We expected the rematch of Seattle Reign FC hosting FC Kansas City to be another tactical battle between two quality sides, but a red card to Lauren Barnes in only the 4th minute surprised everyone. Seattle played a woman down for essentially the entire match, but some smart tactical shifts and Kansas City’s lack of interest in pressing the game rewarded the home side with a hard-fought 1-1 draw.
Seattle adjusted to the ejection in several ways. First and foremost, Jess Fishlock moved to center back. Seattle’s outside backs also squeezed in more, helping to clog the area in front of goal and deny Kansas City opportunities within the box. While Kansas City took nearly two dozen shots, half of them were from outside the box, and only a quarter were on target.
To compensate for the wide defenders shifting in, the outside forwards moved into more of a two-way wingback role, and often interchanged with the remaining midfielders and forward to cover gaps. Seattle essentially defended in a 5-3-1, with the extra defender dropping back to help defend on whichever side Kansas City was attacking through (more often right than left).
Seattle also sacrificed their possession game, instead pushing the ball forward directly whenever possible, often through long punts from Haley Kopmeyer. The team ended with a season-low 325 passes attempted and 40% possession, but they made the most of their chances and had only two fewer shots on goal than Kansas City and far fewer off-target chances.
Haley Kopmeyer (7) – Kopmeyer showed her maturity in this game, adjusting on the fly after the red card and helping to dictate pace in the back. She was careful to slow the game down whenever possible, taking her time to set up goal kicks and holding the ball as long as possible before frequently dropping it at her feet to kick long whenever KC opted not to pressure her. She also sent the team up field for punts far more often to avoid getting trapped in the back, and did much better with her accuracy on long balls than in past games.
She also had three great saves on challenging shots, and after her defense broke down on the KC goal she did everything right to charge out and cut down the angle, but Brittany Ratcliffe’s shot was inch perfect and pinged in off the far post.
Carson Pickett (7) – After the red card, Pickett spent a lot more time in the middle of the field instead of wide, helping to pack the Reign box and deny Kansas City opportunities within the 18. This meant Blues players often outflanked her and were able to push in crosses unless Megan Rapinoe tracked back to defend. However, with so many Reign defenders in the box, very few crosses resulted in any real danger. Pickett also stepped up her 1-on-1 defending this match whenever Kansas City attackers tried taking her on, with four quality tackles and no fouls conceded on the night.
Kristen McNabb (7) – After only regaining a starting role last week due to Rachel Corsie’s injury, McNabb was abruptly and unexpectedly tasked with leading the back line for nearly the entire match this week. Jess Fishlock noted in her post-match comments that she relied heavily on McNabb to help direct her, and praised her guidance as the team adjusted following the red card.
The back pair share some blame for the Kansas City goal, as they were too far back to cover Alexa Newfield before her flick, and neither of them stepped over to cover Brittany Ratcliffe as she split them to break in on goal. After that, however, they found their bearings and did well to deny the Blues space in the box. McNabb did particularly well in 50/50 challenges and positioning herself defensively to stymie KC attackers.
Lauren Barnes (2; ejection 4’) – There’s no point dancing around the issue that this was an easily avoidable red card. Barnes poorly attempted to trap a ball played back to her near midfield, which gave Shea Groom enough time to close on her from 20 yards away and win the second ball, all while gaining a step on Barnes, who was the last defender back. From there it was a grappling contest as Groom charged forward toward goal, with both players jockeying for position and grabbing and holding off the other, but Groom had the better position.
As a last-ditch effort, Barnes first tried pulling Groom’s left arm back, and that slowed Groom enough that Barnes was able to get around to the other side and attempted to tackle the ball away from behind as Groom’s right arm got tangled with her, bringing them both down in rough fashion and dislocating Groom’s elbow.
Unfortunately the broadcast was having technical issues at that point so we didn’t get to see any alternate angles or a replay, but if there’s suitable evidence of deliberateness in the hold or take-down, I wouldn’t be stunned if the league Disciplinary Committee felt it was worthy of an additional game suspension. It was an uncharacteristic moment from a typically disciplined defender, and it put the Reign into a difficult position for at least two games, especially with Rachel Corsie sidelined with an injury.
Rebekah Stott (8) – The theme for the night was players stepping up, and like her back line counterparts, Stott had a particularly good performance. From the opening whistle she was applying good pressure and intercepting passes, and like her counterpart Pickett, she had four tackles on the night and no fouls conceded. She also showed much improved decision making when dribbling in attack. She was part of the build-up to the Reign goal, picking up a pass near the sideline and dribbling nicely across the top of the KC box through defensive traffic, before switching the ball to Pickett on the opposite side.
Even when she was beat on defense, she was able to recover and continue pressuring well. In particular, in the 44th minute she made a bad step on a pass to Alexa Newfield in the box, but spun around effectively and pressured Newfield into a weak shot from a dangerous spot. Her negative actions were significantly down this game, with just a few errant passes and one poor challenge.
In last week’s ratings I asked if Stott could adjust her game when facing the same opponent in better conditions, and even with the extra pressure of playing down most of the game the answer appears to be a resounding “yes.” For the final 15 minutes she shifted to center back following the introduction of Elli Reed, and continued her good performance in that role. It wouldn’t surprise me to see her starting in that spot next game.
Lindsay Elston (7; off 74’) – Elston finally found her footing in midfield this game. She had a great shot on goal just after the red card that forced a good save from Nicole Barnhart, and she orchestrated play in the midfield after Jess Fishlock moved back to the defensive band. Throughout the game she helped switch play and support the defense, and showed some good dribbling and passing decisions. Her dribbling in traffic helped set up the Reign goal by drawing Kansas City midfielders to her, which opened up a seam between the KC midfield and defense for Stott to exploit with dribbling of her own.
