Saturday was a game to forget for Seattle Reign FC, who visited the North Carolina Courage for the first time and lost 2-0 in a game that was delayed for nearly two hours due to inclement weather. The combination of cross-country travel, injuries, weather delays, and facing the top team in the league combined for what could have been a much worse outcome had the Courage been a bit more precise in their finishing.
Seattle used nearly the same lineup as the one that was so effective against Portland the week before, swapping only Naho Kawasumi in place of Beverly Yanez, and with Rumi Utsugi starting in the position where she replaced the injured Jess Fishlock one week prior. For the first 20 minutes things looked promising, and Seattle nearly got on the board first thanks to a Kristen McNabb shot, but as the game progressed the entire Reign squad looked out of sorts, with innumerable poor touches, bad passes, and weak challenges, which enabled the Courage midfield and attack to run rampant.
There is often not much to be gained from reviewing anomalous bad games like this, although it will be telling if Seattle faces similar struggles when they return to North Carolina in early August.
Haley Kopmeyer (6; 3 saves) – Kopmeyer was left out to dry by her defense on both Courage goals. The first came after Lu Barnes deflected a cross straight to the foot of Ashley Hatch about eight yards from goal, and the second came on a scramble off a corner where Megan Rapinoe tried to clear the ball out of the six yard box but instead kicked it directly into the leg of the onrushing McCall Zerboni, although the reason Rapinoe needed to clear the ball was that Kop was caught off to the far side after shifting to defend the long cross that was headed back across the box.
Kopmeyer and the entire Reign defense looked out of sorts for much of the night, although two bright spots stand out — first, a quality save off a Sam Mewis shot in the 31st minute, and second, a critical 36th minute fingertip deflection of a dangerous Lynn Williams cross that was destined for an easy tap-in by an unmarked Hatch on the far post.
Ashley Hatch almost made it 2-0 Courage. pic.twitter.com/yFkJIz7qQ4— Ride of theValkyries (@rovalks) July 9, 2017
Carson Pickett (6; PotM) – Pickett was the most solid defender for the Reign, with several good clearances to put out fires, some good recovery runs to clean up messes left by her teammates, and a team-high six tackles. It was on those strengths that she earned player of the match honors, although it was still a flawed performance, highlighted by her miserable 56% pass completion rate and several times where Courage attackers found space out wide on her side to put in dangerous crosses.
Lauren Barnes (3) – Barnes had a game to forget, getting burned often by Courage attackers and committing numerous unforced errors. The difficulties started in the 7th minute, when Ashley Hatch easily deked her with a simple cut for the first shot on goal of the game. On the first Courage goal, McCall Zerboni’s cross looked to be travelling harmlessly through the Reign box before Barnes deflected it straight to Ashley Hatch for an open shot. Three minutes later, Lu made a poor decision to step up trying to challenge Lynn Williams for a ball that was always Williams’ to win, enabling her to burn past the Reign defense for a cross that would have led to Hatch’s second goal of the game if not for a last ditch deflection by Kopmeyer.
It didn’t get much better for Barnes in the second half, with several more attempted clearances or passes that went straight to Courage attackers, including a particularly bad chipped ball in the Reign box in the 60th minute that Hatch intercepted, but her shot was blocked by Carson Pickett.
Kristen McNabb (5; caution 71’) – You know it was a rough day when your center back has the most shots on goal of the entire team. Both of McNabb’s opportunities came off of a Reign corner kick in the 17th minute, but they were well saved by Katelyn Rowland. She also had a very nice dribble early in the second half, bringing the ball up through midfield and threading a pass to Merritt Mathias between two Courage defenders, but unfortunately the ball got tangled up in Mathias’ feet.
Defensively, McNabb suffered from a lot of the same flaws as her teammates, not challenging strongly enough for 50/50 balls, under-hitting clearances and passes, and letting the Courage run rampant in the box. She also failed to step up and pressure attackers several times, most notably in the 67th minute, when she kept backpedaling as Hatch dribbled into the Reign box and eventually took a shot that luckily went far over the crossbar.
Rebekah Stott (3) – Stott seems to have particular trouble with Reign away games. Her worst matches by far were the losses at Boston, at Chicago, and this game, and in each case the flaws have been the same — poor decisions about when to challenge and losing track of opponents running wide to put in crosses or shots. On the first Courage goal, Stott had a throw-in in Seattle’s defensive third, but threw the ball directly to McCall Zerboni to set up the play instead of her intended target of Christine Nairn. She likewise completely lost track of Zerboni in the 60th minute, who got on the end of a Makenzy Doniak cross and rung a shot off the post.
Lindsay Elston (5) – Elston had the best performance of any Reign midfielder, but this was a low bar. She had some nice long passes in the first half and a team-high four shots, including a nice attempt in the 49th minute, although her final shot in the 89th minute was an ill-advised 30 yard effort that came after some nice work to dribble out of pressure. For much of the night she was tasked with tracking Sam Mewis, which meant she was at a significant disadvantage for any aerial challenges, and like much of the midfield and defense, her ground challenges were also questionable for much of the night, including a particularly weak attempt to challenge Zerboni as she dribbled into the corner to put in the cross that set up the first Courage goal.
