In their final game of 2017, Seattle Reign FC visited the Washington Spirit, looking to end the season on a positive note, give some depth players an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities and help evaluate what the team has going forward into 2018. For the first hour it looked like Washington would emerge victorious thanks to a Mallory Pugh brace, but Seattle clawed their way back into the match, eventually winning 3-2 thanks to some late Jess Fishlock heroics, which is becoming a trend for final regular-season games with the Reign.
Laura Harvey made six lineup changes from the week before against FCKC. Madalyn Schiffel made her Reign debut in goal, while Elli Reed got her lone start of the season at right back in her swan song, replacing Rebekah Stott. At center back, Maddie Bauer got her first start in place of Rachel Corsie, while Lauren Barnes returned after suspension to replace Kristen McNabb. Only Carson Pickett played in both matches.
The midfield trio of Jess Fishlock, Christine Nairn and Rumi Utsugi was unchanged from last week, while there were two changes up front: Bev Yanez replaced the suspended Megan Rapinoe at left wing, while Katie Johnson took the place of Merritt Mathias in the middle.
Madalyn Schiffel (6; 7 saves, 2 goals conceded) – Schiffel was undoubtedly the biggest change that Laura Harvey made for this game, earning her first minutes of the season and giving the team an idea of what she can bring to the goalkeeper role before they need to make some difficult decisions about the 2018 roster.
The season ended much as it started, with the Reign facing a flurry of shots that kept Schiffel busy all game. She probably could have done better with Pugh’s first goal, where she charged out aggressively to cut the angle but ended up overcommitting and allowing Pugh to easily side-step the challenge, but there’s not much a keeper can do against a skilled attacker in a breakaway situation like that. Just a minute before that, Schiffel also had a poor touch while passing with her center backs that was nearly picked off by an aggressive Spirit attacker in similar fashion to some bad giveaways the Reign have committed in back previously this season, but fortunately Schiffel immediately realized her error and successfully scrambled to kick the ball clear just before the Spirit could gain possession.
After those two issues and a second Spirit goal on a 2-v-0 that Schiffel played as well as she could, things settled down and she did well to control her box. She smartly parried an unexpectedly dangerous Tori Huster shot over the bar in the 46th minute and stood strong on several quality looks on goal by Mal Pugh and Meggie Dougherty Howard to ultimately earn her first NWSL win.
Carson Pickett (6) – For the first hour, Washington sent most of their attacks down the opposite flank and Pickett didn’t have much to do on defense. That changed as each team went to their bench, and for the final 30 minutes Pickett was kept very busy as former Reign draft pick Havana Solaun and then Lindsay Agnew initiated attacks on her side. Twice she lost track of Spirit players running into her zone, but fortunately neither attack amounted to anything dangerous.
Lauren Barnes (6) – Barnes had another hot-and-cold game in the back. She had to organize a back line that featured an entirely new right side, along with a new goalkeeper behind her. She didn’t have any big highlight reel moments in back, but also limited the danger on her side of the field and forced Washington to primarily attack through their left side. However, the second Spirit goal came about largely because she was inexplicably caught dribbling near midfield and turned the ball over, and the Reign struggled to get back and defend effectively in the space Barnes would have been covering had she not been caught up with the ball. She also had a bad giveaway to Havana Solaun at the top of the Reign box in the 83rd minute, but thankfully Solaun’s quick shot went high.
Maddie Bauer (5) – Bauer played her first minutes in defense this season, in another move by Laura Harvey to see what the rookie can offer in her more accustomed position. She was positioned on the same side as Elli Reed, and the Spirit seemed to recognize this as a weak spot in the Seattle defense and sent most of their attacks through that channel, keeping both of them very busy. Bauer was extremely active, with a team-high 81 touches and was second only to her partner Barnes in passes, although her accuracy was lacking compared to her line mates, highlighting her unfamiliarity with the position. She had a couple of poor defensive challenges in the first half, including a weak lunge to stab at the ball on the build-up to the second Spirit goal, but settled well in the second half.
Elli Reed (5; off 62’) – Reed earned her lone start of the season in her final game as a professional, wearing the captain’s arm band in honor of her impressive contributions to the Reign over their five-season history. Her rust showed early in the game, including on the two goals where Mallory Pugh’s exceptional speed put her in on goal past Reed, who was left to chase the play from behind, as well as several other chances. The Spirit seemed to recognize this weakness and often overloaded her side and sent runners between Reed and Bauer. As the game progressed she found her footing, and did very well to dispossess Pugh in the 46th minute on a similar play. In the 50th minute she had a great cross that got through the Spirit defense and found Katie Johnson for a quality shot, but DiDi Haracic was up to the challenge; it was the second game in a row where Reed was unlucky not to register an assist.
Rumi Utsugi (6) – Utsugi didn’t do much that drew attention in my notes, but she was a solid, steady presence and led the midfielders in touches (73) and passes (60). She had a few questionable passes on either side of halftime, but other than that she did what you’d want of a box-to-box midfielder and kept things crisp, and clean.
