After an rough game at Boston last week, Seattle Reign FC came into this weekend’s match against Portland Thorns FC ready to try something new. The lineup card announced that they would be playing a 3-4-3, similar to how they finished last week’s game against the Breakers. However, in reality they set up in their standard 4-3-3 while attacking, albeit with three notable changes — Rebekah Stott and Rachel Corsie started in the back, and Merritt Mathias moved up top in place of the absent Christine Nairn.
The big strategic change came in how they utilized their wide players while defending. When Portland was in possession, the Reign outside forwards dropped back into midfield instead of providing high pressure, while Beverly Yanez pushed up from her central attacking midfield role and supported Merritt Mathias up top, with the team effectively defending as a 4-4-2 and denying Portland space along the wings in the middle third.
Haley Kopmeyer (6) – Kopmeyer had a solid, if unspectacular, game where she wasn’t challenged often but commanded her box effectively when she needed to. There was almost nothing she could have done on either goal. On the own goal she was shifting across the goal line in anticipation of facing a wide-open Portland shot from the top of the box, when the ball was unexpectedly redirected by Fishlock. The second Thorns goal was the result of a defensive breakdown that saw several crosses in quick succession, a weak clearance, and an unmarked header 6 yards from goal that floated just over her outstretched fingertips.
Carson Pickett (5) – Seattle keeping their outside forwards back more this game really benefited Pickett, who had extra support to deal with speedy Thorns forward Hayley Raso. For the most part Pickett held Raso in check, making several good challenges to intercept passes and pressure Raso into turnovers. However, with so much of the Thorns attack going through the left, Raso exploited defensive miscues by Pickett several times. The rest of the Reign backfield was able to clean up most opportunities with minimal danger, but Raso did directly cause the own goal with an excellent cross that would have found the wide open foot of either Lindsey Horan or Nadia Nadim if Fishlock hadn’t redirected the ball first.
Rachel Corsie (6) – In her first start of the season, Corsie showed a comfort and understanding with Lauren Barnes that helped the Reign defense against the challenge of Nadia Nadim hanging off the defense and Christine Sinclair dropping deeper to pick up crosses and rebounds. Several times Corsie and Barnes stepped up effectively and pulled Portland offside on potentially dangerous through balls, and Corsie did well to prevent the Thorns offense from getting many good looks on goal, including smartly boxing out Sinclair on a few balls in the attacking third. She did lose track of Sinclair on a Thorns ball in the corner in the 73rd minute, but fortunately Jess Fishlock recognized the danger, stepped over and forced a weak shot. It was also a weak clearance by Corsie that fell to Meghan Klingenberg to set up the assist on the second Thorns goal, but that was a small portion of a larger defensive breakdown. On offense she did a great job finding Rebekah Stott in space along the sideline numerous times in the first half, which led to several quality Reign attacking opportunities.
Lauren Barnes (7) – Barnes had a relatively quiet night, but considering how the Portland goals were scored and the relatively small number of dangerous chances they created, that’s a testament to her smart positioning and organization of the Reign back line. As usual she led the team in touches (74) and passes (64) while helping to set up Reign attacks from the back. On the own goal Raso got the ball past her, but 9 times out of 10 Barnes’ challenge there is sufficient to send the ball out of play; this time the deflection resulted in an odd sideways spin that kept the ball on the field, which enabled Raso to recover it and press on.
Rebekah Stott (6; assist 39’) – Stott had a much better outing in her first start, particularly in the first half when she was a key cog in a Reign attacking sequence that kept working time and time again. When Seattle recovered the ball on defense, they would circulate possession in the back while players moved into position, and at least a half dozen times an attack started with Corsie finding Stott hugging the sideline near midfield, where Nadia Nadim showed almost no interest in tracking back to mark her. Stott would inevitably dribble forward into space and either find Naho with a pass near the corner, or fire in a dangerous cross herself. It was this pattern that led to the second Reign goal, as Stott found Naho with a pass into the corner and kept bombing forward into the box, then Naho returned the ball to her and she found Mathias at the top of the 6 yard box for the goal. It was such an effective attack that Portland subbed in Meghan Klingenberg at the half to shut it down. On the defensive side of things, Nadim was a non-factor for most of the night.
Rumi Utsugi (7; off 83’) – Rumi’s primary task in this game was to stay back and keep an eye on Christine Sinclair, who likes to drop into the space just above the defense to receive passes, and for the most part Utsugi was up to the challenge. She frequently dropped back to serve as a third option for passes in the back while the Reign outside backs pushed forward, and she intercepted numerous passes in the middle of the park to snuff out Thorns attacking opportunities. As in last game, there were a couple of times where she presented only a weak defensive effort when a more stout challenge was called for, most notably when Lindsey Horan dribbled through the midfield in the 53rd minute and found Allie Long for a shot from 20 yards out, but generally Utsugi did a good job keeping the Portland from establishing possession in the middle.
