Since their 2014 rebuilding, it has been a rarity to say that the Reign were outplayed in a match, even on the road. Friday night in Rochester, the Reign weren't just outplayed, they were played off the field. They were tentative and error-prone at both ends of the pitch, finished the match with only one shot to Western New York's 20, and yet somehow — sneering at the scales of justice — got out of Sahlen's Stadium with a 1-1 draw.
The Flash used high pressure and speedy wingers — ex-Reign player Amanda Frisbie on the left in her first start and Jasmyne Spencer on the right — to attack the Reign's fullbacks with devastating effectiveness. Kendall Fletcher at right back in particular had no answers for Frisbie. She was repeatedly beaten for pace and had a number of unforced turnovers and errors, giving New York multiple unnecessary corners and dangerous chances down the left side. Seattle's key defensive midfielders Keelin Winters and Mariah Bullock were nearly invisible in the match because the Flash simply bypassed them in their attacks on the flanks.
At the other end, in the rare moments when Seattle could break the pressure and move the ball upfield, their touch was poor and crosses went long or directly to a defender. They'd go into halftime after failing to register a shot in a half for the first time this season. And yet miraculously they went into half with the score tied after the Flash failed to make any of their seemingly unending chances count.
Laura Harvey opted not to make any changes at half and instead solve the problem with the players on the field. But it was not solved and the dynamic of the game did not change as New York continued to abuse the Reign's flank defense and the Reign generated nothing in attack.
Nothing, that is, except once beautiful combination between Kim Little and Jess Fishlock that put our Welsh engine through to goal. She was taken down from behind in the box and the ref pointed to the spot. Little calmly finished the penalty for her fourth goal in four matches and an absolutely absurd Seattle lead.
Even the perverse soccer gods wouldn't allow Seattle to actually get a win in such a lopsided performance, and in the 81st minute — after 25 minutes of scratching our heads and side-eying the scoreboard — New York got the breakthrough they'd earned. Elizabeth Eddy used a delightful bit of tricky dribbling to leave Bullock helpless in the box, darted to the endline, and cut the ball back for an easy finish by Lynn Williams. That was not the last good New York chance, but Seattle somehow continued to hold on for the draw.
The good performances for Seattle starters were so rare that I will list them. Haley Kopmeyer was very good in goal, coming up with a few quality saves before the goal, which was from point blank range and un-savable. Rachel Corsie had a decent game while most of the rest of her defense was falling apart. Kiersten Dallstream helped settle the flank when she came on as a sub in the 60th. And I think that's it.
Now Seattle returns for a re-match next weekend against the Flash at home. But that Reign team could look very unlike this one. Both of their US internationals will be back from the World Cup, whatever the outcome of that final. Megan Rapinoe might be due for a rest or a sub appearance, but I'd expect Hope Solo to be fine to play. New signing Katrine Veje should be available to play, though she might not yet be game fit. And Merritt Mathias, whose absence may have had much to do with this weekend's dismal performance, will have another week to recover from her injury.
Whatever the formation and lineup, Harvey will have to figure out how this weekend happened and how to make sure it never happens again.