Two teams vying for an NWSL playoff spot face off this weekend, as Seattle Reign FC hosts Sky Blue FC on Saturday, July 22. The match, which kicks off at 7 p.m. PT, is the second of three meetings for the two teams this year. Seattle and Sky Blue played to a 1-1 draw in the opening game of the season.
Since that draw, both teams have experienced mixed performances. Seattle recently earned seven points in three matches, with two wins and a draw at home over the course of seven days. What followed, however, were two lackluster games that resulted in a loss on the road and draw at home. Reign FC currently sits in fifth at 5-3-6 (21 points).
Sky Blue, meanwhile, started slow but is undefeated in its last three matches, and has come from behind to earn points in the past two. In fact, the New Jersey side has recovered a league-best eight points from losing positions this season. Their recent form has propelled Sky Blue to third place, with a 7-6-2 record (23 points).
A win could catapult Seattle over Sky Blue in the league standings. Three points are crucial at this stage of the season, especially since the team’s next six games are all against clubs currently above Seattle.
Stop Sam Kerr
Sam Kerr with the ball at her feet is almost a guaranteed goal at the moment. After being unable to find the back of the net in April, the Australian forward now leads the lead in goals, with 10. It seems Kerr gets better the longer the game progresses, so the Reign will need to be disciplined defensively the entire match. Cutting off balls to Kerr is going to be critical—and seems to be the only way to stop her at the moment. That means the midfield will need to be coordinated and apply consistent pressure, shielding the backline from too many crosses or through balls.
Press hard, and early
While Sky Blue scores a lot of goals, they also give up plenty. In fact, the New Jersey side is tied for the league lead in goals conceded—letting in 23 in 15 matches. The defense is young and has dealt with a number of injuries, making them inconsistent and sometimes easy to break down. If Seattle wants a fighting chance, the team will need to take advantage of every scoring opportunity—something they neglected to do the week prior against Boston. Pressing hard, and pushing for a goal early, will have Sky Blue back on its heels.
Reign FC’s Larissa Crummer, a tall Australian target forward, is officially off the injury report. Depending on the game state, she could see her first minutes for Seattle.
Contain Kelley O’Hara
A key to stopping Kerr is denying her quality service, and much of the team’s late-game heroics lately has been due to both Kerr and Kelley O’Hara. The attacking right back has the speed and quality to put defenses under pressure. She also never gets tired. Both Megan Rapinoe and Carson Pickett are going to need to be in sync. Rapinoe is great at applying pressure up the field, and the more she can help recover balls here, the easier it will be for the Reign.
Seattle always seems to have a difficult time against Sky Blue, whose relentless pressure—especially in the midfield—seems to take Reign FC out of the game at times. But as Laura Harvey said, it’s not about their opponent. “It’s always about us, what we’re willing to do with and without the ball, what we’re willing to concede defensively, and what we want to try and expose them on, in terms of attacking.”
We’ve seen what happens when Seattle gets it right. If they can do that on Saturday, the results should be positive.
Seattle: OUT: Jess Fishlock (left knee MCL sprain), Diana Matheson (SEI – left knee ACL tear)
Sky Blue: OUT: Mandy Freeman (left ankle sprain), Erin Simon (D45 – left foot fracture)
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