On the heels of a tough week, during which they played three matches in seven days, Seattle Reign FC (5-2-5) head on the road for a match against the league-leading North Carolina Courage (8-4-0). The match kicks off at 4:30 PM PT on Saturday, July 8, and can be streamed on go90 or NWSLSoccer.com.
The weekend match marks the first time the two squads have faced each other this season. While the Courage had a dominant May and remain at the top of the table, they are coming off a 1-0 home loss to Sky Blue and have struggled to cope with injuries to forwards Jess McDonald and Lynn Williams.
Seattle, meanwhile, picked up seven points in the last week, drawing with FC Kansas City and earning home wins against both the Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns. Megan Rapinoe was a huge catalyst during the stretch, scoring a brace in the past two matches for Reign FC and earning Player of the Week honors.
However, it’s not just Rapinoe putting up strong numbers for Seattle. The team as a whole enters this weekend showing more grit and tenacity than it has all season. Can the Reign keep up that pace against a North Carolina side that is known to wear down opponents? Here are four things to watch heading into Saturday’s road match.
Quick Passes, Movement are Key
North Carolina is a team that, like the Reign, will apply pressure wherever the ball is — defensively, in the midfield, or up top. The key to breaking this high pressure is to move the ball quickly and switch the field of play. Seattle is capable of this, especially with how midfielder Christine Nairn has been playing. Both her and Lauren Barnes have the ability to bypass the opponent’s midfield and send pinpoint balls to the rushing Seattle forwards.
On the defensive end, Seattle’s backline has been more consistently steady in recent games. They’ll have to be even better if they want to keep a clean sheet against North Carolina, who will likely have either Jess McDonald or Lynn Williams back — combined with rookie Ashley Hatch, who scored three goals in June. All three are capable of punishing any mistake in the back and turning it into a goal.
Control the midfield
Seattle averages 417 passes per game, compared to just 350 for North Carolina. That doesn’t mean possession isn’t important to the Courage, though — they just look to use it as quickly as possible. The midfield duo of McCall Zerboni and Samantha Mewis have been key to North Carolina’s attacks.
Zerboni serves as the disruptor on defense, breaking up plays and looking for simple balls to teammates to jumpstart the attack. She’s having one of her best years ever in that role. Mewis has fantastic vision with an ability to thread a ball through space that is virtually unrivaled in the league.
Controlling the tempo in the midfield, and pressuring Zerboni and Mewis, will make North Carolina’s attack a lot less effective. They’ll have to do it without midfielder Jess Fishlock, who suffered an MCL sprain in the first half of Seattle’s most recent match against Portland. She is expected to be out until August, missing at least the next three matches.
Absorb the pressure
Against both Kansas City and the Chicago Red Stars, the Reign were effective at pushing their opponents wide and forcing them into crosses. Against North Carolina, it might not work as well. The Courage lead the league in crosses — averaging 24 per match — and also send in the most accurate crosses in the league. That’s a lethal combination. The same is true for corner kicks. Reign FC centerbacks Lauren Barnes and Kristen McNabb are going to need to be vocal and organized along the backline — helping absorb and thwart the constant pressure from North Carolina.
Finish the chances
North Carolina has a quick defensive line and a goalkeeper, Katelyn Rowland, who is hard to beat. In Sky Blue’s 1-0 win over North Carolina, the New Jersey team only managed two shots on goal. That’s all they needed, however. Two shots, one goal.
While Rapinoe has been on fire these last few weeks, she and her teammates will need to be even better at finishing their scoring chances this match. Whether it’s putting shots on frame in the box, or taking advantage of second chances off deflections, no opportunity can go wasted.
It seems obvious to state, but if Seattle can maintain the level of intensity, grit, and tenacity that has been on display recently, the team has a real chance to earn three points against a tough North Carolina side. Reign FC head coach Laura Harvey agrees.
“We just know we’ve got to go there, be hard to beat, and work as hard as we have over the past four or five games,” Harvey said in anticipation of Saturday’s match.
Seattle: OUT: Rachel Corsie (left knee bone bruise), Larissa Crummer (D45 – right foot fracture), Jess Fishlock (left knee MCL sprain), Diana Matheson (left knee ACL tear)
North Carolina: OUT: Kristen Hamilton (left hamstring strain), Darian Jenkins (D45 – left ankle dislocation/fracture), Yuri Kawamura (SEI – right knee ACL and meniscus tear); PROBABLE: Jessica McDonald (left hamstring strain), Lynn Williams (right ankle sprain)
How to Watch
When: Saturday, July 8, 4:30 PM PT
Where: WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, North Carolina
Streaming/Online: go90 app (iOS/Android), go90.com, NWSLSoccer.com
This is your Reign FC gamethread. Watch and discuss with us.