It was another week where Seattle Reign FC presented their line-up as a 3-4-3, but in reality it played as their standard 4-3-3 with the wide forwards dropping back to help the midfield when defending.
The Washington Spirit offense relies on the speedy front line of Cheyna Williams and Francisca Ordega, along with wide play by Havana Solaun. So by clogging up the midfield and maintaining strong defensive cohesion, the Reign were able to deny the Spirit many dangerous through balls, but Washington adjusted by pushing balls out wide and dropping in crosses.
The Spirit also played with a high press to the likes of which the Reign had not yet faced this season. This required the Reign defense to stay back more to provide additional passing channels and asked more of the midfielders, who provided the central width.
The second half saw some tactical changes for the Spirit, particularly after they switched to an aggressive 3-4-3 following the introduction of Arielle Ship in the 59th minute. However, after the Spirit penalty kick, Seattle’s attack likewise adjusted and was able to exploit the additional space along the Spirit back line, lighting up for four goals over a 10-minute span and crushing Washington’s spirit.
Despite the incredible offensive output, this match masked some defensive flaws as many Spirit attacking opportunities were not broken up by quality Reign play, but instead by self-inflicted mistakes such as players making sloppy touches and pushing balls over the end line before crosses could be served in, poor shooting, and so forth. Against a more clinical opponent, the Reign could have been down several goals by the hour mark.
Haley Kopmeyer (6) – The Spirit attack looked dangerous to start the match, firing off a shot in the first minute and continuing to put pressure on the Seattle back line for the first quarter of an hour, although self-inflicted mistakes hampered most of their efforts before reaching Kopmeyer. When she was tested, she held strong, including a tough diving save on a Havana Solaun shot at the close of the first half where she smartly parried the ball out of bounds instead of leaving a rebound for a waiting Francisca Ordega. In the second half, she had two big saves late in the game, including an open shot by Kristie Mewis in the 85th minute and a snap save on a near own-goal after an awkward deflection by Lu Barnes two minutes later. She could have done better to get over and protect the short side on the second Spirit goal, but by then the game was far out of reach.
Carson Pickett (5) – As noted in the introduction, Pickett was tasked with staying home more this game, but she and counterpart Rebekah Stott still served an important role in setting up attacks out of the back. In this game, the outside backs provided wide midfield outlets for passes up from the central defense to get past the Spirit’s high press. She was primarily tasked with marking former Reign player Havana Solaun, and the pair traded victories in duels throughout the game, including one that saw Solaun get the first shot of the game in the first minute. Several times Pickett tried heroics to salvage bad Reign passes that were headed out of bounds, but by playing them awkwardly she instead enabled quick Spirit counterattacks. The most notable was in the 46th minute, when she knocked a Kopmeyer clearance straight to Solaun, which led to a flurry of dangerous Spirit opportunities before the final shot went high. She ended the day with a meager 61% pass completion rate, which is a number you’d more typically expect from a target forward.
Rachel Corsie (6) – For the first time this season, someone other than Lauren Barnes led the team in passes, as Corsie surpassed her central partner with 53 in this match. She was busy tracking Williams and Ordega all match, and did a good job blocking crosses and clearing danger for much of the game. She and Barnes did well holding their line and drawing the Spirit attackers offside numerous times, ending potential breakaway opportunities before they could start. I have a hard time blaming her for the penalty since her hand was essentially at her side when the ball was kicked into it, but she was the player tasked with marking Kristie Mewis on the set piece at the end of the game where Mewis found the near side of the net for a late consolation goal.
Lauren Barnes (6) – Barnes had an unusually quiet game for her. The Spirit high press meant she had less time to circulate the ball in the back, which often meant quick one-or-two touch play before pushing the ball forward to one of the outside backs or midfielders, or occasionally sending long balls straight up to start the attack. This longer passing was reflected in her surprisingly low pass completion percentage of 69%, a full 10 percent lower than typical. Early in the game, Ordega burned past her in midfield, but a smart foul broke up the play. Overall she did a good job dealing with a speedy and potentially dangerous attack, but she’ll need to make sure the back line is better organized against a more ruthless opponent.
