In what ended up being Randy Waldrum’s swan song, Seattle Reign FC outlasted the Houston Dash in hot conditions to come away with their first road win and first shutout of the season. Seattle stuck with their usual 4-3-3, but to compensate for the extreme conditions they didn’t push their outside backs up as much and kept only one player forward to apply high pressure, defending in more of a 4-5-1.
Seattle’s adjustments and the conditions necessitated some changes in their method of attack, relying a lot more on quick, short passes and hold-up play rather than their typical attacks that build through their outside backs bombing forward. This was epitomized by a 75-second, 19-pass sequence in which every Reign player touched the ball, culminating in Katie Johnson’s goal.
Houston had plenty of scoring opportunities, particularly in the second half where they enjoyed a 12-4 advantage in shots. The Reign defense struggled both due to the heat and due to the speed and smart runs by Houston’s attacking corps, but a combination of poor finishing and good defensive support from Seattle’s midfielders and forwards kept the Dash from many dangerous opportunities, and some good luck and the woodwork kept the other chances out.
Haley Kopmeyer (6) – Kopmeyer did well to earn her first clean sheet of the season, saving eight shots and punching away three more crosses, all while wearing a padded long-sleeve goalkeeping kit in the intense heat. Most of the saves were fairly routine, but she had a great reaction save on a Janine Beckie volley in the 93rd minute.
KOPMEYER SAVE! pic.twitter.com/kyATtvdjZn— Ride of theValkyries (@rovalks) May 27, 2017
Kopmeyer probably needed to do a bit more to organize her defense, who had several lapses and kept losing track of their marks as the Dash front three of Beckie, Kealia Ohai and Nichelle Prince would make diagonal runs and get into space between defenders. Kopmeyer also had one particularly bad clearance in the 49th minute that fell straight to Beckie, who was wide open about 35 yards from goal and laid off a pass to Prince, but her well-placed shot struck the outside of the post. Prince also rang a quality shot off the crossbar earlier in the game. Given the bad luck the Reign have had with goals conceded this season, they were overdue for a few bounces like this.
Carson Pickett (5) – Pickett struggled with Nichelle Prince early in the game, and kept getting caught up field as Prince would drift into the wide space left behind. This was particularly an issue in the first half-hour of the match. After the cooling break, Pickett and Stott stayed home more, which helped somewhat, although they still struggled as the Houston forwards switched sides and made diagonal runs.
She did better in the second half, and the Reign defense mostly kept Houston to a lot of low probability shots from distance and from tough angles until late in the game. In the 74th minute, Pickett attempted to challenge Kealia Ohai for a ball but mistimed her step and Ohai burned past her. Fortunately, Naho tracked Ohai’s switch across the field and cleaned up the mistake. Late in the game, Pickett made the smart decision to just boot the ball up field several times to relieve the Dash pressure and give her team a moment to regroup.
Rachel Corsie (6) – This was a difficult game for Seattle’s defense, but fortunately Houston’s finishing left a lot to be desired. In just the 2nd minute, Corsie did a great job bodying Kealia Ohai off a ball into the Reign box, but she made a poor clearance that went right back to Ohai for the first good scoring opportunity of the game. In the 10th minute, she tried to pull Janine Beckie offside, going so far as to stand still and raise her arm as Beckie streaked past onto the end of a pass, but the flag stayed down and she lost precious time to chase back; fortunately Beckie’s uncontested shot went wide.
Things mostly improved from there as the heat wore down both teams, and she had a number of important blocks around the 20th minute. That stat isn’t tracked individually, but collectively the Reign blocked nine shots on the day, compared to only one for the Dash.
Lauren Barnes (7) – Barnes and Corsie spent a lot of the early match cleaning up messes caused by their outside backs getting caught up field. Lu’s biggest highlight came in the 27th minute, when she sprinted back to catch Janine Beckie on a breakaway and had a picture-perfect tackle in the box to clear the ball before Beckie could shoot.
