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Seattle Reign vs. Houston Dash: Player Ratings

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A commanding all-around performance from the Reign means high marks across the board.

Jess Fishlock attempts a shot against the Houston Dash Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

This week’s Reign game was certainly entertaining for the fans, but we’ve seen dominant performances like this from the team in the past which have resulted in much closer scorelines. So, before getting into the individual ratings, I want to highlight the fact that the players maintained momentum even after the fantastic first two goals, when it’s all too easy to relax slightly—even subconsciously—and fall into the trap that makes 2-0 “the most dangerous lead.” Seattle did a good job maintaining high pressure, sharp passing, and resolute defense through much of the game, although they did finally let down their guard some in the final quarter of an hour, following the fifth goal.

There was only one change to the starting lineup from last week—Rumi Utsugi in place of Lindsay Elston—but significantly, this change allowed Christine Nairn to play in her more accustomed attacking midfield role, and pushed Bev Yanez up to central forward, which had cascading effects on the entire game, and resolved many of the major issues witnessed in last week’s performance.

Starters

Haley Kopmeyer (7) – There were concerns going into this game that Kopmeyer was going to need to give another NWSL Player of the Week performance, since Houston’s speedy attack bears a lot of similarities to Sky Blue. Thankfully, the Reign put in such a commanding performance that this hypothesis did not need to be tested. The official stats have Kopmeyer with only one save on the night, (an excellent snap save off a set play that ultimately led to the Dash goal,) but she once again commanded her box and smothered almost all danger without needing to stand on her head.

Carson Pickett (6) – Pickett’s game this week was less flashy than last week, but still just as solid in her primary task of defending. After putting in a promising (if modestly overhit) attacking cross in the 7th minute, she settled back into a more defensive role. She had a number of quality interceptions, pressures, and clearances to break up Dash attacks, and aside from a brief series of sloppy passes and long balls shortly after halftime, her connection with and ability to find Megan Rapinoe in space was good all night.

Kristen McNabb (7; goal 31’) – McNabb’s performance this week was nearly a carbon copy of her debut. A sloppy pass in the 2nd minute nearly resulted in a golden breakaway opportunity for the Dash, but thankfully Janine Beckie had a poor first touch and Barnes was able to recover the ball. McNabb was silky smooth after that early miscue, not recording another negative action in my notes until the 75th minute. In the interim, she made her presence felt all over the field, with a number of well-timed clearances and interceptions, and—oh right, she scored a goal thanks to her aggressiveness in going after a botched Dash corner kick clearance. She almost scored a second goal off a nice Rapinoe cross on a recycled corner kick opportunity in the 52nd minute, but her shot went wide. If she can maintain this level of confidence and continue to learn from her experienced teammates and coaches, she will have an outstanding future in the league.

Lauren Barnes (7) – Once again, Barnes made defending against a speedy attack look like a leisurely walk in the park thanks to smart positioning and a knack for knowing when and how to challenge for the ball, step up to intercept a pass, or block a shot. Last week, Lu led all NWSL players in touches, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear the same was true this week, as she was constantly involved in building attacks from the back and recycling possession with sharp, quick one- and two-touch passes. She also occasionally ventured forward and showed confidence on the ball, beating defenders on the dribble several times. Her biggest negatives both came fairly early in the game, first in the 6th minute when Barnes missed a Rachel Daly run behind her into the box to get on the end of a Cami Levin cross, (which was thankfully headed wide,) and another in the 20th minute, when an understruck pass to Kopmeyer was nearly intercepted by an onrushing Daly.

Merritt Mathias (6; off 43’) – Mathias had a solid half before she had to be subbed off with a head injury late in the first half. Twice in the first ten minutes she stepped up and put strong pressure on Kealia Ohai, preventing the speedy attacker from turning and bursting up field. Likely as a result of her challenging defensive responsibilities, most of her actions this week were in that phase of the game and she didn’t push up the field as much as in the last match, but she did have a nice cross in the 14th minute. The play that resulted in her injury was also a nice headed clearance of a dangerous Dash free kick from the top of the 18.

Rumi Utsugi (7; off 76’) – As predicted based on last week’s strong performance in a brief substitute role, Utsugi earned a start in the defensive midfield this week. She was a calming presence in the midfield, intercepting passes, picking up a number of second balls, and shifting play forward with through balls to attackers making runs. She continually disrupted Dash play through the midfield and forced them to seek long, low probability passes toward their forwards. At one point near the end of the first half, both Reign centerbacks were in the attacking half applying pressure, and Utsugi and Fishlock read the play well and dropped back to effectively cover for them. Near the end of her shift Utsugi had a few poor tackles and ineffective pressure before she was subbed off, but that was likely a sign of fatigue.

Jess Fishlock (9; goal 18’; POTM) – The Welsh Wonder was once again all over the field, registering over 40 positive actions in my notes as she intercepted passes, snagged second balls, broke up attacks, served as a release valve for Reign possession, set up attacks, and took numerous dangerous shots. Similar to last week, she set the tone early, intercepting a Dash pass near midfield in the 3rd minute, dribbling unimpeded to the top of the box and firing off a promising shot. She followed that up with some strong recovery runs back into her own box to support the defense before scoring at the end of a gorgeous 12-pass sequence in the 18th minute that involved every Reign player except Kopmeyer and McNabb.

That was soon followed by an inch-perfect cross from midfield that found a streaking Megan Rapinoe near the top of the Dash box, who rocketed it home for the game’s second goal. After Mathias’ injury in the 37th minute she even played five quality minutes at right back before Stott subbed on. She took a knock in the 88th minute and slowed down to normal human speed and skill, but by then the damage to the Dash was already done.

