In the final game of a three-match road trip that featured beastly hot weather, extremely hot weather, and very hot weather, Seattle Reign FC visited FC Kansas City and split the points in a 2-2 draw. Injuries and fatigue from international duty forced a few changes to the Reign lineup this week.
With Rumi Utsugi out for a few games, the biggest question was how Laura Harvey would respond in the midfield, and whether we would see Lindsay Elston enter or Beverly Yanez drop back. The answer, for this game at least, was both, with Merritt Mathias making an unexpected start up front, Yanez behind her, and Christine Nairn benched in favor of a more defensive option in the midfield. Kristen McNabb also made her first start at center back since week 3, spelling Rachel Corsie, who picked up a knock while playing for Scotland last week.
Much like the Reign, Kansas City likes to play a high pressure defense, which necessitated some adjustments in how Seattle built their attack. Gone was the usual slow, deliberate passing around in the back, and instead Seattle presented a number of different looks in the midfield and attacking players rotated freely in an effort to confuse and stymie the Blues and open up passing channels to get the ball forward quickly and break free of the pressure.
As a result, Seattle’s passing and possession were significantly down in this game compared to normal, but the Reign ultimately ended up with more scoring opportunities than Kansas City.
Haley Kopmeyer (6; 3 saves) – Kopmeyer had a bit of a mixed game. She made two great diving saves on hard, knuckling shots — one each half — but also had a few poor turnovers. The most glaring was in the 54th minute, when Kristen McNabb passed a ball back to her at the top of the box and Sydney Leroux gave very modest chase, but Kopmeyer severely under-hit her pass up field and it went straight to Shea Groom for a 2 vs. 2 opportunity. Groom tried to chip the backpedaling Kopmeyer and had her beat, but fortunately the shot arced just wide of the post.
On the two Kansas City goals there is little fault with Kopmeyer’s actions. On Alexa Newfield’s header in the first half she made the right choice to try and close down the angle in case Newfield redirected the ball back toward the opposite post, but instead the ball was lobbed up almost perfectly to get over her outstretched fingertips and still drop in time to slip under the crossbar. If Kopmeyer was a half-inch taller she might have kept that one out, as she got at least one fingertip onto the ball as it sailed above her. The second KC goal came out of the blue off a blistering cross by Yael Averbuch, and Kopmeyer was smartly defending against a potential shot while trusting her defenders to track any potential runners.
Carson Pickett (6; caution 74’, off 80’) – I thought Pickett had a good game overall, limiting Shea Groom’s attacking opportunities along her flank. Early in the game Groom showed her speed and blazed past Pickett and Lindsay Elston to put in an excellent cross from the corner, but after that Pickett seemed to adjust to the speedy threat and stayed back a lot more, which notably reduced her number of touches and passes compared to typical.
Seattle also played less out of the back this game due to KC’s high press, so Pickett was called upon less in the attacking phase, but she made up for this with some good interceptions, defensive pressure, and a few nice long through balls and crosses. Because of these changes, her passing was by far the worst on the team, completing only half of her 20 attempted passes. Her tactical foul in the 74th minute smartly broke up a promising Kansas City counter attack and was a well-earned caution.
Kristen McNabb (5) – McNabb earned her first start since the debacle in Boston in week 3, returning to the back line in place of the recuperating Rachel Corsie. Overall she and the Reign defense performed reasonably well, limiting Kansas City to few scoring opportunities inside the 18, although the few times the Blues did break into the box they were highly successful. On the first goal McNabb stepped over to defend Erika Tymrak along the end line after Tymrak got past Rebekah Stott, but McNabb opted to hold back and defend against a potential shot or dribble, which gave Tymrak space to loft the ball over her and find Newfield running in toward the back post. Some more aggression would have been helpful there, since she had support from Stott and Kopmeyer behind her.
She also had one particularly poor pass in the 12th minute, when she tried to push a long pass to Lidnsay Elston at midfield but only hit the ball with about half the necessary power and sent it straight to a trio of Kansas City players. Fortunately, no one was expecting such a pass and Lauren Barnes was able to step up and win the second ball and prevent a dangerous counter.
Lauren Barnes (6) – Barnes once again anchored a very young Reign back line, working to keep them organized and alert to a speedy and clinical Kansas City attack, and helping to clean up any messes left by her teammates. They mostly limited Kansas City to low probability chances, but the two times the Blues did break through the defensive ranks they were lethal with their finishing. Kansas City’s high press also meant the Reign couldn’t use their typical plan of deliberate possession out of the back, which cut Barnes’ passing and possession by about a third.