Oh hello there co-captain, Lauren Barnes. pic.twitter.com/MWZpATOvJ2— Ride of theValkyries (@rovalks) May 27, 2017
Barnes led the team with three tackles and led all players with 60 passes, and also blocked a number of attacking opportunities. She, Corsie and Kopmeyer could have done better to keep the back line organized and focused, especially in second half stoppage time, but that was a tough task in the heat.
Rebekah Stott (5) – Much like Pickett, Stott struggled to keep up with the Houston forwards early in the game, and was burned several times by Kealia Ohai to set up Dash scoring opportunities. In the 19th minute, Ohai found acres of space in the corner, waited for Stott to chase back and overcommit and pushed the ball right past her for a strong cross into the Reign box.
About 10 minutes later, Stott had a weird back-of-the-head clearance of a Houston cross that looked to be going out of play, but because of her contact it dropped right to an unmarked Dash attacker at the top of the six-yard box. Fortunately, the play was so odd and unexpected that they were unable to react in time to convert before the rest of the Reign defense could recover and clear the ball. Her play improved in the second half, particularly after Seattle held numbers back more.
Rumi Utsugi (7) – Utsugi put in another strong midfield performance this week, disrupting play in the midfield and switching play often to try and disrupt Houston’s defensive shape. She ended the day with 93% pass completion on 59 passes, second only to Fishlock for accuracy and Barnes for total number. She contributed five passes in the 19-pass sequence, shuttling the ball from one side to the other as the Reign slowly pushed forward and probed the Dash defense for cracks. She also made several late runs into the box to pick up any rebounds or deflections. Fatigue caught up with her late in the game, and she was caught snoozing when the ball came to her in the 84th minute, got caught on the ball by Poliana in the defensive third in the 91st minute, and lost track of Andressa cutting through the Reign box in the 94th minute on a flick that bounced off the post and was cleared.
Jess Fishlock (9; PotM) – After a couple of more modest games (at least by her standards), Fishlock stepped up in the Texas heat and controlled the midfield. She led the team with an astonishing 96% pass completion rate on 49 passes and put in hard work all game long at both ends of the field.
When the Reign defense had lapses she was there to put out fires, including a big clearance of a Dash corner in just the third minute and a pinpoint tackle on a Nichelle Prince opportunity in the Reign box in the 38th minute, not just breaking up that play cleanly, but also putting the ball off Prince to win her team a goal kick and chance to catch their breath.
In the attack she did well to distribute the ball and keep the Dash defense chasing, and also had two good opportunities of her own, the most notable coming off a quick Rapinoe throw-in in the 59th minute, but Fishlock’s shot curled up and over the corner of the goal.
Christine Nairn (7; off 75’) – Nairn played more of a shuttler role in this game, hanging back to provide outlet channels for the Reign defense and helping to build up play through quick, short passes and pinpoint through balls, rather than relying on long, lung-busting runs and dribbling from the outside backs. That was reflected in her much improved 86% passing accuracy this game, as well as by how much more involved she was in the defensive phase of play.
She often acted like a hold-up forward but in the midfield zone, playing with her back toward the Dash goal and laying off passes to Fishlock or the center backs to create new passing channels and disrupt Houston’s shape. Her vision on through balls when she was facing forward was also very good. Her only notable negative was a particularly poor turn and shot on a good scoring opportunity early in the game.
Nahomi Kawasumi (8; assist 64’) – Naho had a fairly quiet but productive game, with her usual excellent passing (91% accuracy) complemented by some important defensive contributions. Late in the first half she nearly caught Lydia Williams napping on a shross that Williams just managed to punch away, and she had a number of through balls and crosses to Katie Johnson that led to good Reign scoring opportunities, including the final pass that set up Johnson’s goal in the 64th minute after a long 19-pass sequence that saw every Reign player touch the ball at least once. In the 74th minute, she even tracked all the way back to the opposite corner of the field and had a great block on a Cami Levin shot after she and Kealia Ohai broke in behind Carson Pickett.
