Fresh off their 5-1 demolition of the Houston Dash last weekend, Seattle Reign FC traveled east, looking to bend the Boston Breakers to their will as they have numerous times in the past. Laura Harvey rolled out the same starting lineup and planned to utilize the same general tactics as last week, but something clearly went awry as the Breakers overwhelmed the Reign midfield and easily cruised to a 3-0 victory.
The most glaring issue was with width in the midfield. For the first 60 minutes Boston took advantage large gaps between Seattle’s outside backs and attacking wingers during counter attacks. Eventually the Reign adjusted by pushing an outside back forward to pressure when Boston would attack down one flank, but this opened up even more space on the opposite side as Seattle’s center backs and other outside back would shift over to compensate. Boston was effective at switching the point of attack in these cases and it caused more chaos for the Seattle backfield.
It was only after the Reign shifted to a 3-player back line and pushed their outside backs up to be wingbacks at the hour mark that those gaps finally closed, but by then it was too late and the Breakers were happy to keep 10 players behind the ball and clog up attacking channels.
Haley Kopmeyer (5) – This was a tough week for Kopmeyer, though very little of it was directly her fault. Aside from potentially attacking Natasha Dowie’s breakaway opportunity more aggressively, her positioning was reasonable on all three goals, and she had a nice snap save on a strong shot by Adriana Leon in the 66th minute. Everyone seemed rattled in this game, and for Kop this was reflected in a few questionable kicks to defenders who were under pressure, most notably in the 36th minute when she played a free kick to Jess Fishlock at the top of the Reign box with two defenders rapidly closing on her and no obvious outlet passes available. The biggest thing Kopmeyer might have done better is to organize her defense to address the problems with space along the wings that Boston kept exploiting, but much of that comes down to the team’s game plan.
Carson Pickett (4; off 80’) – Pickett had a tough game dealing with Boston’s willingness to push play along the wings, which kept her back more than ideal. She also struggled with her touch for much of the night, although that was a shortcoming shared with many of her teammates. It was the space she was meant to occupy that Natasha Dowie moved into before sending in the cross for the first Boston goal; Pickett was caught in midfield due her poor handling of a sloppy Jess Fishlock pass. When Pickett was able to get forward, especially after moving up to the wingback role, she had some good crosses and created two chances, but she ended the game with a third fewer passes attempted (24) compared to last week and needed to do more to prevent Boston from freely bombing into the space around her.
Kristen McNabb (4) – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: McNabb had a shaky start to a game before settling down. This week it started again with a few bad passes, including a particularly egregious one in the 25th minute that went directly to Tiffany Weimer at the top of the Reign box, but thankfully Weimer’s first touch let her down and Lauren Barnes cleaned up the mess. McNabb also made a number of questionable decisions about when to push up and apply pressure. For instance, on the first Breakers goal she stepped up to help Carson Pickett after a turnover in the center of the park, only to have the ball chipped over both of them to Natasha Dowie, who had stepped into the acres of space left behind the two high defenders. A similar situation occurred in the 20th minute when she kept pressing forward and chasing back passes by Breakers midfielders, only to have the ball chipped past her and into the space she should have been covering. Thankfully Barnes again shifted over to break up that play. On the plus side, McNabb nearly prevented the second Boston goal on a smart tackle after a series of miscues by nearly everyone else in the Reign backfield, she ended with 84% successful passes, and she also had a strong tackle in the box to clear a dangerous Adriana Leon chance in the 61st minute.
Lauren Barnes (5) – Barnes had a game that was tough to rate. Portions of it she played closer to a 4, and the rest she played closer to her typical 6 or 7 rating. On the first goal she missed Dowie moving into space along the side of the box, and instead of closing on her to pressure a cross she opted to cover the space between her and the goal. Then she badly overran Leon as she cut across the top of the box after recovering the ball following Dowie’s cross, leaving Leon with a wide open shot. The second goal was similarly problematic, with Leon essentially dribbling right past Barnes before passing the ball to Lavelle; there, Lu seemed stuck between stepping up to challenge and dropping back to defend and instead did neither. After that her game improved dramatically, including several critical clearances to clean up messes left by her teammates, such as the defensive turnovers by Mathias in the 20th and McNabb in the 25th. Unfortunately, she also had a role in the third Boston goal, where she stepped up to support Pickett just as Leon played a one-time flick onto Dowie, who slipped into the open space behind Barnes. She had a team-high 38 successful passes, but many of those were circulating possession along the back and not finding dangerous channels forward.
