Coming off a thrilling rivalry match against the Portland Thorns that ended in a 2-2 draw, Seattle Reign FC (1-1-2) returns to Memorial Stadium this weekend to take on the Washington Spirit (1-2-1), a squad also looking for consistency and points. The match kicks off Saturday at 1 p.m. PT and will stream on go90.
After starting the season lacking any offensive punch, the Spirit put in four goals against Sky Blue FC last weekend — led by Francisca Ordega, who had arguably her best game in a Washington jersey, scoring two goals, assisting on another, and causing an own goal on the fourth.
But how much can we take from this match? Before facing Sky Blue, the Spirit had scored just one goal and still hadn’t won a match. On top of that, they were going up against a Sky Blue squad that lacked Raquel Rodriquez and Daphne Corboz in the midfield, and whose average age along the backline was 22 years old. This wasn’t the same Sky Blue side that showed up for the NWSL opening match against Seattle.
One match does not a turnaround make. Still, after losing a number of players to trades and injuries in the offseason — including trading Christine Nairn and Diana Matheson to Seattle — Washington is proving to be formidable. So what will it take to beat this club from the "Other Washington?" Let’s take a look.
Breaking the Defensive Spirit
Washington’s defense has been fairly consistent, and if the league voted on Goalkeeper of the Year today, Stephanie Labbé would arguably win in a landslide. She’s kept her team in every match and has the league lead in saves, 23.
The Spirit have rolled out a 3-5-2 formation for a good portion of the season so far, with Canadian centerback Shelina Zadorsky leading the trio in the back. Alongside her are Whitney Church, who lacks a lot of speed but is good in the air and has strong positioning, and Estelle Johnson, who stepped up the last few games after a somewhat rocky start.
Kassey Kallman often drops back in as left back, making the Spirit defensive shape flexible throughout the match. Kallman has recorded a team-high 15 interceptions for the Spirit this season, though she is vulnerable to losing her mark at times.
While the Reign aren’t a team that looks to send balls over the top, Washington’s formation and personnel leave them vulnerable on defense, especially out wide. To break them down, look for Seattle to switch the field of play quickly and push balls over or through the Spirit midfield.
Defensive Consistency is Key
While Seattle has begun to find a spark on offense, a typically disciplined defense has been exposed early this season. Reign FC have shown mental lapses that have resulted in goals, and coming off a four-goal match, Washington is going to press hard and often in the hopes of taking advantage of this inconsistent play. The Reign defensive line has to put in a complete performance.
Ordega is a player Seattle has to watch closely — especially after her performance last week. As our friends at Black and Red United said, "Ordega’s unpredictable nature makes her incredibly challenging to defend and her speed adds to her danger."
In attack, the Spirit are not a possession-heavy team and have relied heavily on counter attacks. Washington is toward the bottom of the league in passes — completing 1,389 in four games, compared to Seattle’s 1,651. The team has, so far, lacked a playmaker who can take over games. However, Kristie Mewis should return to the starting lineup this weekend after recovering from injury, bringing another creative spark that can unlock some Spirit attacks.
Washington is also beginning to use the flanks more effectively, with former Reign FC midfielder Havana Solaun getting more opportunities on the ball — including a breakaway opportunity and goal in last weekend’s match. Their wide players typically make cutting runs inside, rather than looking to cross. In fact, Washington has attempted the fewest crosses in the league.
Limiting through balls will be crucial for Seattle. One key way to do this is by maintaining the same level of pressure the team applied in the first half against Portland last weekend — and keeping it up throughout the match. Breaking up passes, especially in the Spirit midfield, should limit Seattle’s opponents and ideally get the Reign its first shutout of the season.
At the end of the day, if Seattle plays its game — and does so for all 90 minutes — they should be leaving the match with three points.
Seattle Reign: OUT: Larissa Crummer (right foot fracture), Diana Matheson (left ACL tear), Merritt Mathias (suspended)
Washington Spirit: OUT: Cameron Castleberry (excused absence), Caprice Dydasco (left ACL recovery), Cali Farquharson (left ACL recovery), Joanna Lohman (left ACL recovery), Katie Stengel (right knee bone bruise) Kelsey Wys (right ACL recovery); PROBABLE: Kristie Mewis (left quad strain)
Date/Time: Saturday, May 13, 1 p.m. PT
Location: Memorial Stadium, Seattle, WA
Streaming: go90 app (iOS/Android), go90 website, NWSLSoccer.com (international fans watching outside the U.S.)
This is your Sounder at Heart gamethread. Watch and discuss Seattle Reign FC's home match with us.