Jessica Fishlock (8; goal 1’, own goal 36’, caution 66’, PotM) – Fishlock always brings her top performances to derby matches, particularly games in Portland. From literally the first minute she was all over the field, applying pressure up high and cleaning up messes in the back. She picked Horan’s pocket and fired a blistering shot from 25 yards out for the opening goal and set the tempo from there. Unlike last week where she kept getting frustrated and trying harder, this week she was focused and precise. The own goal was an unfortunate miscue in an otherwise exemplary performance, but had she not tipped the ball it was likely going directly to Horan or Nadim for an open shot. Her caution was also well earned as she sprinted back to stop Amadine Henry, who broke free behind Rebekah Stott and was quickly closing on goal.
Beverly Yanez (7; off 74’) – Bev returned to the attacking midfield role this week, but as noted in the introduction, the Reign utilized her differently than in week 1 and it paid off. She contributed to the high pressure that led to Horan’s turnover to Fishlock in the first minute, and without needing to be the lone central passing option in the midfield band she wasn’t required to check back so often to receive passes. She didn’t have any shots this game, but won three fouls along with applying a second wave of pressure when Portland would get the ball past Mathias. I was a bit surprised to see her subbed before Mathias considering their roles.
Nahomi Kawasumi (6) – Naho seemed a step slow for much of the game, often taking an extra touch or pausing in possession instead of passing or shooting quickly, but when she didn’t overthink her plays she had some nice interplay with her teammates. The most notable came on the second Reign goal, when she got into space in the corner to receive a pass from Stott, then took on Meghan Cox before returning the ball to Stott. She also did well to get back and help defend, including late in the game when Hayley Raso switched sides and caused problems for Stott.
Merritt Mathias (7, goal 39’, off 87’) – Mathias returned to her old target forward role this week and was tasked with being the primary source of high pressure while the outside forwards held back to close down space. She did a good job in this role and had several quality scoring opportunities, including a game-high three shots on target. In the 20th minute she got on the end of a Stott through ball in the box and had a nice spin move and one-timer that was saved by Adrianna Franch, and then in the 39th minute she scored on a strikingly similar play. As the game progressed she tired and became less effective, and could have been cautioned for a shirt/hair pull in the 68th minute when she was challenging Emily Sonnett for a ball that was being shielded out of bounds, but was let off with just a stern warning from the official. She will need to be very careful that this doesn’t become a recurring trend, or she might be sitting out several games later this season.
Megan Rapinoe (6; caution 53’) – Rapinoe had a quieter game than typical, especially for rivalry matches against Portland. She led all players with four shots, but put only two of them on target, and her passing accuracy was only 61%. Some of this was likely due to Seattle finding so much success attacking up the opposite wing this week, since her activity picked up notably in the second half when Portland finally shut down that channel, and the fact that she was asked to pull back further when Portland held the ball to prevent Raso from getting the ball in space and making runs at Carson Pickett. That said, her corner kicks were excellent all night, and the two shots she did put on frame (both late in the game) were quality opportunities that truly tested Franch.
Lindsay Elston (6; on 74’) – Elston made a late appearance, nominally as an attacking midfielder but more generally as a central forward applying pressure to the Thorns back line. Her biggest play of the game came in the 90th minute, when Portland had a pair of crosses after a throw in near the Reign end line, which culminated in Christine Sinclair firing off a strong, uncontested shot from the top of the box that beat a screened Kopmeyer, but was blocked and cleared off the line by Elston.
Kristen McNabb (incomplete; on 83’) – McNabb came on in defensive midfield almost immediately after the second Thorns goal. She completed all five passes she attempted and won a foul, but otherwise didn’t have too much of an impact in her short time on the field.
Katie Johnson (incomplete; on 87’) – I would have liked to see this sub earlier in the match, because Mathias looked gassed with 30 minutes left and Johnson has shown a willingness to chase balls. She didn’t have much time to make any impressions in this brief appearance.
Christina Unkel (4) – It was inevitable that we would eventually have a poorly officiated game; it’s both unfortunate and also unsurprising that it came in a heated rivalry match with a large, rowdy crowd. There was little consistency in the fouls that were called or waved off, especially in the minutes surrounding halftime. In the 44th minute there was a weird sequence where Fishlock attempted to tackle the ball off Amadine Henry but missed completely, then Henry clattered over Fishlock and pushed her onto the ball, and Fishlock grabbed the ball like a rugby player, but Unkel shouted for play to continue amid the tangle of bodies.
Early in the second half Henry had several questionable challenges with no clear intent to play the ball, but no fouls were called, and there was one remarkable instance where Henry bowled over Fishlock after a 50-50 challenge and Rumi Utsugi tripped Allie Long moments later, but no foul was called in either case despite bodies flying everywhere.
Merritt Mathias likewise had a few questionable non-fouls, including the aforementioned hair/shirt pull. Fortunately the officiating was poor toward both teams, so it didn’t particularly affect the outcome, and thankfully no one ended up with a serious injury.