Her biggest negatives were that she conceded three fouls, and she looked gassed by the hour mark, which raises some concern about her fitness level and readiness to play again on short rest.
Jess Fishlock (8; PotM) – Jess had a difficult task this game, dropping back to the unfamiliar role of center back after Barnes’ ejection. It took a little time to get settled, as she and McNabb watched Brittany Ratcliffe waltz between them to score the Kansas City goal, but after that she showed why she’s such a great player and adapted well to the position while adding a bit of her usual destroyer mentality, especially with her picture-perfect tackle at the end of the first half.
@JessFishlock slide tackles will always be badass. no words. just look pic.twitter.com/1PantO1rsy— caroline (@afootballcypher) June 25, 2017
Even from the back line she was a scoring threat. She ended with a team-high three shots, including a great flick off a Megan Rapinoe corner kick in the 51st minute, which was cleared off the line by Brittany Taylor. Toward the end of the game she moved back into the midfield after Elli Reed came on, and was still chasing balls with high energy all the way to the final whistle. While she shares some responsibility for the Kansas City goal, I felt her versatility and quality of play throughout the rest of the match were enough to still earn player of the match honors.
Christine Nairn (7; off 86’) – The recurring theme of the night was improved play, and Nairn was no exception. Her benching last weekend apparently motivated her, and she had a great two-way performance in this match. With the Reign defense packing the box, she was often back chasing wide players and pressuring them to prevent crosses, and also had a number of good passes to switch the attack and set up good scoring opportunities. When Seattle would recover the ball in their defensive third, Nairn was often the outlet, and she was smart in her hold-up play and passing, often choosing smart, low-risk passes and balls back to the defense or Kopmeyer to slow down play and give the team a chance to reset and push up field.
Nahomi Kawasumi (7; goal 58’) – As usual, Naho put in a lot of work in both phases of play this game. She spent a lot of time in the defensive third supporting Stott, but also contributed significantly to Seattle’s two best scoring opportunities. The first came in the 50th minute, when Megan Rapinoe forced a turnover on the Kansas City defensive third that went to Naho, and she quickly threaded a through ball back to Rapinoe as she streaked behind the defense and took a great shot. On the Reign goal eight minutes later, Naho smartly positioned herself off the far post and was in perfect position to slam the ball home when the rebound bounced to her. Toward the end of the game, her performance suffered a bit as she became fatigued, and she had a number of poor passes and sloppy challenges in the final 15 minutes.
Merritt Mathias (5; off 61’) – Mathias had a tough task in this game, essentially being stranded up top as the lone forward after the red card, when her wide counterparts dropped back to support the midfield. She occasionally swapped roles with Rapinoe or Naho, going out wide while they drifted into the middle, and it was during one of these times that she put a good diagonal ball through the Kansas City box which led to Lindsay Elston’s quality 8th minute shot. Beyond that her contributions were limited as she chased the game, and she had only 20 touches on the night. I was a little surprised she wasn’t moved to right back immediately after the red card, with Stott moving to center back, but this might be an adjustment we see from the start for the next game.
Megan Rapinoe (8) – There’s no question that Megan Rapinoe is back to her pre-ACL form, if not better, and the team once again reaped the benefits of her two-way play. Like Naho, she essentially played two roles in this game, wing back and attacking forward, and did well in both tasks. She had several very nice through balls to split the Kansas City defense, attracted numerous defenders and opened up space several times with fancy footwork and precise dribbling under pressure, and pressured Kansas City players throughout the game, sometimes winning back the ball in dangerous spots for counter attacks. Rapinoe’s corner kicks were also consistently high quality, with one nearly going in for an Olympico, and a second immediately thereafter finding the foot of Fishlock and requiring a goal line clearance.
The Reign goal this week was a hybrid of the two goals they scored last week against Kansas City, starting with Rapinoe trying an arcing shot from the sideline about 30 yards out. This time, instead of blooping past the keeper, the ball was deflected by Becky Sauerbrunn, and the ensuing fingertip save dropped to Naho near the corner of the 6 yard box for a repeat of her shot from last week.
Katie Johnson (5; on 61’) – Johnson provided a target for Seattle to start pushing balls forward more directly as they became fatigued in the second half. She had some nice hold up play, but her touch seemed a bit off this game, and several times she had sloppy traps or dribbling that resulted in unnecessary turnovers. She also pressured the Kansas City midfield and back line less than I would have liked, giving them ample time to set up attacking opportunities as she jogged back.
Elli Reed (incomplete; on 74’) – I was beginning to wonder what it would take for Reed to see playing time this season, and we finally got our answer in a game where Seattle needed all the defensive help it could muster as Kansas City pressed their advantage in the final quarter of an hour. Despite the rust, Reed did reasonably well in her limited time on the field, making several good challenges and clearances. In the 85th minute she was curiously caught on the opposite side of the field, leaving Maegan Kelly unmarked in the corner, but fortunately Kelly’s first touch was poor and Stott was able to slide over and clear the danger.
Beverly Yanez (incomplete; on 86’) – Yanez made a brief cameo in midfield. She committed a smart foul near the center circle soon after entering which slowed play down and enabled Seattle to regroup on defense, but beyond that she had little time to make any impact on the game.
Ekaterina Koroleva (6) – I have no complaints about the red card. Some officials whistle plays like that more quickly, even finding reasons to award the kick to the defensive team when two players are grappling, but to my eye it was an even challenge up until the tackle. Beyond that there weren’t any particularly controversial plays, and I’m pretty sure Rapinoe even talked Koroleva into later issuing Groom a caution on what ended up being the only foul she committed.
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