On the first Kansas City goal Barnes was marking the far post, presumably to defend against a potential low cross through the box, and she failed to identify Alexa Newfield’s run into the box until it was too late. On the second goal she was again marking the far post, this time as part of defending a corner kick, and again realized a Blues attacker was making a diagonal run just a moment too late. In both cases other Reign defenders should have been tracking the runs, but as the last defender back Barnes needs to be more alert to seeing those types of plays develop and react accordingly.
Rebekah Stott (5) – Stott had a Jekyll and Hyde game. On defense she was meek and was too easily challenged off the ball several times, with the most egregious example coming on the first Kansas City goal, where Tymrak simply brushed her off while chasing down a pass toward the end line. Several times Tymrak and Newfield got past her and put in good crosses and passes.
In attack, Stott had the most touches of anyone on the Reign, put in a number of nice crosses, created two chances, and had a good shooting opportunity on a corner kick, but unfortunately her well struck shot was not aimed particularly well. Overall her performance was much better than in other recent matches, but again the combination of a hot day and speedy opposition seemed to challenge her. It will be interesting to see if and how she adjusts to facing the same opponent again this weekend.
Lindsay Elston (5; caution 73’) – Elston started for the first time since the opening game, this time in her more accustomed midfield role. Her primary contribution was to switch the focus of attack throughout the game, and she did well to distribute the ball (82% pass completion) and to recycle play on corners and free kicks, most notably getting a head on the long Reign corner that eventually led to Megan Rapinoe’s goal.
Her biggest negatives were in the defensive phase, where she seemed a step slow to get back and mark KC attackers and wasn’t as aggressive in applying pressure as I would have liked. Several times she was also caught dribbling in midfield and turned over the ball for dangerous counter attacks when a quick pass would have been more effective. I thought she was a bit hard done by the caution, as it was only her second foul of the game and wasn’t particularly rough or tactical.
Jess Fishlock (6) – With the absence of Rumi Utsugi, Fishlock was tasked with being a more defensive midfielder again, leaving the playmaking to others. In this role she was less flashy and couldn’t do as much in the attacking phase, but she was all over the middle of the park intercepting passes and disrupting play. Toward the end of the game she had a couple of bad touches and passes, likely due to the heat and fatigue, but otherwise her vision and distribution were great, although her shooting left a bit to be desired.
Beverly Yanez (5; off 65’) – Yanez still looked to be dealing a bit with the laceration that kept her out of the game two weeks ago, and being fouled four times probably didn’t help things. She started as the central attacking midfielder, but tended to drift out wide or up high as the Seattle attack morphed and players regularly switched spots. Near the end of the first half she stretched oddly on a challenge and came up tenderly; after that point she switched roles with Merritt Mathias and moved up top permanently. Ultimately I would have liked to see her move involved in the game, but Kansas City seemed to particularly target her, and it’s never a bad thing to win free kicks for your team if you can’t get clear chances yourself.
Nahomi Kawasumi (8; assist 31’, goal 81’, PotM) – Kawasumi quietly had an exceptional performance on Saturday. She was again heavily involved in both the attack and defense, sometimes even dropping back behind Stott to help her out. As the Seattle attack morphed and shifted, she occasionally found herself as the central midfielder, and even briefly swapped sides again with Rapinoe. Through all of this she did an excellent job of developing attacking opportunities, with four chances created on the night and a team-high 44 attempted passes.
On Megan Rapinoe’s goal she smartly recycled possession after the initial Seattle corner kick and shot was blocked, pushing the ball back out to Rapinoe to stretch the defense and start another attack instead of lobbing another cross into heavy traffic herself. On her own goal, she found a seam between two Kansas City defenders, and then smartly pulled the ball back to deke the onrushing Brittany Taylor, before slamming the shot home.
She did have a brief bad spell with two bad turnovers minutes apart near the 20th minute. The first was a bad touch about 35 yards from the Reign goal that went straight to Shea Groom, and Naho attempted to recover but ended up fouling Groom for a dangerous KC free kick opportunity that fortunately went wide of goal. Minutes later she tried a little flick move, but she either woefully mishit the ball or was not in sync with her teammates because it again went to a Kansas City attacker, but Lo’eau LaBonta’s long, knuckling shot was effectively parried by Kopmeyer. After that, Naho cleaned up her game tremendously and didn’t have another notably bad touch all night.
