forward with none of the ball, take a struggling team on your back and will them to a result, and frustrate the shit out of a team trying to attack you with a player advantage.

She went into 11 aerials and won an absolutely ridiculous nine of them. She took players on in possession, and she made the San Diego defense really think about it when they were trying to build. She blocked passes, cleared the lines, and got mixed up in it defensively. She went into 11 aerials and won freaking nine of them. She's so ridiculously dominant in the air.

And you know what else? She scored a goal. In the 34th minute, with the Reign needing anything at all to go their way, she caught Kailen Sheridan fucking around too much with the ball, stole it off her feet, and put it away to level the score.

Going Forward: Balcer needs service to really thrive, but all she needs is a single moment to change a game. She put the team on her back and dragged them back into contention. With King sitting for a red card suspension and Jordyn Huitema still out injured, she may just need to put the team on her back again on Wednesday.

Emeri Adames – 6 (off 52' for Veronica Latsko)

After King received her marching orders, Emeri Adames struggled to get much of the ball, struggled to do much with the ball, and had a quiet outing. This was to be expected, and what she did offer was sufficient to help the Reign grind through and ultimately win a hard match, and enough to earn an acceptably average grade when viewing her performance on a macro level.

She had 18 touches and struggled to connect with her teammates, completing only four of nine passes. She also threw a tackle and intercepted a pass high up the pitch, helping the Reign defend from the front. And, in the 15th minute, she got on the end of Phoebe McClernon's pass into the area and, while she ultimately didn't do much with it, that flash of danger was a sign of things to come, and it was a smart run on her part to get to the ball at all.

Going Forward: Young players are consistently inconsistent, but Emeri's down performances still show a ton of promise, and her up performances are exquisite. Even when it's not a finished project, we won't regret finding minutes for her.


Veronica Latsko – 7 (on 52' for Emeri Adames)

Veronica Latsko came on in the second half to spell Adames, who had put in a determined but ultimately fairly ineffective performance. Latsko brought the goods. Bringing the relentless press and hard running she's known for, she made the absolute most of her eight touches, and changed the game despite rarely finding the ball.

Goals change games. A moment of magic upended a narrative as Latsko rose up to meet Ji So-yun's dead ball service, and flicked the ball behind her back perfectly into the top corner. She deservedly won goal of the week. She left San Diego fans with no response but the surrender cobra. Latsko has made herself the Reign's guardian angel of xDAWG chaos over the last season and a half, and few examples stand taller than this.

Going Forward: Latsko's bulldog energy and propensity for being in the middle of NWSL After Dark moments make her an ideal spark plug off the bench. She's consistently more valuable to the team than her stat line suggests.

Olivia van der Jagt – 5 (on 67' for Bethany Balcer)

With the score tied 1-1, Olivia van der Jagt came on for Balcer, in a move that might've looked defensive but – coupled with the simultaneous sub for Ji So-yun and the cover Olo provided for Ji and Fishlock to combine together going forward – unlocked much of the Reign's attacking movement in the final half hour.

She completed only two passes, but she also dropped three tackles and took the smart fouls to gum up San Diego on the break. It wasn't necessarily a special performance, but on the night, it was both enough, and the right player in the right spot to get a result.

Going Forward: Olo never lacks for effort, and she does a lot well in the holding midfield role. She was fairly disconnected from her team in a 30 minute runout, but she got the job done when called upon, as she's repeatedly proven she can.

Ji So-yun – 7 (on 67' for Olivia Athens)

Ji So-yun forever. Just, goddamn. The energy changed when she hit the pitch, as with limited minutes and limited touches, playing a woman down, she still took no time at all to start finding danger and forcing San Diego to respect the threat she posed whenever they pushed forward with numbers.

And at the end of the day? A moment of magic is all it takes sometimes, and Ji can dish those with the best of them. She assisted on Veronica Latsko's game-winning goal in the 89th minute, with a beautiful service on a set piece.

Going Forward: Ji is the most creative player on the team, and she should start whenever possible. Managing minutes for an older player is understandable, but the Reign lose a lot when they lose the capacity for her to deliver something jaw-dropping at any second.

McKenzie Weinert – N/A (on 90' for Angharad James-Turner)

McKenzie Weinert came on for what turned out to be a very prolonged second half stoppage time. She had two touches, completed her only pass, intercepted a San Diego pass, and was fine.

Going Forward: Weinert probably deserves a longer runout at some point.

Shae Holmes – N/A (on 90' for Phoebe McClernon)

Shae Holmes came on for what turned out to be a very prolonged second half stoppage time. She touched the ball five times, completed neither of her passes, added a couple nice defensive plays, and was fine.

Going Forward: Shae Holmes is a very good central defender struggling to find minutes on a stacked defensive corps. With the fixture congestion ahead, she may see a start.


Danielle Chesky – 3

At the middle of the pitch, Danielle Chesky made sure to insert herself into the spotlight early and often. Setting the record for cards shown in an NWSL match, including showing two straight reds – one early, to Tziarra King, and one late, to Kristen McNabb – after long VAR reviews, she still somehow managed to show too few cards, and her frequent refusal to show a warranted card early led to a punishingly physical match with little flow, and the side with a player advantage throwing the hardest and most desperate challenges largely uncensured.

The red cards actually shown are whatever. I think both were honestly needlessly harsh and out of step with the game and with the way PRO has called the league in recent seasons. With that in mind, once Zee was shown red, McNabb absolutely had to be for a more egregious example of the same sort of probably unintentional but still absolutely making hard contact with the face swing of the arm. While I would have rather seen yellow for both, I get it, and I even give points for the consistency at the match end, when it would have been very easy to just let it slide and blow the final whistle.

The problem was Chesky allowing a needlessly physical match out the gate, selectively penalizing that needless physicality, and haphazardly switching tones between no-blood, no-foul officiating and biting for whistles on no contact at all.

Hanna Lundkvist, whom Tziarra King saw red for catching in the face, should invariably have seen yellow on the same play, as she absolutely mugged King for several yards to prevent a breakout before King's hand caught her. Lundkvist would go on to commit another four clear yellow card offenses inside the first 60 minutes, only picking up a card for one of them. Veronica Latsko, not long after substituting on, took cleats straight to her thigh in one of the clearest cases of reckless play you'll ever see, but no card was shown. Jess Fishlock won seven fouls, and suffered another four (or five) uncalled fouls besides, but despite being absolutely hacked all match got little protection from Chesky, who felt more than content to allow the fouls to stack up, only carding inconsistently, and refusing to show a second yellow to more than one player who did more than enough to warrant it.

Chesky absolutely lost the plot in this match. She has a reputation as one of the better refs in the league, and on average, the numbers and the consistency of her games bear that out... but whew, when Chesky's matches go wrong, they go absolutely wildly wrong.

Coming up, the Reign host a dominant but unrested Kansas City Current at Lumen Field on Wednesday, May 8th, at 7:00 PM. Kansas City may be the best and most complete team in the league, but the Reign should be feeling a renewed confidence in their ability to fight through adversity. So let's just fucking go and smash everybody!