Seattle Reign FC (0-0-1) kick off their second match of the 2017 NWSL season on Saturday, April 22. The Reign FC squad again plays at home, this time meeting the Houston Dash (1-0-0) in an evening game.
While Seattle was lucky to earn a draw against Sky Blue FC; Houston came out of the gates strong and defeated the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 in its home opener. The Dash have, however, lost all seven previous meetings against Seattle — including all four road games by a combined score of 9-2.
What can we expect from this match? Alicia Tolar from Dynamo Theory helps preview this weekend’s opponent.
Sounder at Heart: The Dash shut out a pretty potent Chicago attack last weekend. Was that a case of Chicago struggling in the opening match, or evidence Houston has more stability along the backline?
Dynamo Theory: The Dash's backline looks to have improved greatly from last season, but it still has some vulnerability. The additions of Bruna Benites and Janine Van Wyk made a huge difference in the first game out. They look like they may be the centerback pairing that the Dash have been missing. Van Wyk looks to be taking on a leadership role with the backline, which is something they really needed.
SaH: Seattle arguably had the best midfield in the league the last few years. Can the Dash now make that claim?
DT: Possibly. The Dash have quite the roster at midfield — Andressa, Morgan Brian, Amber Brooks, Caity Heap, Carli Lloyd, Denise O’Sullivan. Right now, Brian is out injured and Lloyd is playing overseas with Manchester City which means when they come back some of the current starters Andressa, O' Sullivan, and Brooks will end up on the bench.
It's a good problem to have for head coach Randy Waldrum. With so many good players the temptation is strong to rotate the lineup in the midfield but what this team needs is stability. This is the first year without a ton of roster turnover and Waldrum needs to create stability in his lineups so that the players have time to 'gel'.
SaH: Houston has yet to defeat the Reign. What do you think the Dash have to do to get their first win against Seattle?
DT: Score more goals than Seattle — that's the classic answer right? For the Dash it’s not so much about getting on the scoreboard — we know they can do that — it's about keeping Seattle off of the scoreboard. One game into 2017, the Dash defense looks like they finally have some stability in the middle that will help take some of the pressure off of goalkeeper Lydia Williams (or Jane Campbell, as we expect she'll get some starts this season). The Dash will need to make sure that they maintain possession of the ball and don't give the Reign a chance to control the game. They will have to play a full 90 — something they have struggled to do in past seasons that the Reign has made them pay for.
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DT: The Seattle midfield looked vulnerable last weekend against Sky Blue. Do you expect any lineup changes this week to try and solidify the midfield?
SaH: Seattle's midfield probably won't dominate in the same way it did the past three years, but it can still be a force in this league. Rumi Utsugi should fold back into the starting lineup after missing most of the preseason with Japan. The moment Utsugi subbed onto the game in Week 1, Seattle regained control of the midfield.
Having her in a natural holding midfield role will free up Jess Fishlock to play more of a box-to-box position, where we have seen her thrive for the Reign. She played way too deep against Sky Blue, at times sitting along the backline to help the defense absorb pressure, and Seattle needs her to help spark the attack.
I suspect Christine Nairn will be the third midfield partner again. She's still figuring out her best role on the team, including where to be on defense and which runs to make off Fishlock. Hopefully, all that is needed is a bit more time together.
DT: The Dash have a strong front three in Kealia Ohai, Rachel Daly and Janine Beckie. How do you think the Reign defense will be able to contain them/keep them off the scoreboard?
SaH: To be honest, I have some concerns. Seattle showed last week that it has a hard time containing opponents who bring a lot of speed and like to counter-attack. Hopefully, Haley Kopmeyer doesn't have to put in another NWSL Player of the Week performance to keep the Reign in this game.
Having the veteran Lauren Barnes on the backline helps a lot, especially with a long of younger players alongside her. If Barnes is able to ensure the defense keeps its shape, it's possible Seattle keeps the match close.
Memorial Stadium is a smaller pitch as well, and this game will be on turf, which means Houston is going to be at a bit of a disadvantage if it wants to rely on space and speed. There is a reason Seattle has only lost two matches on this field in the last three years; the team knows how to play on the more narrow pitch.
DT: What will the Dash's backline need to do to keep the Reign from scoring?
SaH: Seattle likes to possess the ball and find the gaps in an opponent's defense. Sky Blue disrupted this style of play during Week 1, and the New Jersey side was unlucky to allow the Reign to score and not put away more than one goal on their end.
If the Dash wants to keep a clean sheet, they are going to need to be relentless in pressing on defense, especially Houston's forwards. Disrupting balls into the midfield to prevent Seattle from building attacks was one of the most effective ways to stop the Reign last year.
Seattle’s home match against the Houston Dash kicks off at 7 p.m. PT on Saturday, April 22. If you aren’t watching at Memorial Stadium, you can follow the match via the go90 app.