Merritt Mathias (3; caution 38’, off 58’) – Mathias gets the nod at right back because she’s an aggressive player who’s not afraid to push forward, but, like her counterpart Pickett, Boston was able to successfully exploit the space behind her on counter attacks. In only the second minute, Mathias stepped up to back Rumi Utsugi in defending Rose Lavelle on the dribble near midfield, and Lavelle was able to burst past both of them into the huge gap she left and take the first shot of the game. Although she had the last Reign touch, there was very little Mathias could do on the first Boston goal. She was tracking her player, Leon, to prevent Dowie’s cross from reaching her, but through a bit of bad luck the ball ricocheted off the back of her leg and dropped almost perfectly to Leon. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention her caution for pulling on Allysha Champan’s hair after a poor touch near the Breakers box resulted in a Boston interception in a spot where there was no imminent danger of a counter attack. She’s fortunate that the linesman spotted the details of that foul and alerted the referee to go to his book, or she might be hearing from the disciplinary committee. In the end, while Mathias helped clear several Boston attacks, the Breakers ability to continually exploit the space behind her led to the substitution that shifted the Reign formation.
Rumi Utsugi (6) – The Reign declared her their player of the match due to her high pass completion percentage (86%), but I thought she also had a mixed outing. Interestingly, despite playing as the primary defensive midfielder, her best contributions were in the attack, including a nice through ball to Rapinoe in the 26th minute that led to a scuffed shot, as well as several other good through balls during the game to help set up attacking opportunities. She also had a great scoring opportunity of her own on a Rapinoe cross in the 80th minute, but Breakers keeper Abby Smith made a sturdy save on her shot from 6 yards out. Conversely, on the defensive side she had a number of unexpectedly poor challenges, including several where instead of stepping into a challenge with her body she only stuck out a leg and the opposing player easily broke through.
Jess Fishlock (4; caution 31’) – Fishlock had one of her fleetingly rare poor games, struggling with her passing and positioning and attempting to make up for it by trying harder, which often led to more issues. All night her touch was off, with questionable passes leading directly to the turnovers that resulted in the first two Boston goals. She had another particularly poor touch in the 71st minute off an unpressured pass from Barnes in the back, which led to a 2-on-2 opportunity for Boston, but thankfully Rose Lavelle picked a poor angle on her dribble and had to shoot from a difficult angle. After a caution for a high boot on a challenge in the 31st minute Jess had to play more carefully, which limited her effectiveness in challenging for balls in the midfield. Several times her frustration boiled over visibly, first in the 34th minute when she sent a good through ball up to Naho in the corner, but no other Reign players were crashing the box in anticipation of a cross. At that point she swapped roles with Yanez and stayed high for a while to shake things up, and later in the 43rd minute she tried to set up a give-and-go with Nairn, only to have Nairn casually dribble the ball into the middle of the park instead of returning it to her near the corner where she was anxiously waving her hands and yelling. Remarkably, she ended up making the same number of passes (48) and having a higher accuracy than last week (77% vs. 70%), but her good touches were generally in far less useful spots.
Christine Nairn (5; off 58’) – The first half of this game was a rehash of the ineffective Nairn performance from week 1, but in an attacking role instead of in defensive midfield. Like last week she was once again so far up field at times that she was the highest attacker, but since the Reign struggled to connect the ball through midfield this kept her out of the action for large chunks of the game. She did have an outstanding pass to find Rapinoe cutting behind the Boston defense in the 12th minute, but it wasn’t until she dropped back into a more box-to-box role midway through the first half that she really stepped into the game. From that point she had a respectable defensive performance, intercepting several passes and providing much needed midfield pressure, but due to this the Reign offense was hindered since Yanez needed to drop back more to help set up attacks. Nairn was a necessary sacrifice at the hour mark to shift formations, but her defensive contributions were solid, including a team-high 86% passing accuracy.
Nahomi Kawasumi (6) – Naho seemed to sense that the team was struggling and did an admirable job dropping back to provide defensive support once it was apparent that Boston was exploiting the space behind her. In particular, she had a key interception in the 28th minute to break up a Boston attack. Several times she came back to provide a passing channel for Reign defenders, only to see a poor pass either go over her head or straight to a nearby defender. I’m not sure if this was due to a language issue or just because she doesn’t typically check back like that, but it seemed to affect passes to her in particular. She also did a good job receiving the ball along the wing and playing in crosses, but the middle of the Reign attack was unfortunately unable to connect on any of them. Naho also had two good scoring opportunities of her own. The first was in the 40th minute, but the ball got caught between her feet as she dribbled and the chance was lost, and the second came off a nice Rapinoe cross in the 55th minute, where Naho received the ball on the far post and took a quality shot that Abby Smith admirably saved.
