After some tinkering in the early weeks, Seattle Reign FC appears to have found a formation and tactics that work, as they once again used a 4-3-3 attack / 4-4-2 defense hybrid against the Orlando Pride on Sunday evening. This week they had the added challenge of defending five-time FIFA player of the year Marta, who brings speed, finesse and unpredictability to the Pride attack. To compensate for this, the Reign kept Nahomi Kawasumi back a lot to support Rebekah Stott on defense, which caused the attack to be somewhat lopsided.
It worked well enough for Seattle through the first 40 minutes, but after the Reign goal, the Pride pushed forward more aggressively and overwhelmed the Reign through the next half-hour of play. Eventually Laura Harvey adjusted by substituting Katie Johnson for Christine Nairn and shifted to something more akin to a 4-2-3-1 with Jess Fishlock and Rumi Utsugi in a double pivot and Johnson up top as the lone striker, after which the Reign regained control of play in the midfield and had the better of the attacking opportunities through the remainder of the match.
Haley Kopmeyer (5) – Let’s get this out of the way up front: Kopmeyer had a huge furt on the Pride goal. A combination of factors led to disaster on a goal kick just moments after she made an impressive diving save on a curling Marta shot. First, she had an untied shoelace and needed assistance from Rachel Corsie to fix it. Second, the referee came over and was urging them to expedite the process. Third – and to my eye, most important – the setting sun split the trees at the west end of the stadium and was shining directly in her eyes when she put the ball down and saw Jess Fishlock available for a quick short kick, which meant she didn’t see three Pride attackers just behind Jess. Regardless, it was a learning experience and I doubt we’ll see her take a kick so quickly in the future, even if the ref is urging her to speed up. Beyond that she had four saves on the night, including two diving clearances of quality Pride opportunities which she smartly parried away to prevent any dangerous rebounds. Without the one huge gaffe, she was on track for a rating of 7.
Carson Pickett (6) – Pickett did well in 50-50 challenges this week, which was part of the larger Reign trend of winning the overwhelming majority of duels. She had one poor defensive miscue in the 9th minute when she and Lu Barnes let Jasmyne Spencer dribble right through them, and a few sloppy passes to no one in particular, but she was otherwise good defensively. In the 56th minute, she got on the end of a loose ball at the corner of the Pride box and smartly one-timed a shot which had Caroline Stanley beat, but unfortunately it curled just inches wide and into the side netting.
Rachel Corsie (7; assist 40’) – Aside from a poor clearance that went directly to Marta in the 13th minute, Corsie and the defensive corps held solid against a challenging attack. She was once again the primary back line play starter, pushing balls up field to Stott and the midfielders throughout the first half. On the Reign goal, she did well to chest down a poor Pride clearance at the top of the box and push the ball back toward goal. After Orlando claimed momentum, she had some important blocks on shots and crosses, and in the 66th minute she had a massive clearance to tip a Steph Catley cross out of play at the far post just before the onrushing Jamia Fields could redirect it into an open net.
Lauren Barnes (7; caution 49’) – After a little dip last week, Barnes was back in prime form this week, keeping the Reign defense solid and organized against a dangerous Pride attack. She connected an astonishing 94% of her passes and did a great job keeping the defense on the same page against the speedy Pride forwards and wily Marta. Her only negative was a poor bit of defense in the 9th minute when Jasmyne Spencer dribbled right past her and Pickett before lofting in a shross, but after that, she did a great job keeping dangerous Orlando scoring opportunities to a minimum.
Rebekah Stott (8) – Stott had the unenviable task of lining up against Marta for much of the night, and the Brazilian phenom had freedom to roam, which made keeping track of her that much more difficult. The Reign seem to have recognized this potential danger from the start, and Naho Kawasumi was often back helping Stott in defense. The tandem (and occasionally trio, when Rachel Corsie also shifted over to help) held strong, limiting Marta to only two low-probability opportunities from their side of the field. Her rating this week might be slightly inflated for that but Marta can and often does badly embarrass defenders, and Stott did very well to avoid getting on the wrong end of any highlight videos Sunday night.
Stott also continued to work well with Corsie and Naho in the offensive phase of the game, at least in the first half, as the Corsie-Stott-Naho passing sequence we’ve seen and discussed multiple times was once again successful in setting up attacking opportunities.
Rumi Utsugi (8; PotM) – Utsugi is settling nicely into her role as the midfield disruptor, ruining opposition attacks before they can become established. She had a game-high nine tackles – three more than the entire Pride squad attempted – and an 82% pass completion rate to help Seattle maintain possession. Her midfield challenges were a big part of why the Reign won over 75% of duels in the match. Orlando adjusted their tactics after going down a goal, pressing higher in an attempt to recover the ball higher up the field and bypass the black hole she created in midfield. This kept her and Jess Fishlock back more to assist the defense, which stranded the Reign offense in the second half.
Jess Fishlock (7) – Jess had another strong defensive performance, but was once again fairly quiet in the offensive phase of the game. The Pride seemed to target her, starting with a tough challenge in the 14th minute that saw her flip through the air and then flip out at the referee, who had rightly called the foul in her favor, but she dished as well as she received and led the Reign both in fouls suffered and fouls committed. At times she looked a bit hesitant to aggressively challenge for loose balls, particularly on Reign set pieces and corners, but she also commanded her own defensive zone and had several strong headed clearances on Pride corners and set pieces. She was the target of Kopmeyer’s ill-fated goal kick, but Camila’s positioning behind her was smart and she had no idea what was about to happen.
