On Saturday, April 15, Seattle Reign FC kicks off the 2017 NWSL season with a home match against Sky Blue FC. Under the lights of Memorial Stadium, Laura Harvey and crew will be looking for some redemption after falling to Sky Blue in the club’s opening match of the 2016 season.
Seattle struggled out of the gate to overcome that loss, and combined with a series of injuries, the team fell just short of the final playoff spot. Then, the retirements and departures started.
The team lost Keelin Winters, the glue that held the midfield together, along with one of the best attacking midfielders in the world in Kim Little. The 2017 season would lack the speed of Manon Melis up top, while Hope Solo got shoulder surgery and the defensive rock Kendall Fletcher retired.
The 2017 Reign FC roster now features 13 returning players from last year’s team, along with nine new players, three of which are draft picks. With these new players come new opportunities, and fans will get their first chance to see how these pieces fit together on Saturday.
“The last few years we’ve been the team that everyone has looked at as a potential champion or regular season champion and that expectation was too much for us last year,” said Harvey. “This year the expectation levels are lower, because of the players that have left, which is a huge incentive and motivation for the group.”
What to Watch
Last year, when Reign FC fell 2-1 to Sky Blue in the home opener, it was the New Jersey squad’s high pressure and speed on the flanks that wore Seattle’s defense down. Reign FC looked flat and uncharacteristically surprised by the speed of play.
Sky Blue has even more attacking options this year. That includes Leah Galton, who scored 3 goals in 14 matches as a rookie last year, and Sam Kerr, who at just 23 years old has blossomed into a star in the NWSL, Australia’s W-League, and on the international level. Kerr and Galton are both fast. Really fast. And if either of them make runs to the middle, a streaking Kelley O’Hara is usually not far behind.
Seattle’s defense will need to be disciplined, and the shape of the backline will be crucial if the team hopes to keep a clean sheet. The good news is that this preseason, Reign FC focused on fitness as a top priority, and multiple players have stated that the squad is the most fit in the club’s history. This means that, unlike last year’s home opener, Seattle should be ready for the high speed of play.
Who to Watch
The newly organized Reign FC midfield enters the year with plenty of questions after being one of the strongest in the league for three seasons. They’ll have quite the test on Saturday evening.
Sky Blue’s midfield trio of Sarah Killion, Raquel Rodriguez, and Daphne Corboz is going to be tough for any team to break through. Killion does everything right as a holding midfielder, and she formed great chemistry with Rookie of the Year Rodriguez last season. The addition of Corboz, who comes to Sky Blue from Manchester City, gives the midfield the potential to be one of the best in the NWSL.
The 41-year-old Christie Rampone, Captain America, had one of her best seasons last year and was arguably one of the top five defenders in the league. She’ll be leading a very young backline this year, with at least two rookies beside her. Her organization and veteran leadership are going to be crucial for Sky Blue.
At the same time, there could be gaps for Reign FC to exploit among a group of young defenders playing their first match together this season.
For Seattle, Megan Rapinoe has a lot to prove. After missing most of last season with an ACL tear, this could be a huge year for the U.S. National Team midfielder. She worked incredibly hard in the offseason to get back to full fitness and brings an unpredictability that makes the Reign hard to line up against.
Laura Harvey has a lot of untested depth to consider as well, including the tenacious Katie Johnson and Kiersten Dallstream, who seems hungry to contribute this season. If the match ends up close in the second half, Seattle’s subs could play a big role in offering a much-needed spark.
How to Watch
The match against Sky Blue kicks off at Memorial Stadium tonight at 7 p.m. PT. Tickets are still available if you want to watch in person. Fans also can follow the match using the go90 app. International viewers will be able to watch via NWSLSoccer.com or the NWSL app on iOS.
Predicted Starting XI
Seattle Reign FC: Haley Kopmeyer; Carson Pickett, Lauren Barnes, Rachel Corsie, Merritt Mathias; Rumi Utsugi, Jess Fishlock, Christine Nairn; Megan Rapinoe, Bev Yanez, Naho Kawasumi
Sky Blue FC: Kailen Sheridan; Kayla Mills, Christie Rampone, Mandy Freeman, Erica Skroski; Sarah Killion, Raquel Rodriguez, Daphne Corboz; Leah Galton, Sam Kerr, Kelley O’Hara
Seattle Reign FC: OUT: Diana Matheson (left ACL tear), Larissa Crummer (right foot fracture)
Sky Blue FC: OUT: Tasha Kai (45-Day Disabled List; offseason surgery, left and right ankles)