Beverly Yanez (6) – Yanez had a tough start to the game because the Breakers had a solid plan for breaking Seattle’s high press, so she spent a lot of the early game chasing ghosts as the ball was moved quickly up field. She found more success dropping back and serving as an auxiliary midfielder, but that left the point of the Reign attack lacking until she formally moved to that spot when the team shifted to a 3-5-2 in the second half. She had one notably poor defensive miscue in the 83rd minute when Midge Purce started a Boston counter attack with a long dribble through midfield and right around Yanez’s defensive pressure; that attack ended with Leon hitting the crossbar from a very tight angle. Bev was one of the few Reign players whose stats improved significantly from last week, nearly doubling her number of passes and boosting her accuracy from 47% to 74%. However, that improved accuracy was in large part because Reign attackers weren’t making dangerous runs that where she could attempt to thread through balls.
Megan Rapinoe (6; POTM) – Rapinoe seemed to be one of the only Reign players who wasn’t in a funk the entire night, and there have been times in the past when that’s been sufficient to carry the team to a draw, if not steal a victory. Unfortunately it took her a little while to find her rhythm in this game, and by the time she did the Reign were already down 2-0. Despite a strong end-to-end wind, she put in a number of excellent corner kicks, crosses and free kicks, including a knuckling kick near the end of the first half that streaked just wide of the Boston goal. Pinoe’s passing was much more accurate this week (71% accuracy vs. 55% last week), but much of that was due to attempting far fewer passes – 21 versus 38 against Houston – as the Reign struggled to build effective attacks along the left flank because Pickett needed to stay back to prevent Boston from dropping attackers into the space around her. Rapinoe’s six shots were a team high, but only two of those shots were on target and a few were probably ill-advised. I struggled to pick a player of the match in this game, but I thought that Rapinoe did the most to try to salvage something from a game that seemed lost from early on.
Rebekah Stott (4; on 58’) – The introduction of Stott and Rachel Corsie in the 58th minute was part of a major formation change by the Reign, shifting to three in the back and pushing Stott and Pickett up as wingbacks in a 3-5-2 formation. Stott looked mismatched on both sides of the ball. She let Midge Purce dribble on her and take a shot in the 63rd minute, and in attack she completed only 2 of the 5 passes she attempted in her 32 minutes on the field. As the Reign pushed players forward and boosted their urgency her poor passing and dribbling choices killed several attacks that might have been better served by holding up play for a moment to let players get forward and establish passing lanes. The highlight of her night came on a nice through ball to Yanez in the 77th minute in the corner to set up a Reign attack.
Rachel Corsie (5; on 58’) – Corsie had a better performance this week in her more accustomed center back role, providing a steadying presence when the team switched to a three player back line. Her two toughest moments came on Boston fast breaks –first in the 69th minute when she failed to close town Natasha Dowie on a 1 vs. 3 and Dowie got a good shot off from the corner of the box, and second in the 80th minute when Adriana Leon got on the end of a long ball on a fast break and raced to the end line. Corsie did a good job defending against a potential cross to the top of the box, but bit on a Leon deke toward the center before Leon cut the ball back and hit a shot from a tough angle that caromed off the crossbar.
Katie Johnson (incomplete; on 80’) – By the time Johnson entered, the game was essentially out of reach. She came on in the central attacking role, moving Yanez to midfield, and almost immediately had an impact thanks to a nice dummy that fooled several Breakers defenders and allowed a Rapinoe through ball to find Rumi Utsugi about 8 yards from goal. She had a decent look at goal herself in the 92nd minute off a pass from Rapinoe, but was fouled on the play. Aside from those plays, her main contribution was to chase balls and keep the Boston defense honest in the waning minutes of the game.
Charles Murphy (8) – The Reign have been fortunate thus far with officiating, as once again the game was called fairly and cleanly. Murphy set the tone early with a warning to Adriana Leon after a rough foul on Kristen McNabb in the Reign box, and continued that pattern with a caution to Fishlock for a high boot on a challenge in the 31st minute and another to Rosie White for crashing into Kopmeyer four minutes later. My only complaint was that he gave Leon a second warning for another physical foul in the 49th minute rather than going to the book, but she did clean up her play after that. There also seems to be a directive to officials this year to be more precise about the location of throw-ins, because every game thus far has had at least one throw halted and reset at a different spot.