Seattle Reign FC hosted the Boston Breakers on Saturday night, looking to make amends for their 3-0 defeat in Boston earlier this season, along with their equally disappointing 2-0 loss in North Carolina the week prior. Both sides had a number of dangerous opportunities, but ultimately they split the points after trading first-half goals.
Seattle used the same line-up as the one that disappointed in North Carolina, but this time the midfield showed much better organization and cohesion and was able to create a number of good attacking opportunities, although unfortunately the Reign were unable to capitalize on them. The midfield is still working out its optimal formation and tactics in the absence of Jess Fishlock, but each of the players in that band has shown strengths over the past three weeks; the main challenge now is getting them to play to those strengths more consistently.
Seattle’s attack has also morphed over the past month, as Megan Rapinoe has found a vein of good form. Thus, far more attacking looks have been coming up her channel with passes from the central midfield, and we’ve seen less of the centerback to Stott to Naho strategy that was used so effectively earlier in the season.
Haley Kopmeyer (6; 2 saves) – Kopmeyer had one difficult save in this game, a diving fingertip deflection of a tough Tiffany Weimer shot in the 26th minute. Beyond that most of Boston’s attempts were speculative at best, other than the point-blank shot by Adriana Leon, where Kopmeyer was in position but had no hope of preventing the goal. A more generous scorer could have credited her with several more saves since she did well to claim a number of Boston crosses and chips into the box that were nominally on frame, albeit without much power behind them.
Aside from one poor goal kick, Kopmeyer was once again consistent between the pipes, showing the amount of growth she’s had in her five years with the team. Seattle has faced the most attempted shots of any team this season (230, with FCKC next closest at 211 shots faced), but has conceded fewer goals and faced less on target than several teams who have faced far fewer shot attempts. You never want to be leading the league in shots faced, but Kopmeyer has shown herself to be up to the challenge thus far.
Carson Pickett (5) – Pickett had a bit of a mixed game in the back. She was the player primarily responsible for tracking Adriana Leon on the Boston goal, and several other times she got caught in the middle of the field and ceded a lot of wide space for Boston players to put in potentially dangerous crosses. She also made a poor challenge on Midge Purce in the 72nd minute where the speedy attacker was able to dink the ball past her and burst into space for a shot that was deflected out for a corner. However, Pickett balanced those issues with some nice 1-v-1 defending and a beautiful cross into the box in the 39th minute that just drifted over Lindsay Elston’s head and missed finding Naho on the far post by a half-step. She also cleaned up her passing nicely this week, completing nearly 71% of her attempts.
The Breakers goal started with a Boston corner, where Pickett followed Leon to the opposite side of the field. The initial corner was cleared to midfield, but Seattle didn’t reset their shape because Boston was able to recycle possession and move the ball back into the area quickly. For at least the third time this season, Seattle’s defense was unable to deal with a diagonal ball through the box toward the far post, with an attacker making a run and a Reign defender dropping off to cover the post instead of challenge the attacker, and this time Leon was able to hammer it home. Pickett has been the defender on at least two of those, and hopefully it’s a shortcoming the team can identify and remedy.
Lauren Barnes (6) – Barnes had a mostly disciplined game in the back, serving as the fulcrum for building possession and limiting Boston’s opportunities in the middle of the field. Her defense seemed to improve as the game went on, and she had several blocks of Boston shots and crosses. She also hit a couple of very nice through balls in seams between the Boston defense, most notably in the 67th minute where she found Rapinoe in stride running toward the Boston corner.
She did have one particularly poor pass in the 30th minute where she badly under-hit a chip toward Naho near midfield that was intercepted by Rosie White, who started a dangerous counter, and also made an ill-advised step and challenge in the 67th minute and got burned, which led to Boston’s most dangerous chance of the half, but fortunately a wide-open Adriana Leon mishandled Rosie White’s dangerous cross and Kopmeyer was able to smother the ball.
Kristen McNabb (7) – McNabb did well to clean up several messes for the Seattle defense, staying at home more than her center back partner. She and Barnes combined often to build possession and look for channels through the Boston defense, and she ended with 87% pass completion even while attempting some longer passes to start attacking sequences, including a beautiful long pass that found Naho in attack in the 59th minute.
Toward the end of the game, when Boston had several potential attacks during stoppage time, McNabb also smartly cleared several balls out of play and slowed play down to let the defense regroup and kill any potential momentum, including one where she hustled back to salvage what would have been a Boston corner kick and instead push it out for a throw.
Rebekah Stott (6) – The home/away enigma (or maybe the hot & muggy vs. comfortable weather enigma?) of Rebekah Stott continues, as she once again rebounded from a poor away performance to put in a quality showing at home. She was aggressive from the start, hitting in a nice cross in the 13th minute and showing some great dribbling skills a few minutes later as she took a ball from the touch line all the way across the top of the Boston box before laying off a pass to Rapinoe. After Rapinoe misplayed that pass and turned it over, Stott remarkably continued to chase into the far corner and won possession back to keep the attack alive.
Defensively Stott also had a much better game, with good pressure and defensive positioning throughout the match. In the 69th minute she had a critical clearance as the last defender back, although some of her other clearances were needlessly rushed and resulted in unforced turnovers.
Lindsay Elston (6) – Elston has really settled into her midfield role, having yet another quality game. For the second week in a row she had four shots, with two on target, and both of those were good opportunities. Her first shot came when Boston’s defense mishit a clearance and the ball blooped to her feet about 8 yards from goal, and she had the awareness to turn and quickly shoot. Her other shot on target came in the 47th minute, when she had a nice flick of a Naho Kawasumi chip into the box that required a good, diving save from Abby Smith.
