For the third time in five games, Seattle Reign FC faced off against the North Carolina Courage, this time falling 2-1 at home as the league leaders once again put on a nearly flawless performance that stymied the Reign.
Seattle experimented heavily with their line-up and tactics last week, and made several more changes coming into this game to optimize their strategy based on the successes and failures they observed in last week’s game. The biggest change this week involved reverting back to their typical 4-3-3, but with several players moved around. First, Rebekah Stott and Lauren Barnes swapped roles, with Stott staying central and Barnes moving outside. Second, with Jess Fishlock out due to an excused absence, Kristen McNabb moved into the defensive midfield role and played almost as a stopper, staying deep and often dropping into the back line. Third, Katie Johnson started up top as the target forward, since Seattle needed to push the ball up field quickly and get past the stifling Courage midfield.
This might have been enough for Seattle to earn a win if they had a fully healthy lineup and optimal starting XI, but even with this somewhat makeshift lineup they once again reduced Courage attacking looks by half, limiting them to only six shots in total and two on target. These adjustments provide a framework that Laura Harvey can use going forward, as the team fights to get into playoff position over the final seven games of the season.
Haley Kopmeyer (6) – Kopmeyer faced only two shots on target this game, and both went in, though neither can be blamed much on her. The first was a rocket off a volley from the top of the box, and was hit with such force that few keepers would be able to react in time. The second came off a botched clearance attempt, and was well struck by Sam Mewis on the half-volley just past the diving Kopmeyer. She did well to come out and aggressively challenge for some probing Courage long balls, including pressuring Lynn Williams in the 6th minute and forcing her to try a high, looping chip shot that went well over the bar instead of being able to settle the ball and shoot more precisely. She similarly charged out in the 76th minute to break up another Williams opportunity.
Merritt Mathias (7) – Not to jinx things, but Mathias has quietly developed into a quality defender over the past few weeks. She still has her share of negative marks, but most of them are related to her passing decisions when pushing forward (including a paltry 58% pass completion rate), and they’re offset by her quality 1-v-1 defending and some excellent crosses into the box, including a great ball in the 68th minute that found the head of Bev Yanez. She led all players with three chances created and took two shots. On the Reign goal she dribbled up from midfield and waited until Jaelene Hinkle committed to challenging her before threading a nice pass to a wide-open Lindsay Elston in the corner.
Rebekah Stott (6) – Stott started her second game in a row as center back, and once again looked much more comfortable without the added attacking responsibilities. She had one iffy clearance in the 21st minute and a bad pass a few minutes later, but otherwise did very well to clear danger, intercept Courage passes into the final third, and defend against runs into the box. She was also tasked with covering for Mathias on counter attacks if the latter was still pushed forward, and did well to contain attacks until reinforcements could get back.
Rachel Corsie (6) – Corsie was a rock on defense, blocking or intercepting numerous passes and crosses and defending well in the middle of the park. She didn't contribute a lot going forward, in part due to having difficulty weighting her passes appropriately to hit attacking players in stride. She ended with a disappointing 69% passing accuracy, although the entire team was significantly down in this game compared to their typical possession-from-the-back strategy.
Lauren Barnes (7) – Barnes once again moved outside in this game, playing left back and primarily marking Kristen Hamilton, although the Courage attackers rotate so much that her mark frequently changed. She had some excellent 1-v-1 defending against Lynn Williams in the 58th minute, first challenging and then dispossessing the former golden boot winner. She led the team with five tackles, finished with a remarkable 92 touches and had some encouraging play pushing forward into the attack, including a nice diagonal pass toward the far post in the 65th minute that just fizzed over Kristen McNabb’s head and found Naho Kawasumi on the far post, but Katelyn Rowland did very well to scramble and block the shot. Aside from getting caught needlessly dribbling in the 3rd minute, Lu had barely a poor play all night, although her 59% passing accuracy was far below her typical rate (albeit when playing center back), and could have been a bit crisper.
Kristen McNabb (4, off 82’) – Similar to her role as a sub at the end of last game, McNabb played the lone holding midfielder role in this game, often dropping far enough back to serve as a supplemental center back. She was the primary fulcrum for moving play forward from the back, attempting a team-high 60 passes (with a decent 73% accuracy) and did well to disrupt midfield play for much of the game. However, she has shared responsibility for both Courage goals.
On the first, she and Rumi Utsugi both dropped too far back and lost track of the second band of NC attackers, leaving Sam Mewis entirely unmarked at the top of the box to volley her shot home. On the second goal, she attempted to clear a headed ball in the Reign box, but it hit awkwardly off her thigh and fell straight to Mewis, who again slammed it home. Although she couldn't have known it, Haley Kopmeyer was just behind her and easily would have covered the ball had she not touched it.