Rebekah Stott (6) – Stott was by far the most two-way of the defenders this match, and it’s reflected in her stats, where she had a game-high 76 touches and 4 tackles. She served as a willing partner for several nice give-and-go opportunities with Naho and Nairn to break out of pressure. In the 15th minute she had a good attacking opportunity, but was bowled over by Tori Huster on a shoulder challenge near the end line. After that she did a much better job standing strong in 50-50 challenges. Her only big individual negative mark came in the 25th minute, when she stepped over to support Corsie in challenging Ordega during a Spirit 3 vs. 2 counter attack, leaving Cheyna Williams wide open to receive a pass at the top of the box; thankfully Williams launched the ball into orbit.
Rumi Utsugi (6) – The Seattle midfield was quite amorphous in this game, with Utsugi often serving as the attacking fulcrum or box-to-box shuttler while Fishlock primarily stayed back in a defensive role. As usual, Rumi provided quality pressure, intercepted numerous balls in the midfield, and had three tackles to break up attacks. In the 70th minute she intercepted a ball in midfield, quickly found Naho out wide, and got her head on the quickly returned cross, but Labbé made a good save.
Jessica Fishlock (7) – I’m not sure if Jess was feeling less than 100% or if she was asked to deliberately stay back more in this game, but she was very often the central defensive midfielder and dropped back to the central defense to help build play from the back. This led to far fewer flashy attacking opportunities and long runs, but in exchange she had a solid stay-at-home defensive performance, providing muscle to numerous challenges and clearances, along with some timely tackles to put out fires when the Spirit attack pushed past the Reign defense. She was also an effective outlet to relieve the high pressure, and once the Spirit moved to three in the back she helped switch play to exploit the extra space. On the first Rapinoe goal, she started the attack with a nice block on a cross near the Reign end-line before quickly pushing the ball up-field before the Spirit could regroup, and she provided a gorgeous through ball to Naho to set up Rapinoe’s second goal.
Christine Nairn (7; goal 20’, off 77’) – You could tell Nairn had something to prove against her former team, and she made a huge statement with her rocket of an opening goal. She also led the team with three shots on goal. Like Yanez did last week in the attacking midfield role, Nairn was often pushed high as a second central forward. She helped set up some nice plays, including nearly connecting with Fishlock on a long through ball into the Spirit box in the 33rd minute and providing a secondary assist on Yanez’s goal two minutes later. She was quieter in the second half after the Spirit bolstered their midfield, but she had another nice scoring opportunity shortly before subbing off which was well saved by Labbé.
Nahomi Kawasumi (10; goal 68’, assists 20’, 35’, 71’, 76’ (!), PotM) – There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Naho’s performance in this game. Four assists is a new league record, and with a little luck she could have had several more. From the start she was all over the field, helping Stott on defense and finding space along the Spirit back line. On the first goal, she pressured Kassey Kallman into a turnover about 30 yards from the Spirit goal, had a quick give-and-go with Yanez to get into the box, then put a brilliant spin move on Kallman before laying the ball off to Nairn for the shot. Just minutes later, she surprised everyone with a long throw-in into the Spirit box, which bounced in space before Yanez sombreroed the ball and took a spin shot that unfortunately deflected off a Washington defender.
For most of the other goals, she showed good discipline to stay wide and force the Spirit defense to either stretch to cover her or abandon her entirely to shore up other leaks. On the third goal, she once again came back to defend, successfully intercepted a pass and held possession with Fishlock until the Reign attack pushed forward. As the Spirit shifted over to defend her, she found Utsugi in midfield, who switched fields to Rapinoe, who was now wide open, and the resultant cross found Naho wide open on the far post.
The fourth goal was likewise thanks to wide discipline, as Rapinoe and Naho had a back-and-forth sequence that completely flummoxed the Spirit defense. On the fifth goal Naho was yet again tight along the touch line when Fishlock found her with a laser pass; the only reason she missed the assist for this goal was because Katie Johnson tipped the cross before Rapinoe hammered it home. The assist on the final goal presented yet another twist in the dagger, as she lined up as if to take a one-time shot on Katie Johnson’s strong cross, but instead fooled everyone by gently laying off a pass to Lindsay Elston.
