On Saturday evening, Seattle Reign FC met Sky Blue FC at Memorial Stadium for the second time this season, and once again the game was a nail-biter, with Seattle holding on to win 5-4 after giving up four straight goals to let Sky Blue back into what was shaping up to be another Seattle rout.
The Reign made two changes going into this match, moving Merritt Mathias to right back in place of Rebekah Stott, and starting Bev Yanez at center forward. Seattle’s attacking changes paid off handsomely, but the defense still struggled with the speed and variety that Sky Blue presents in their offense.
Sky Blue lists their line-up as a 3-5-2, but Kelley O’Hara essentially covers the entire right side of the field to defend and join the attack, and the rest of their midfield band of four is also given freedom to roam, meaning that Seattle’s defense was often facing six or seven attackers who could pop up anywhere along the Seattle back line, making them difficult to track. The Reign did well to contain the danger in the first half, but had a complete breakdown in the second half as Sky Blue peppered the Seattle goal with shots, including a string of 16 unanswered shots between Bev Yanez’s goal in the 49th minute and Megan Rapinoe’s game winner in the 87th.
Seattle was clearly missing the defensive contributions and commanding presence of Jess Fishlock, and will go into a challenging match at North Carolina in two weeks hoping that they can stay more disciplined in the back and limit their mistakes.
Haley Kopmeyer (6; 8 saves) – For the third time this season, and second time against Sky Blue, Kopmeyer was asked to make eight saves. She faced a season-high 12 shots on target, and had a couple of huge saves, including a tough shot by Samantha Kerr in the 16th minute, a knuckling Kelley O’Hara shot in the 53rd minute, a difficult, screened shot by Daphne Corboz in the 55th minute, and a snap reaction save on a shot that ultimately didn't count due to an offside call in first-half stoppage time.
On most of the Sky Blue goals there was little more that Kopmeyer could have done. O’Hara struck her penalty well; Corboz’s goal came after an unexpected deflection by Kristen McNabb; and Sam Kerr found a seam between defenders to head home the equalizer. Even on the second goal, Kopmeyer made a solid save on a Kelley O’Hara breakaway shot, but unfortunately she blocked the shot directly into the path of Leah Galton for an easy tap-in rebound.
Carson Pickett (5) – The entire Reign defense had difficulties in this game, but each defender’s woes were different. In Pickett’s case, she regularly pinched inside, ceding acres of space in the corner, which Kelley O’Hara kept exploiting, most notably on good Sky Blue scoring opportunities in the 32nd and 55th minutes. Late in the game she was also caught needlessly dribbling in her defensive third and was dispossessed, leading to a dangerous Sky Blue counterattack and shot that thankfully went wide.
On the positive side, Pickett had seven tackles and improved her passing accuracy modestly. She also had a great attacking sequence in the 70th minute where she got forward with the ball in the Sky Blue corner, passed to Rapinoe, and then aggressively recovered the ball after Rapinoe misplayed it and dribbled down the end line while juking several defenders. Her ensuing cross streaked across the 6 yard box and found Naho on the far post for what should have been Seattle’s 5th goal, but was ruled offside.
Lauren Barnes (4) – As might be expected given her veteran status, Barnes was the most stable element of the Reign defense in this chaotic game, but even she struggled to deal with Sky Blue’s speed and interplay. Lu had the most positive actions in my notes, doing well with her tackles, challenges and 1-on-1 defending, especially at the end of the game when Seattle was clinging to a one-goal lead.
However, like her compatriots on the back line, she had a tendency to lose track of her mark throughout the game, and her timing and touch seemed to be off in the second half. In the 53rd minute she badly mistimed her jump on a header and the ball skimmed over her head and directly to Sam Kerr, and several of her clearances went straight to the Sky Blue midfield for quick counter attacks. On the final Sky Blue goal, Kerr found space directly in front of the goal between Pickett and Barnes, and Lu was unable to step forward in time to challenge for the cross that Kerr headed in.
Kristen McNabb (4) – Considering all of the activity in the Reign final third, particularly in the second half, McNabb had a surprisingly quiet game. She had only half as many passes and a third fewer touches than Barnes, and wasn’t involved in nearly as much defensively in my notes. The defense struggled to keep track of the ever-shifting Sky Blue attack, and McNabb got notably burned by Raquel Rodriguez, who had a free header on a 54th minute corner kick that fortunately went just wide.