Rumi Utsugi (8, goal 40’, PotM) – After missing last week’s game to recover from her Tournament of Nations appearance, Utsugi returned this week and was dominant in the midfield. She read North Carolina’s attacking plans well, stepping up and intercepting numerous passes and finding seams in their defense to send through balls forward to start attacks. She had two fantastic tackles in the second half to dispossess Courage players and set up counter attacks, one in the 73rd minute and another 10 minutes later.
On the Reign goal she was the second runner into the box, and showed excellent skill to slide and redirect Lindsay Elston’s cross after Katie Johnson just missed connecting with it. Her only big negative came on the first Courage goal, when she and McNabb dropped back too far in defense and left Sam Mewis unmarked at the top of the box.
Lindsay Elston (7, assist 40’, off 76’) – After a very rough game against the Courage last week, Elston had a great performance this week, showing some quality playmaking vision in an attacking midfield role. She showed delightful interplay with teammates on several flick-on and give-and-go plays, including a very well-weighted headed flick to unlock a Katie Johnson breakaway opportunity in the 8th minute. Her cross to assist on Utsugi’s goal was perfectly placed into the dangerous space at the top of the 6 yard box. Her main negatives were a number of poor touches and passes when she was trying things that were a bit too fancy, and she took an ill-advised long shot in the 57th minute that went dozens of yards wide and high.
Nahomi Kawasumi (6) – Naho was unlucky not to get on the score sheet in this game. She had a great cross in the 16th minute that found Bev Yanez streaking in on goal, but unfortunately Yanez got the ball tangled in her feet and took a tumble before she could get a shot off. Later in the game, Naho had a shot herself off a long, diagonal ball from Lu Barnes. Naho made a smart far-post run and was able to redirect the ball on frame, but Katelyn Rowland made an excellent diving save to block the shot out for a corner.
Katie Johnson (5, off 61’) – Johnson got the start as target forward this week as Seattle continues to experiment with attacking looks in the absence of Megan Rapinoe. She had some solid hold-up play and one good shot that went just wide of the far post, but didn’t get many dangerous looks after that, opting instead to mostly make safe one- and two-touch passes to teammates to push in crosses. The Courage also didn’t hold the ball much in back, so she didn’t have much a role in Seattle’s preferred high-pressure defense, aside from covering on set pieces. She left the game with a minor injury, which might have hampered her effectiveness in the second half.
Beverly Yanez (7) – Yanez continued her jill-of-all-trades role this week, starting as the left forward, then moving to central forward briefly before dropping to attacking midfield to finish the game. She had two decent headed shots on goal, although neither had sufficient power or placement to truly challenge Katelyn Rowland, and also put in a good cross in the 50th minute, but the Courage defense had Katie Johnson well covered on the receiving end.
Along with McNabb, Yanez shares some responsibility for the second Courage goal. She was marking Sam Mewis on the initial headed flick, but lost track of her as Mewis spun outside and won the second ball. Other than that miscue she was strong on defense, registering four tackles, including a great recovery tackle in the 71st minute, and also won four fouls.
Kiersten Dallstream (5, on 61’) – Dallstream entered as the left forward, moving Yanez to the middle. For the first 15 minutes of her appearance she was fairly quiet, as most Seattle attacks moved through Naho on the opposite side. Later in the game the attacking fulcrum shifted, and she saw a lot more of the ball, finishing with 25 touches and two chances created, including a great cross in the 88th minute that Yanez was able to head on frame.
Larissa Crummer (incomplete, on 76’) – After missing seven months with a foot injury, Crummer finally made her NWSL debut and made a mark almost immediately, chasing the game up top and showing her willingness to be physical in challenges. She still showed some rust and unfamiliarity with her teammates in a game situation, but had a great turn and shot in the 83rd minute and looks to be an exciting additional attacking option in the future.
Christine Nairn (incomplete, on 82’) – Nairn came on very late to chase the game and get another attacking-minded player on the pitch. She pushed the midfield band higher and served as the chief playmaker in her brief appearance, switching play and threading through balls up to the outside forwards, as well as putting in a good cross at the death that just fizzed over Dallstream’s head and past the far post.
Karen Abt (4) – This was a disappointingly officiated game, although I don’t think any of the calls influenced the ultimate outcome. In particular, Lauren Barnes was the victim of several hard and late challenges that went uncalled, most notably a late Kristen Hamilton leaping kick in the 45th minute that left Barnes down injured. There were a few other instances of iffy calls and non-calls throughout the game, although most aren’t worth rehashing in detail here.
There were two modestly controversial calls that I thought she did get right. First, in the 16th minute, Bev Yanez went down in the box while being challenged by Taylor Smith. Although there was some jostling between the two players, there didn’t look to be any clear foul committed and Yanez instead looks to have gotten tangled up with the ball. Second, she and her assistants correctly called a goal kick versus corner kick dispute in the 37th minute, where Seattle players (and fans) were adamant that Abby Dahlkemper had carried the ball over the end line, but replays confirm that the ball never fully crossed into touch.
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