Merritt Mathias (6) – Mathias had an interesting game in her first full game since her suspension for hair pulling. She started as the central forward, shifted to more of an outside midfield role near the end of the first half, and eventually dropped back to replace Pickett in defense near the end of the game. This formidfender performance made it far more challenging to judge her game, but her stats were solid and she did everything asked of her with aplomb. She also showed great self control, committing no fouls and suffering three, one of which was a rough challenge with an old nemesis, Shea Groom.
At the beginning of the game she looked a bit rusty as a forward, with several chances where she would do something smart with possession only to make a poor touch and turn over the ball, or to needlessly dribble into pressure. She eventually simplified her game and was more effective up front in applying high pressure and occupying the defense. Although the camera angles are inconclusive, it looks like she had a role in the Rapinoe goal, by either screening Barnhart herself or attracting enough extra attention that the Kansas City defense was distracted by her presence in the box while the ball looped in. Near the end of the game, on defense, she did well to be patient in her defending and limit the danger posed by Groom’s speed, and she also hit a fantastic long pass to find Christine Nairn cutting between two Blues defenders.
Megan Rapinoe (7; goal 31’, off 89’) – Rapinoe was both figuratively and literally all over the field in this game, starting as left forward but popping up at times as the central forward, right midfielder, and eventually in the left midfield zone, but with apparent freedom to roam and awareness from her teammates that she would be moving around a lot.
Her goal in the 31st minute was a trademark “try shit” chance from 30 yards out, and she put enough spin and loop on the ball that it trickled under Barnhart and into the net. It’s definitely not something with a high probability of success, but when you attempt enough of those type of chances the numbers eventually fall in your favor. Interestingly, that was the only one of her four shots on the night that ended up on target, despite having several better looks throughout the game.
Beyond shooting, Rapinoe’s dribbling and ball control was on point in this game, and she showed a willingness to hold the ball in tight quarters and draw several defenders before playing the ball to now-open teammates, and she was a willing defender, dropping back regularly to help win the ball and pressure Kansas City attackers. On first watch, I had Rapinoe pegged as my player of the match because I kept noticing her all over the field and trying all sorts of stuff, but ultimately upon rewatching the game I came to the conclusion that Naho’s contributions were more effective and important for the overall outcome.
Katie Johnson (6) – Johnson brought a change of pace and different look to the Reign attack when she came on for Bev Yanez. She provided strong hold-up play and allowed Seattle to play more directly and break through Kansas City’s high pressure, and had a great scoring opportunity in the 73rd minute when she broke through the Blues’ back line and fired off a pair of shots that were saved by Nicole Barnhart and Becky Sauerbrunn, respectively. On a similar play a few minutes later she again dribbled in aggressively before pushing a pass wide to Christine Nairn, whose pin-point cross found Naho Kawasumi for Seattle’s second goal. In only 25 minutes on the field she tied for a team high with two shots on goal, and once again showed that she should be in contention for more playing time.
Christine Nairn (incomplete; on 80’, assist 81’) – Nairn and and Katie Johnson complemented each other well in the attack, both bringing a burst of fresh energy to challenge the beleaguered Kansas City defense. Her first touch of the game, just moments after coming onto the field, was a beautiful one-time cross to Naho to assist on the second Seattle goal. In the 87th minute she had a well-timed run between defenders and got on the end of a Pickett through ball near the corner, putting another quality cross into the box that just missed several Seattle attackers. Hopefully Nairn can build off the confidence she showed in her brief appearance in this game.
Kiersten Dallstream (incomplete; on 89’) – Dallstream came on moments from the final whistle and had barely any chance to impact the game. She did well to chase down a few balls and keep Kansas City pinned in their own end in stoppage time, preserving the draw.
Farhad Dadkho (7) – This was another game featuring two teams who were more interested in tactical play than physical play, and the referee did a fine job letting them play, and there weren’t any particularly controversial moments in the game that needed careful attention. The game deteriorated a bit as fatigue set in, and he responded by issuing three cautions in a three minute span, although I thought the cards to Lindsay Elston and Shea Groom were borderline as they weren’t particularly egregious and were only the second fouls committed by each of them.
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