Rumi Utsugi (3) – After her impressive emergency performance last week, subbing in for the injured Jess Fishlock, I had high hopes that Utsugi would be well prepared to deal with the strong Courage midfield in this game. Instead she had her poorest performance of the season, spending much of the game chasing play (or getting caught flat-footed as play went past her) and, like much of the team, committing a significant number of bad passes and poor touches. Late in the first half she shifted and was the highest midfielder, which seemed to be a deliberate tactical adjustment since she was in the same position during portions of the second half, but it didn’t pay any dividends. I also thought she was lucky to escape without a caution for a particularly poor tackle attempt in the 74th minute.
Christine Nairn (3; off 79’) – Nairn’s best moment of the game came in the 17th minute, when she had a nice flick off the redirection of a long Rapinoe corner kick, which led to two good Kristen McNabb scoring opportunities. Beyond that, unfortunately, her touch was poor all night, and at times she was visibly frustrated by how poor her passes were, most notably in the 20th minute when she inexplicably hammered a ball into the stands when she intended to play a pass to Stott along the wing 10 yards up field.
Nahomi Kawasumi (4; off 69’) – Naho had a good first 15 minutes of the game, contributing to two scoring opportunities, but after that she disappeared from the attack, and only popped up when she dropped back to help the overwhelmed Reign defense. Like the rest of the team her struggles increased as the game progressed, and she was caught flat footed on several challenges where Courage attackers easily won what should have been 50/50 balls.
Merritt Mathias (5; off 83’) – If we rated just the first half of play, Mathias probably had the best performance of the night. She was involved from the start, did well with her hold-up play, and had some nice layoff passes to teammates to set up the rare Reign attacks. Unfortunately, as the game progressed, Seattle’s attack virtually vanished, and through no fault of her own Mathias was rarely involved after the first half-hour unless she dropped back into the midfield to challenge for balls. Without the Reign managing any sustained possession in the attacking third, Mathias’ best asset as a forward was wasted, and I was surprised she wasn’t subbed sooner to shake things up.
Megan Rapinoe (5) – Rapinoe had a few bright moments in the game, most notably at the end of the first half when she ran all the way from midfield to challenge Katelyn Rowland, who was killing time with the ball at her feet, successfully won the challenge, but unfortunately hurried her wide open shot and pushed it just wide of the far post.
Katelyn Rowland with a blunder sets up an open goal opportunity for Pinoe and -sigh- This takes us to halftime with the Courage up 1-0. pic.twitter.com/dWrPeMD3x5— Ride of theValkyries (@rovalks) July 9, 2017
That play encapsulated much of the game for Seattle — a brilliant moment followed by something just a bit off. Like much of the team, Rapinoe’s touch was often poor, with passes that were either badly under-hit, or sent to a different spot than the receiving player was expecting. One particularly egregious example came in the 27th minute, when she attempted a long pass back toward the center backs, but it fell into a dead space where Lynn Williams was by far the closest player. Williams picked up the ball and juked Barnes in a 1-v-1 challenge, but her shot streaked just wide. Rapinoe ended with an abysmal 55% pass completion rate as she unsuccessfully tried to force the attack forward.
Kiersten Dallstream (incomplete; on 69’) – Dallstream was a much needed injection of fresh energy to a beleaguered Reign attack. Shortly after entering she had Seattle’s first shot in nearly 25 minutes, although it was unfortunately blocked.
Beverly Yanez (incomplete; on 79’) & Katie Johnson (incomplete; on 83’) – I really would have liked to see these sub much earlier in the game, when it became clear that Seattle needed to bypass the midfield and send long balls up for the forwards to chase. Yanez has the ability to drop back as needed to pick up the ball, and Johnson’s best asset is her ability to hold up and challenge defenders, but by the time each of them got on the field the team was mentally defeated; they combined for only five touches on the ball and two passes.
Matthew Franz (4) – The Reign weren’t the only squad to put in a sloppy performance this week, as I thought the officiating was also somewhat suspect. It started with a fairly glaring uncalled side-arm foul throw by Taylor Smith in the 13th minute that led directly to a good Courage scoring chance. Megan Rapinoe similarly had a pretty obvious foul throw in the second half where her foot was visibly over the line.
Later in the first half there were two strange uncalled fouls a minute apart. The first was when Naho faced Jalene Hinkle 1-v-1 along the sideline, right in front of the assistant referee. Hinkle pretty clearly stepped on Naho’s foot as she went to ground to challenge and steal the ball, but no foul was called. Just after that, Merritt Mathias and Abby Erceg jumped for an aerial challenge and Erceg gave Mathias a two-handed push, but again play continued.
Near the end of the first half, Rapinoe and Elston both jumped for a ball and clattered heads, with Elston going down in a heap, but Franz allowed play to continue until the Courage deliberately played the ball out of bounds about 30 seconds later. Rapinoe rightfully gave Franz an earful for not immediately stopping play for a potential head injury.
I thought both cautions were appropriate, and felt that Utsugi probably also deserved a booking for her late tackle on Ashley Hatch in the 74th minute.
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