Christine Nairn (4; off 64’) – Nairn’s role as an attacking midfielder / withdrawn forward was less effective and useful in this game than in the previous two home matches, and it was reflected in how much she drifted into and out of the game compared to her midfield compatriots. She had a good first 15 minutes, then a quiet middle of the first half, and a solid ending to the half, and like most of the team she came out flat to start the second half. Her performance was bookended by two particularly nice plays – an excellent cross in the 3rd minute that just missed finding Bev Yanez’s foot for a redirection, and a nice free kick in the 58th minute as part of a set play and Rapinoe shot. Her substitution was part of the larger tactical shift discussed in the intro.
Nahomi Kawasumi (6) – Naho had extra defensive duties this week due to the challenge presented by Marta, and she did admirably, particularly in an 18th minute one-on-one challenge near the corner of the Reign box where Marta tried to bait her into committing, but Naho’s defensive positioning held strong and she forced a back pass. Unfortunately, this came at the expense of her attacking contributions, and she was limited to just one chance created on the night. This was exacerbated by an unusual number of poor touches and passes, with the ball getting tangled up in her feet numerous times and plays where it looked like she wasn’t in sync with her teammates.
Near the end of the game, she had two great scoring opportunities, both off crosses from Katie Johnson. On the first, she picked a far post run instead of near post run which allowed Caroline Stanley time to recover and smother the ball, and on the second she had a great sliding shot that caromed off the post, but was whistled offside regardless. Her rating this game is a split of a 7 defensively and a 5 in attack.
Beverly Yanez (5; goal 40’, off 77’) – For the second game in a row, Yanez scored a goal with the outside of her boot. This week’s effort wasn’t nearly as much of a spectacle, but the redirection of Rachel Corsie’s shot was enough to ensure that the ball was on target and out of reach of any Orlando defenders. Early in the game she had several good runs and just missed redirecting a Christine Nairn cross in the early moments. In the 11th minute, her shot from the top of the box struck a Pride defender in the arm, but the referee kept his whistle pocketed. After her goal, Orlando started pressing more urgently which forced Seattle to drop back more in defense and effectively stranded Yanez up top without much of the ball, and in the 55th minute she was caught flat footed when Seattle finally had another attacking opportunity that reached her. It wasn’t until she shifted to the midfield after the introduction of Katie Johnson that she became more involved again.
Megan Rapinoe (7; caution 50’) – With Naho’s extra defensive responsibilities, much of the Reign attack had to channel through Rapinoe’s side of the field, particularly in the second half where almost all of Seattle’s build-up play went through her. While most of the team had issues with their touch in this game, Rapinoe’s touch was good all night. She put in over a dozen corner kicks and free kicks, most of them perfectly placed in the box, and had a number of quality crosses as well. However, her shooting on the night left a lot to be desired, with all four of her attempts going wide of target. Most notably, she had two great opportunities in the 89th minute and curled both of them over the same corner of the goal in nearly identical fashion. She earned a needless caution for dissent in the 50th minute, but could have just as easily earned a card for the hand ball that she was inexplicably complaining about when she was cautioned.
Katie Johnson (6; on 64’) – It was déjà vu all over again for Johnson. She had another shaky moment just after subbing on, missing a run toward the corner by Steph Catley on a Pride free kick near midfield, which led to an excellent cross that Rachel Corsie just barely tipped clear. After that she had a great performance as the target forward, holding up balls played to her and distributing well to start Reign attacks.
She had three great crossing opportunities in the game, first in the 73rd minute when her high pressure resulted in a turnover and she put a diagonal ball back through the box, but the rest of the Reign had dropped back to defend and no one was making a run into the box. She dropped a second cross into the danger zone between the six-yard box and penalty spot a few minutes later, but Naho made a far post run instead of a diagonal run toward the near post. Before her third opportunity, she absolutely obliterated Ali Krieger on a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge in the 90th minute, then put in a nice cross to Naho.
Kristen McNabb (incomplete; on 77’) – McNabb came on in another midfield appearance and nearly scored on her first touch of the game, a headed redirect of a Rapinoe free kick. Unfortunately, the angle of the ball relative to her run toward goal meant she couldn’t get much power on the ball, and it was easily saved. Her other notable play in her 13 minutes on the field was a smart run back to help defend a Pride counter attack in the 88th minute, when most of the Seattle defense was pushed forward.
Timothy Ford (4) – This was not the greatest of officiating performances, but it didn’t cost either team the game. In the 11th minute, a Reign shot into the box struck a Pride arm in a fashion nearly identical to the Corsie handball called for a penalty last week, but no kick was forthcoming. That was offset by the strong likelihood that Yanez was offside on her goal (although the available camera angles can’t definitively rule out another defender out of frame keeping her onside.)
The caution to Barnes seemed harsh, as it was only her second foul of the game and the two players got feet tangled up in a challenge versus being a tactical foul. Similarly, the caution to Rapinoe a minute later seemed to be more about establishing that he was in control versus due to her tossing the ball away, since Marta did the same thing shortly thereafter without even so much as a sideways glance. Finally, he called back a quick Reign throw-in on a counterattack to allow Orlando to make a sub in the 87th minute, which, while technically within his purview to permit, is nevertheless something that officials are generally instructed to eschew when it’s the opposing team trying to make the substitution.
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