Beverly Yanez (incomplete; off 24’) – Bev was having a nice game before a fluke injury forced her out of the game midway through the first half after a good tackle. Due to the heat the Reign essentially left her alone up top as the only source of high pressure and target for through balls, and she had a good scoring opportunity in the 9th minute off a Rapinoe cross, but her redirection went just wide.
Megan Rapinoe (8; off 84’) – Like her counterpart on the other side, Rapinoe demonstrated her fitness with an end-to-end performance. She put in a great cross for Yanez’s scoring opportunity in the 9th minute, and created the Dash own goal almost entirely on her own. After Fishlock headed down a Houston corner kick, Rapinoe disrupted a Houston shot off the loose ball, picked up the second ball by the corner of her own box and dribbled nearly the entire length of the field, pushing a brief give-and-go to Katie Johnson to disrupt the defense before firing in the cross that deflected off of Cari Roccaro for the goal.
In the second half, she showed great vision to take a quick throw-in while Houston was still caught up field, finding Fishlock in space for an attacking opportunity and shot. She had one odd moment early in the game, a defensive challenge in the Dash half of the field on Rachel Daly in the 13th minute, which included a lot of grappling and Rapinoe going to ground attempting an awkward scissor tackle from behind, which fortunately missed Daly completely or her day might have ended much earlier. Like most of the squad, her fitness wore down as the game progressed, and she ended with a series of poor passes and touches before subbing off.
Katie Johnson (7; on 24’, goal 64’) – Johnson was an expected sub, but the timing of her entrance caught everyone by surprise as Bev Yanez needed to leave early due to her leg injury. Despite having essentially no warm-up time, Johnson quickly acclimated and made her mark on the game, doing an excellent job of providing hold-up play and keeping the Dash defense honest and at home.
With Seattle’s midfield and outside forwards staying back more, her hold-up and layoff passes provided the team with the time necessary to push up field without exhausting themselves. She provided a passing partner for Rapinoe and forced the Houston defense to stay spread out on the first Reign goal, and had a number of good opportunities of her own on through balls – particularly from Naho – that split the Dash defense.
She was finally rewarded for her work in the 64th minute, when she took a pass from Naho with her back to goal near the six-yard box, shielded Cari Roccaro off the ball, and spun around the defender before roofing her shot for the second goal. Late in the game she nearly set up Lindsay Elston with a nice lay-off pass, but the shot streaked just wide. If Yanez is not ready to go next week, Johnson looks confident and fit enough to step in as the starter and not miss a beat.
Lindsay Elston (incomplete; on 75’) – Elston subbed on for Nairn and went to the top of the midfield triangle, moving Fishlock back into a more defensive role. In the 81st minute, she had a great scoring opportunity off a pass from Katie Johnson which beat Lydia Williams, but the ball streaked just past the far post. Soon thereafter she had a nice cross that just missed Johnson and fell into space, but understandably, no other Reign players had the energy or urgency to push forward so late in the game to pick up the loose ball. She had a few bad passes late in the game, but in large part that was due to most of the team being extremely fatigued and a bit slow.
Kiersten Dallstream (incomplete; on 84’) – Dallstream came on very late in the match and was primarily tasked with hounding the Houston midfield and defense for the final few minutes of the game and disrupting play. She had a good clearance in the 93rd minute as the Reign defense collapsed, and did well to chase balls around the park in her brief time on the field.
Karen Abt (6) – This game was more a battle of conditioning than a high-tempo soccer match, and the stats back that up with only seven fouls called between the two teams. I thought Rapinoe could have been warned after her rough challenge on Daly in the 13th minute, but beyond that there wasn’t anything notable that Abt missed in what was surely a challenging game to officiate given the conditions.
There was one odd sequence in the 28th minute where Katie Johnson and Cami Privett got tangled up on a potential Reign breakaway, but after briefly whistling for a Reign free kick she corrected herself and awarded the ball to Houston. Upon watching the replay, I think that was ultimately the correct call, although it led to a tense moment where the players and commentators were wondering whether Privett might be sent off for DOGSO.
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