Christine Nairn (6) – Nairn has struggled at times this year in her two-way midfield role, but this game she showed more spark and flair. She and Fishlock interchanged well in the attacking and holding roles, and Nairn had a number of quality through balls. Only once was she caught ball-watching, in the 69th minute, when she let Cheyna Williams run past her to pounce on a loose ball that led to a Dougherty Howard shot that rang off the far post.
Jessica Fishlock (8; goals 71’ & 90’, assist 83’; PotM) – For the first time in ages, Fishlock looked like her old self in this match. From the opening whistle she was all over the field, lending much-needed support to a back line that had only two regular starters, pushing up field to create scoring opportunities, and ultimately taking those opportunities herself. She finished with three shots on goal and created four additional chances, while also making five tackles and completing 80% of her 45 attempted passes.
In the first moments of the game, Fishlock found Katie Johnson with a pass that split the Spirit center backs, and in the 12th minute Fishlock had a great shot of her own that was well saved by Haracic, and the match had the makings of another potential rout. Things changed after Fishlock got the ball tangled in her feet near midfield in the 27th minute and the Spirit opened the scoring, but at halftime the Reign regained their footing, in large part thanks to some smart substitutions and Fishlock making some great passes and runs to outmaneuver the Spirit defense.
For her first goal, Fishlock made the same run Katie Johnson was successfully exploting all game, finding space between the center backs and running onto a nicely weighted Kiersten Dallstream pass. Although the ball might have struck her arm, Fishlock kept the play going with a great chipped half-volley over the onrushing Haracic. The second goal came after a nice sequence of one-touch play between Fishlock and Johnson, with Fishlock first flicking a header on to Johnson, who held up play and and tapped it back to Fishlock to chip up to Larissa Crummer, who was similarly making a run off the shoulder of the last defender for another chip over Haracic. The third goal was more of a scramble in the box, with a Crummer cross into the box tipped by Dallstream before Fishlock pounced on the loose ball and slammed it home to secure the win.
Nahomi Kawasumi (5; off 56’) – Naho’s day started brightly, with a nice lay-off pass to set up a Fishlock shot in the 12th minute, but after that the team struggled to find her in dangerous spots and the attack sputtered through much of the first half. She still did her usual hard work on defense, getting back to support Reed and winning two tackles, but her contributions going forward were mostly limited to midfield passes and give-and-go sequences.
Katie Johnson (6) – Johnson had a team-high six shots, with three on frame, but couldn’t get on the score sheet despite a number of excellent runs and looks on goal where she found seams between Spirit defenders. She also contributed some good hold-up play with her back to goal, including a nice layoff pass to Fishlock to set up the second Reign goal. She had an impressively high 82% passing success rate, in large part due to that hold-up work and finding open midfielders behind her to move play forward and switch the point of attack. She was unlucky on a nice Dallstream cross midway in the second half, which snuck through several Spirit defenders before bouncing off her thigh for what otherwise would have been a simple tap-in.
Late in the first half she and Yanez swapped roles briefly and she spent some time fruitlessly chasing balls in the corner and tried a few crosses, but in the second half she returned to the middle and had several more good looks on goal, including a quality shot in the 50th minute that forced a diving Haracic save.
Beverly Yanez (6; off 76’) – Yanez was once again used out of her strongest position in the middle of the forward band, this time starting at left wing in place of the suspended Rapinoe. She spent much of the game dropping back into more of a midfield role, helping to challenge for possession, pick up second balls, and serve as an outlet for the forwards and deeper mids. She didn’t have many actions in the attacking third, but she had a number of excellent dribbles under pressure and was a key link in moving play up the field.
Kiersten Dallstream (6; on 56’, assists 71’ & 90’) – Dallstream might have had her most complete performance in this game, contributing the key assist on both Fishlock goals, nearly assisting on a third, and getting a quality shot of her own off a rebound and scramble in the 62nd minute. In the 67th minute she put in a great cross that caught everyone by surprise, including Katie Johnson, whose thigh the ball deflected off of and into Haracic’s arms. Four minutes later she placed a perfectly weighted lobbed through ball to Fishlock for the first goal, and she was the intended target of Crummer’s cross for the third goal, but although she overran the ball she was able to deflect it backward and away from the Spirit defense for Fishlock to run onto and hammer home. Her three chances created were only one behind Fishlock for the game.
Merritt Mathias (incomplete; on 62’) – The entrance of Mathias signaled the end of the Elli Reed era at Seattle Reign FC. She didn’t have much to do in her time on the field, with the Spirit pushed back defending for much of it, and opting to primarily attack through the opposite channel late in the game.
Larissa Crummer (incomplete; on 76’, goal 83’) – Crummer came on late for yet another 14-minute cameo appearance – her third of the season, plus a 7-minute cameo against Portland – but made the most of this one to open her NWSL account with a well-placed chip for her first goal. She also put in the cross that led to the final Seattle goal and got back to support the defense when the Spirit pressed hard for an equalizer in stoppage time.
Danielle Chesky (7) – Aside from the potential handball on Fishlock’s first goal, there wasn’t much to note in the officiating for this match. Chesky did well to settle things down and talk with players in the rare cases where there was an aggressive foul or indication that tempers might boil over.
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