In midfield, Elston did well to switch play and move the ball up field in attack, and served as the trailing runner on several attacking opportunities where she ended up in the right spot to win the ball or attempt a shot. Defensively she and the rest of the midfield helped clog channels and intercept passes.
On the negative side, Elston still needs to improve her first touch to make her attacking moves more dangerous, she needs to pick up her tempo to keep the game moving and avoid getting closed down so easily by the opposition. Possibly related to this, her passing accuracy was also much lower than her midfield teammates (64% versus 80%+). Her final shot in the 77th minute was maybe not the best option there, since it was from distance and not struck well and she had several passing options available.
Rumi Utsugi (5) – After her stellar performance as an injury sub replacing Jess Fishlock three weeks ago, Utsugi has seemed a bit lackluster and hesitant in her more recent appearances. She had several weak 50/50 challenges where she seemed unwilling to go fully into the challenge, and several poor passes and touches where she seemed out of sync with her teammates. She balanced that by generally applying good pressure in the midfield and winning a number of second balls. Her more cautious passing while building possession out of the back was also good.
The Reign midfield has been in flux all season, particularly with Fishlock out, so some of these issues might be due to Utsugi’s role still not being clearly defined. At times she was clearly the defensive mid, but at other times Nairn or Elston assumed that role and Utsugi moved further up field, where she looked less comfortable.
Christine Nairn (7; PotM) – Nairn had a stellar game as the primary midfield playmaker for Seattle. She had very good vision throughout the game, and made excellent choices with her distribution and passing. She had several excellent passes to set up attacks. Her highlight of the night came in the 73rd minute, when she sent an arcing pass up to Naho, who split the Boston defense and was breaking in on Abby Smith, but Smith identified the danger and charged out to block the shot. Nairn had a number of other nice through balls, and was unlucky not to see one result in a Reign goal. Her great play making earned her my player of the match honors for this game, despite not getting on the score sheet.
Nairn was also very active in defense, especially in helping Carson Pickett deal with Boston players getting the ball wide near the Reign corner. Even with the number of high risk/high reward passes she played up to attackers, she still ended with 85% pass completion and attempted the second-most passes on the team.
Nahomi Kawasumi (6; goal 32’, off 79’) – Naho showed great awareness on her goal, striking the ball quickly and precisely to loop over Abby Smith before she could recover from her botched clearance attempt. Aside from the goal, Naho played a more supporting role in this game, putting in several good crosses, applying defensive pressure, and intercepting a number of Boston passes. She had a great through ball in the 63rd minute to put Merritt Mathias in on goal, but Abby Smith just barely tipped the first ball and then scrambled enough to clear the second ball before Mathias could put in a good shot. Unfortunately, there were a few times—especially in the first half—where Naho seemed to be on a different page than her teammates and passes went to no one in particular.
Merritt Mathias (6; off 68’) – Mathias seems to be settling back into a target forward role, and has looked much more comfortable there in the past two matches. This week she was much more consistently involved in the game. She and Megan Rapinoe traded off applying high pressure and kept Boston from getting comfortable in the back. In the 23rd minute she showed some nice creativity in flicking a throw-in over her defender’s head to get around her and take a good shot, and similarly in the 58th minute she had good vision to side-heel a ball with her back to goal, which found the on-rushing Rapinoe to spring her in attack.
Megan Rapinoe (7) – Rapinoe had a mixed game, at least by her standards. Most of her game was still very good—the high pressure, the dribbling in tight spaces, the passing vision—but her shot was off all game, and as the match wore on she had a number of uncharacteristically poor first touches. Her only shot on frame for the night was a well-placed free kick early in the game, but after that every attempt went harmlessly high or wide. After working much of the game to give herself space with the ball and dial in her shot, near the end of the match she seemed to realize that it just wasn’t happening, and instead started looking to play-make and set up teammates more. Most notably, she had a beautiful cross into the Breakers box the 83rd minute, but unfortunately Bev Yanez couldn’t quite direct her header on frame.
She was still high-quality in all other phases of her game, including defensive support and pressure, and she also won four fouls. Of particular note, it was her high pressure on Abby Smith that led directly to a botched clearance and the Reign goal.
Bev Yanez (6; on 68’) – Bev came onto the field as the target forward, and had a great 10 minutes in that role before moving wide following the introduction of Katie Johnson. At the top, she did well to hold up play and win second balls, and had a few nice lay-off passes to spring Reign attacks. After she moved outside she drifted in and out of play a bit more, but nearly got on the end of a nice Rapinoe cross and had an important headed clearance off a Boston corner in the dying moments of the match.
Katie Johnson (incomplete; on 79’) – I’m not sure if Johnson is hitting a rookie wall, if the Reign aren’t getting her good service, or if opponents have figured her out, but she’s been far less effective as a sub over the last few games compared to her impressive productivity off the bench earlier in the season. Once again she provided some high pressure and chased defenders, but finished her 11 minutes with only two touches and one incomplete pass.
Ramy Touchan (6) – Aside from one obviously miscalled throw-in in the 25th minute, which was mistakenly awarded to Boston and led to Weimer’s dangerous shot, there was little controversy in this game. No one was particularly reckless, and although Boston committed twice the number of fouls as Seattle (10 vs. 5), they were generally minor infractions but correctly called.
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