On Saturday, August 19, Seattle Reign FC (7-5-6) closes out its two-game road stretch with a match against Sky Blue FC (7-9-2) in Piscataway, New Jersey (say that five times fast). The game kicks off at 4 p.m. PT and will stream on the go90 and NWSL websites.
After the two sides faced off in July in one of the most entertaining matches in NWSL history — with Reign FC coming out on top 5-4 — Seattle enters this game with most of the momentum. The team earned its first road win against the Chicago Red Stars in a mid-week match, scoring two goals in stoppage time to go ahead 2-1.
Sky Blue FC’s previous match, on the other hand, was a 5–0 whooping on the road against the Orlando Pride, who look unstoppable at the moment. The loss was Sky Blue’s third in a row. To make matters worse, the club is now without a head coach, as Christy Holly unexpectedly resigned earlier this week. Despite the team’s recent struggles, Holly was well regarded by his players and did wonders to turn the struggling club into playoff contenders. An interim coach has not yet been named.
Sky Blue still enters this match with a lot of offensive punch, but huge holes on defense. The team has given up 37 goals, which is 7 more than any other team. What’s more, the club announced on Friday that veteran defender and captain Christie Pearce will be out the remainder of the season due to “accumulative injuries.” An already young, vulnerable defensive line just got a lot less experienced.
The Reign, meanwhile, will come into the match tied with Orlando for the top-rated offense in the league — racking up 33 goals in 18 games. The team has seen strong production from rookie forward Katie Johnson on the road, and Johnson showed a veteran calmness when she buried the game-winning goal against Chicago.
Despite their defensive struggles, Sky Blue is still in the fight for a playoff spot. Currently in sixth place, they are just four points behind Reign FC and have a winning record at home of 4–3–1. U.S. Women’s National Team player Kelley O’Hara has been out with an injury the last two matches — a big reason Sky Blue has struggled defensively. Not only does O’Hara provide stability on the right side of the defense, her never-ending fitness makes her a big part of the attack as well. She has 3 goals and 2 assists this season and links up incredibly well with potential MVP candidate Sam Kerr.
O’Hara is questionable for Saturday’s match, and whether she sees time on the field will be a big factor in how Sky Blue performs. She was just named co-captain alongside Kerr, in place of the injured Pearce. When those two are on the field together, it is terrifying for opposing defenses.
Sky Blue likes to play more direct and apply high pressure throughout the field. It has caused Reign FC some trouble, but if Seattle players finish their chances and move the ball quickly through the midfield, they should be able to earn three points and keep their fourth-place position firm. Having Jess Fishlock back and finding her form again to disrupt Sky Blue’s play through the midfield will be helpful.
With just six games remaining in the season, and four of those coming on the road, every point matters. After tonight’s match, Reign FC returns home for a battle against their fiercest rivals, Portland Thorns FC. Heading into that duel with some strong momentum will be crucial.
Seattle: OUT: Diana Matheson (SEI – left knee ACL tear), Megan Rapinoe (left knee meniscus tear)
Sky Blue: OUT: Leah Galton (back strain), Christie Pearce (SEI – accumulative injuries), Erin Simon (D45 – left foot fracture); QUESTIONABLE: Tasha Kai (right calf strain); Kelley O’Hara (right adductor strain)