The third Sky Blue goal was also most directly due to her attempting to block/clear a Leah Galton cross, but her toe poke only went to the top of the box where two Sky Blue attackers were wide open, and Daphne Corboz was able to slam the ball home. Not only was the clearance mishit, but she also probably needed to be watching at least one of those open players at the top of the box.
Merritt Mathias (3; caution 30’, off 69’) – Laura Harvey mentioned in her post-game comments that she wanted Mathias in defense this game due to the dangerous speed presented by the Sky Blue attack. That was on full display early in the match, when Maya Hayes received a pass with her back to goal and Mathias stepped up trying to prevent the turn, but Hayes laid off a pass to the onrushing Taylor Lytle, who blazed past Mathias and into the corner to put in a cross.
In the 30th minute Sam Kerr was able to get around Mathias and nearly cut in toward goal, but Mathias pulled her down just inches outside the edge of the box for the first caution of the game. A nearly identical situation occurred a half-hour later, when Leah Galton was able to turn the corner, but this time the foul was a foot closer to goal and resulted in a penalty kick. Mathias also shared responsibility for the second Sky Blue goal, as she was drawn over to the middle of the box by Sam Kerr, which gave Kelley O’Hara and Leah Galton a huge amount of open space behind her to get onto the end of McKenzie Meehan’s cross.
Lindsay Elston (4; off 72’) – Elston started the game promisingly, showing a good passing eye and switching play nicely in the midfield. In the 19th minute she put in a long shross that nearly caught Kailen Sheridan off guard and forced a last-ditch punch over the bar.
Elston's "Why not?" effort that forced a Sheridan save. pic.twitter.com/aO73rzXtEf— Ride of theValkyries (@rovalks) July 23, 2017
She also had a nice through ball in the 25th minute as Seattle started finding cracks in the Sky Blue defense. After that, the quality of her play dropped off and became more sloppy. She committed a season-high four fouls, several of which were due to clumsy challenges.
Rumi Utsugi (6) – Aside from one particularly poor 50/50 challenge early in the game, Utsugi looked much more like her regular self in this game, clearing danger in the midfield and winning a number of second balls thanks to Seattle’s high press. For most of the game Utsugi stayed back as the defensive midfielder, often dropping even with the center backs to build possession out of the back. She had a team-high 52 pass attempts, and was second only to Rapinoe in touches.
The entire Reign midfield had some struggles defensively in the second half, as Sky Blue peppered the Reign goal with shots, putting 10 on target and going wide with another 6. Some of that was because Sky Blue started bypassing the midfield and playing more directly, which required the Reign midfield to drop back to support, but there still seemed to be some big gaps that Sky Blue was able to exploit. Utsugi spent a lot of the half chasing down and intercepting balls in the defensive third to clean up messes.
Christine Nairn (5) – Nairn was strong in the midfield in the first half, but faded as the game progressed and Sky Blue went more direct in their play. She had a number of good recoveries and interceptions in the opening frame. Her free kick service throughout the game was also excellent, dropping two of them almost perfectly into the danger zone near the top of the 6 yard box that just missed connecting with Reign attackers as Sheridan scrambled out to clear them. Near the end of the game she found her rhythm again, and it was her recovery of a loose ball near midfield that started the sequence leading to the final Reign goal.
Nahomi Kawasumi (7; assist 49’) – Naho had another one of her quietly great games, providing a picture perfect chipped cross to assist on Bev Yanez’s goal, and getting unfairly robbed of a goal herself in the 70th minute. She drew the foul that led to Rapinoe’s free kick goal to open the scoring. She also got back a lot to support Mathias (and eventually Stott) in their defensive duties, and did an excellent job dictating play in stoppage time as Seattle worked to kill the clock.
Her only notable negative came on the final Sky Blue goal, where she was the player primarily responsible for tracking Corboz, but failed to close on her before the chip that found Kerr in the box.
Beverly Yanez (7; goal 49’, off 82’) – Yanez returned to her more accustomed central forward role this game and excelled. She showed good hold-up play and found channels between Sky Blue defenders for several dangerous runs, although unfortunately she was caught offside on four of them. She earned Seattle’s penalty kick with a run into the box where she got sandwiched by two defenders who had to rush to close on her; her goal came on a similar run, where she found a seam between the center backs and burst into it just as Naho chipped her cross in.