I thought about whether this performance was truly worthy of a 10, considering the caliber of opponent and how unable or unwilling they were to adjust to defend her, but too often when teams show weaknesses like this, players are unable to effectively take advantage of them. Naho not only identified the optimal way to exploit the Spirit, but she did it again and again, to the point that every time she had the ball in the opposition half the crowd was abuzz in anticipation; more often than not, they were rewarded with something spectacular.
Beverly Yanez (7; goal 35’, off 69’) – Bev was a handful for the Spirit defense all game, keeping the centerbacks preoccupied with tracking her whereabouts and opening up space for the Reign midfield and outside forwards, and also providing the trademark Reign high press. She had several dangerous scoring opportunities in the first half, starting with the aforementioned sombrero shot.
Lost amid the flurry of scoring was this surprisingly long Naho throw to Yanez, who nearly sombreroed her way to an amazing goal pic.twitter.com/9eo4UzjZEE— Steve Voght (@voght) May 16, 2017
On her goal, she was involved in the build-up play, serving as a target for some nice one-touch passing to develop the attack and allow her teammates to push forward, before streaking toward the goal line and making a smart far-to-near post run that caught Labbé and the Spirit defense entirely unaware. She also led all players with 85% passing accuracy, which is almost unheard of for a center forward.
Megan Rapinoe (8; goal 71’, 76’, assist 68’, off 81’) – Typically a brace and assist would make you a shoo-in for player of the match and potentially NWSL player of the week, but I doubt Pinoe feels too badly about missing out this week. She provided a number of quality crosses throughout the game and had the wits to start some dangerous counterattacks after intercepting Spirit balls in the middle of the park, creating three scoring chances in the process. She and Naho took turns showing selflessness on the third and fourth Reign goals, eschewing potential shots to instead lay off a pass to their wide open strike partner.
Pinoe’s work rate this year has been stellar, with a willingness both the pressure opposing defenses and to pull back and support her own defenders much more than I recall in the past. The few times that she didn’t get back to quickly support Pickett were the times that were most problematic for the young defender; at least twice the Spirit exploited this and overloaded Pickett’s side to build good attacking opportunities, although thankfully none of those led to goals.
Katie Johnson (7; on 69’, assist 76’) – As often seems to be the case this year with Reign rookies, Johnson had a few nervous moments after entering the match before settling down and putting in an excellent performance that featured some strong hold-up play and nice crosses, including the one that would have been a secondary assist on Elston’s goal. On the first Rapinoe goal she had a back heel nutmeg near midfield to unlock a Rapinoe run into the box.
I think her assist was accidental – Naho looked to be crossing to Rapinoe the entire time and I don’t think Johnson even knew Pinoe was behind her for a layoff pass, but regardless it goes into the stat book. Her one big negative was an unnecessary foul near the Spirit bench that resulted in the second Washington goal. She also had an impressive pass completion percentage (83%), albeit with only six passes attempted.
Lindsay Elston (5; on 77’, goal 79’) – Elston entered as an attacking midfielder in a game that was already out of hand, and almost immediately proceeded to put it further out of reach with a nice one-time shot on a nice pass from Kawasumi. After that she worked to disrupt play in the midfield, chasing balls and working to intercept passes. She had one bad clearance in the 82nd minute and her passing rate was mediocre (44%), but she did what was asked of her given the game state.
Kiersten Dallstream (incomplete; on 81’) – Dallstream didn’t have much opportunity to make her mark in this game, but she had a good opportunity late in the game where she dribbled into the Spirit box and was tackled from behind, but the referee waived off any protests for a penalty.
Even late in a 6-2 game, there's no excuse for this tackle not being called (and the ref doesn't even try to hide it by calling a corner) pic.twitter.com/nGye7MsIgN— Steve Voght (@voght) May 16, 2017
Victor Rivas (6) – This was the type of game that easily could have gotten out of hand as the score climbed, but thankfully both teams kept play reasonably clean throughout the match. I think the handball call on Corsie was a bit harsh, but it’s a call that you frequently see made. I was a little surprised Barnes didn’t get cautioned for a tactical foul on Ordega in the 8th minute, and I think Dallstream had a fair shout for a penalty in the 89th minute after a tackle from behind, but given the game state I think Rivas just wanted to wrap things up.
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