Christine Nairn (6) – Nairn looked much more comfortable this week in a more attacking role, often times positioning herself as a second central forward and applying a lot of pressure to the Dash defensive corps. She had significantly more actions this week, including the assist on Fishlock’s goal. Nairn combined with Utsugi and Fishlock to mop up virtually all loose balls in the middle of the field, and showed her creativity with some nice give-and-go plays and through balls. It was her high pressure in the Dash defensive third that led to a long clearance which went straight to McNabb, who headed it forward to Fishlock to set up the assist on Rapinoe’s goal. Nairn’s biggest negative on the week was that she often was so far up field that there was a notable gap between the Reign attacking band and defensive mids, which required some stellar play by Fishlock to disrupt potential Dash opportunities.

Nahomi Kawasumi (6) – It says something about the overall team performance when Naho had the quietest game of the entire Reign attacking corps, yet still recorded over 20 positive actions. She did a good job exploiting space and keeping the Dash defense wide, and had a number of nice give-and-go sequences with Yanez and Stott to unlock dangerous attacks and crosses, and even had a quality shot of her own in the 81st minute which was securely saved by Campbell. Naho’s shortcomings were primarily when she tried to be too fancy and lost the ball on poor touches, and she was also one of the players tasked with watching Poliana, and was caught flat-footed and watching the ball when the Brazilian defender hammered a rebound home for the lone Dash goal.

Beverly Yanez (7; goal 55’, off 69’) – Yanez provided the much-needed high-pressure hounding up front that was lacking in the Reign formation last week. From the opening whistle she chased Dash defenders around the field, preventing them from getting comfortable on the ball and finding channels to start attacks. In fact, over two thirds of her 20-plus positive actions were thanks to her aggressive defense, particularly pressuring defenders into turning over the ball due to sloppy passes. In fact, her 55th minute goal came thanks to two instances of her high pressure—first, she forced Janine Beckie into a turnover near the top of the Dash box, and then she pursued and buried the huge rebound on Fishlock’s initial shot.

Megan Rapinoe (8; goal 27’) – I’m not sure if Pinoe cast an invisibility spell or if Poliana simply didn’t recognize how dangerous she was, but all game long she found acres of space along the left flank and exploited it at every opportunity, coming away with an outstanding goal and two assists. She was second only to Fishlock in positive actions on the night, including impressive high defensive pressure starting early in the game which kept Dash defenders on their toes for much of the night. A particularly notable instance came in the 11th minute, when she first pressured a Dash defender into a back pass and then chased down Dash keeper Jane Campbell, who was harried into a sloppy turnover to Nairn at the top of the 18. Pinoe’s rocket goal has been rightfully praised already, but she also served in a number of exceptional crosses, including the assist on Johnson’s goal. Toward the end of the game she became more sloppy and lackadaisical, but it’s hard to know how much to attribute to fatigue and how much to attribute to having such an insurmountable lead. Most weeks, Rapinoe’s performance would have been worthy of Player of the Match, but ultimately Fishlock had a bigger impact on more factors in this game.

Substitutes

Rebekah Stott (6; on 43’) – Stott came into the game early, after Mathias suffered a head injury late in the first half. Although this might have been an intended sub later in the game, it still required her to get up to speed quickly and unexpectedly. Even with minimal warm-up time she contributed quickly, with a nice give-and-go and quality cross into the Dash box less than two minutes later, and several instances of strong, quality take-ons while dribbling up field. Stott was the other defender who was likely responsible for marking Poliana on the Dash goal; unlike Naho, she ran toward the ball when Kopmeyer punched it, leaving her out of position to intercept the ball after Corsie headed it toward the top of the box where Poliana was waiting. She’s given Laura Harvey a lot of good reasons to pencil her into the starting XI next week, especially if Merritt Mathias is less than 100%.

Katie Johnson (incomplete; on 69’, goal 74’) – Johnson did admirably in her first appearance for the Reign, spelling Yanez after a long shift of aggressively chasing Dash defenders. Johnson took a few minutes to get up to speed, but showed a keen sense for getting into the box and finding the ball. She was in the right spot to challenge for the rebound on a Rapinoe shross, heading it home for her first professional goal. After that, she was much more involved, including several give-and-gos and a quality dribble and take-on to set up attacks in stoppage time. She shared some responsibility for the Dash goal, as she lost track of Sarah Hagen, who got a quality shot off the initial free kick into the box which forced Kopmeyer’s diving save and rebound.

Rachel Corsie (5; on 76’, caution 83’) – Like Johnson, Corsie got onto the stats sheet just minutes into her first appearance of the season. Unfortunately, in her case, it was for a needless tactical foul on Caity Heap which led directly to the Dash goal, although she nearly redeemed herself by attempting to head clear Kopmeyer’s punch save. Aside from that significant moment of needless sloppy play, Corsie had a decent, if brief, outing in the unfamiliar role of defensive midfielder, playing several nice through balls up to the forwards and clearing several aerial attempts by the Dash.

Officiating

Marco Vega (6) – Overall I thought the game was reasonably well officiated. I appreciated that Vega recognized and stopped play quickly after the Mathias head injury, and he gets kudos for trying to keep the game moving by fixing a damaged advertising board himself in the 68th minute rather than waiting for sideline staff to arrive. He also did a good job keeping the game under control as the score climbed, since these situations often lead to the losing team lashing out and fouling a lot. However, I thought he could have been more aggressive in going to his book, as Fishlock in particular was the target of several heavy fouls in the first half.