On defense Yanez was an important contributor when facing Sky Blue set pieces, particularly corner kicks, where she had several headed clearances and eliminated aerial threats. After Johnson came on, Yanez dropped back to the midfield for her final 10 minutes on the field, but still contributed some hold-up play while Seattle settled itself and re-found its footing after the barrage of Sky Blue goals.
Megan Rapinoe (9; caution 80’; goals 27’, 47’, 87’; PotM) – It should come as no surprise that Rapinoe was my player of the match for her three goal performance, plus the cross that led to the own goal. From the start Rapinoe was aggressive in attack, putting in several nice crosses and switching play effectively when Sky Blue defenders collapsed on her. She had a dangerous corner kick in the 18th minute that Kailen Sheridan scrambled to punch away, and her goal off a free kick in the 27th minute is worthy of any highlight reel.
Her penalty kick didn’t have the best placement, but she put enough power behind her shot that momentum carried it over the line even with Sheridan deflecting it off the post. The own goal in the 56th minute started with a nice one-touch passing sequence that involved working the ball forward through a combination of Rapinoe, Pickett, Nairn, Elston and Utsugi, before Rapinoe hit a nice, low ball across the top of the 6 yard box that Erica Skroski inadvertently redirected into her own goal.
The winning goal came off another nice passing sequence, this time with Katie Johnson. Pickett lofted a pass to Johnson, who laid the ball off to Rapinoe, and after a quick give-and-go, Rapinoe found space at the top of the penalty arc and one-timed her shot into the upper 90.
The main factors keeping Rapinoe from a perfect score this week were the number of times Kelley O’Hara got into space in the Reign defensive third, where additional support could have helped, and a particularly poor throw-in the 63rd minute that led to Sky Blue’s second goal because Seattle was caught forward in numbers.
Rebekah Stott (5; on 69’) – After it became clear that Mathias was struggling and in danger of a second yellow, Stott came on as Seattle’s first sub when the score was 4-2, although it wasn’t enough to shake things up and stop the onslaught. It was from Stott’s side that the cross came for the third Sky Blue goal; she had Galton reasonably well covered, but not tightly enough to block the ball. After the game was tied she did better, and had a nice block, interception and pass up-field in the 83rd minute, as well as a strong clearance in stoppage time.
Katie Johnson (5; on 72’, assist 87’) – After a few weeks where Johnson seemed to be struggling to find her place in the Reign attack when coming on as a sub, this week she was much more effective and looked more like the player we saw early in the season, especially on the sequence that led to Megan Rapinoe’s third goal. That play started with a chipped pass from Carson Pickett, who found Johnson with her back to goal. Johnson laid a pass off to Rapinoe and turned toward goal, after which the two had a nice give-and-go sequence that drew all four central defenders to Johnson, opening up space for Rapinoe to one-time her shot.
Johnson also played a nice through ball to Rapinoe in the 77th minute that led to another scoring opportunity, although Rapinoe’s shot that time went wide. In stoppage time, Johnson also combined well with Naho to hold the ball in the Sky Blue corner and kill off the game. She still seemed a bit too hesitant and was pushed off the ball a few times in challenges, but her performance this week suggests she might be finding her footing again.
Kiersten Dallstream (incomplete; on 82’) – With her appearance in this game, Dallstream set a new NWSL record for the most substitute appearances in league history, coming into her 37th game. The title was previously held by former Reign forward Danielle Foxhoven. Unusually, Dallstream came on in a midfield role in this match and did her best to clog up channels, finishing with only four touches but also a tackle.
Greg Dopka (6) – For as wild as this game was on the score sheet, it was kept well under control by the officials. I thought Rapinoe was a bit hard done by her caution, which puts her one away from a suspension, but that was offset by Lindsay Elston escaping what probably should have been a persistent infringement card for her four fairly clumsy fouls.
The biggest issue had to do with Assistant Referee Andrew Deuker on the far sideline, who incorrectly flagged Naho Kawasumi offside on her goal in the 70th minute. Not only was she at least a yard behind the ball when Carson Pickett crossed it, but she was also behind the goalkeeper and one defender, and even with a second.
The ball had been near the end line for at least 15 seconds before the cross, and there was a faded football line directly in line with Naho’s positioning to aid him in making the call, so there are no excuses for missing it. Thankfully the outcome didn’t change, but it came while Seattle was still up 4-2 and made the final 20 minutes much more stressful than necessary.
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