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Recap: Seattle Reign fall to NC Courage with depleted lineup

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Good news, though: Jess Fishlock is back!

Photo credit - MikeRussellFoto

Facing the North Carolina Courage just two days after the final Tournament of Nations match, Seattle Reign FC head coach Laura Harvey opted to rest U.S. international Megan Rapinoe and Japan’s Rumi Utsugi. That resulted in an adjusted lineup that did a decent job absorbing North Carolina’s pressure, but couldn’t manage to create many opportunities in their offensive third.

As a result, Seattle ended up falling 1-0 on the road.

Kiersten Dallstream got her first start of the year at left wing, replacing Rapinoe, while Lauren Barnes slotted in as left back in place of Carson Pickett, Rachel Corsie and Rebekah Stott filled in as centerback, and Merritt Mathias returned as right back.

In the midfield, Jess Fishlock made a miraculous return to the starting lineup after suffering an MCL strain a month prior, and Lindsay Elston and Christine Nairn played alongside her. In the first half, the midfield helped absorb North Carolina’s pressure early, and Seattle controlled possession at the start of the match.

Mathias was playing almost like a wingback—pushing high up the field to get involved in the attack, but dropping to defend when needed. Her 1-v-1 defending was strong all match, and she was a big reason the Courage didn’t get too many strong looks from crosses, a big part of North Carolina’s gameplan.

But Reign FC couldn’t do much offensively, and they began to force a few bad passes and lose possession as the half wore on. They were punished in the 32nd minute, when Seattle misplayed a pass off their own free kick, and Makenzy Doniak collected the ball near half, put on the jets, and breezed past Elston on the right side of the field. Her ball into the box found Lynn Williams, whose shot was low but not particularly hard, and managed to slide under the outstretched arms of Haley Kopmeyer.

Kopmeyer will certainly want that one back. After that goal, it was all North Carolina for the rest of the half, with Reign FC frantically clearing the ball on defense. Luckily, Seattle was able to keep it to 1-0 at halftime.

They must have received a good talk in the locker room, because Seattle came out strong to start the second half—going after a Courage team that had five players get minutes in the Tournament of Nations.

In the 48th minute, Dallstream whipped in a great cross, which was cleared at the last minute for a corner. The Reign couldn’t do anything with the corner kick, however, and couldn’t really do much on offensive for most of the second half.

While there were times where Seattle had the momentum, the Courage always found a way to stop Reign FC’s attack. The team’s best chance came in the 75th minute, when substitute Katie Johnson muscled North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper off the ball and put a pass on the ground to the top of the 18-yard box, with Fishlock running onto the ball. She had an open net, but the Welsh midfielder’s shot went well over the bar.

It’s a shot that Fishlock likely buries on any other day, but with rusty legs after a month out injured, her touch was a bit off. Fishlock’s intensity wasn’t, however, and she was constantly encouraging her teammates to stay in the game and push for an equalizer.

That equalizer never came, unfortunately, and the match ended at 1-0. It was certainly a better outing than the last time the two sides faced off in July, when Seattle was dominated in the midfield in the second half, and fell 2-0. But it still wasn’t a particularly strong performance by the Reign. Direct, high-pressure teams like the Courage have caused Seattle problems in the past.

There is some good news. The team has a chance for redemption next weekend. On Sunday, August 13 at 6 PM PT, Seattle Reign FC hosts the North Carolina Courage at home. Both Rapinoe and Utsugi should be available and well rested for this one, which is one of just three home matches remaining in the regular season for Reign FC.

Three points are critical for the squad’s race to the playoffs, as Seattle currently sits in fourth place, the final playoff spot, with eight matches remaining.