Amid the chaos and recovery from Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas, Seattle Reign FC traveled to Frisco, Texas, for a match against the Houston Dash. Both teams were in upheaval, with the Dash dealing with a “home” game 200 miles away from their flooded city, and both made significant roster moves in the days leading up to the match.
First, Houston sent midfield mainstay Morgan Brian to Chicago for former brief Reign player Kristie Mewis. Then, Seattle sent a second-round draft pick to the Dash for Australian international keeper Lydia Williams, undoubtedly sending shockwaves through the Reign locker room just four days before the game.
All of that is to say that it would be entirely understandable if this game wasn’t quite up to the standard we’ve come to expect, but ultimately Seattle came away with a 1-0 win in a game that they dominated nearly from whistle-to-whistle.
Seattle made a few changes to the lineup that disappointed against Portland last week. First, Williams earned her first start for Seattle after practicing with the team for only a few days. Second, Carson Pickett returned to the starting line-up, which meant Lauren Barnes returned to center back. On the opposite side, Rebekah Stott shifted back outside, and Merritt Mathias moved to the attacking band, replacing Katie Johnson. It was a lot of shuffling, but also aside from the addition of Williams, it was very similar to some of the line-ups we saw early in the season.
Lydia Williams (6; 3 saves) – This was a wild week for Williams. First, Houston was upended by Hurricane Harvey. Then, her long-time Dash housemate was traded to Chicago. Finally, she was traded on Thursday and had only a day or two to train with Seattle before the match on Sunday. Luckily, she had plenty of experience with Lu Barnes and Rebekah Stott from their Australian season with Melbourne City, which greatly eased the transition to a new squad with a different style of play, and Williams looked comfortable in the back from the opening whistle. The team got her involved early, working possession around the back in the first few minutes and making sure she got touches with every player on the back line.
Houston didn’t get many opportunities on frame, but Williams was up to the challenge the few times they did get dangerous looks. Her toughest save came in the 27th minute off a Janine Beckie shot from the corner of the box, but Williams also did well to come out and smother a few through balls and claim crosses. The true test of her ability to organize the back line and help build possession out of the back will be next match against the high-powered Orlando offense.
Carson Pickett (6) – After sitting three of the last five games, Pickett returned to the starting lineup against Houston and put in a solid, if not particularly flashy, performance. Her biggest highlight came in the 48th minute, when she found Merritt Mathias with a great through ball that split the defense and put Mathias in on goal. On the flip side, in the second half there were several times where Dash players got wide of her and were able to get onto the end of crosses, but only once did it lead to a shot on target.
Lauren Barnes (6; caution 77’) – Early in the game Barnes got caught dribbling in the back and turned over the ball, and I was concerned that we might be in for another questionable performance from the Reign back line. However, that was the worst miscue of her night, and after that she showed much better decision-making with regards to picking when to step up and challenge for the ball and when to hold back and defend. Her passing decisions were also much smarter in this game, and she ended with a much better 88% passing accuracy. She will need to be careful in the final three games since the caution for time wasting was her fourth booking of the season, and one more will lead to an automatic suspension.
Rachel Corsie (6) – Like her partner in the middle, Corsie had a reasonably solid night anchoring the back line. She was fairly quiet, with only one tackle recorded, but kept danger to a minimum, and there’s certainly nothing bad about a center back having a quiet night when your team earns a shutout.
Rebekah Stott (8; PotM) – Stott often struggles away from home, so I was extremely pleased to see Stott really step up her performance in this match. She was all over the field, registering three shots, including one after a great give-and-go sequence with Naho and Mathias in the 3rd minute. She also had a match-high five tackles and 74 touches. Her defense was solid, with Houston rarely probing forward effectively on her side thanks to well-timed challenges and interceptions. Even with her offensive contributions and the warm, muggy night in Frisco, only once did I note her getting caught up field where Corsie needed to shift over to cover for her. Stott has had some great defensive performances this season, but this match was by far her most solid two-way performance.
Jessica Fishlock (6; caution 80’) – Fishlock struggled through long periods of this game, staying high up the field and walking a lot more than usual when the ball wasn’t in her immediate vicinity. Her penalty attempt was a carbon copy of the one she scored against Portland last week, and unfortunately Campbell guessed that she might try that again and saved it successfully. If she takes another kick this season, Fishlock might want to mix things up a bit.
Going forward, Fishlock was a solid contributor to the attack, with a great shot in the 31st minute and several nice through balls to set up scoring opportunities. She also won numerous second balls in the middle third to rekindle Seattle attacks. However, she was nearly non-existent in the defensive third and looked frustrated with herself at times, including in the play leading to her caution, where she was caught dribbling, dispossessed, and then made a reckless tackle trying to win the ball back.
Rumi Utsugi (6; off 74’) & Christine Nairn (6) – The Reign midfield looked a lot more organized this week than they did against Portland. Nairn and Utsugi stayed back more in double-pivot, taking turns pressing forward into the attack while maintaining shape and lines. Nairn attempted a team-high 60 passes and completed nearly 80% of them, while Utsugi nearly matched her with 53 passes and 81% accuracy. Although neither of them directly contributed to any scoring opportunities, they were a big part of why Seattle was much more effective at building possession from the back and did well to cover for Fishlock’s inability to get back as much to help defend.
Nahomi Kawasumi (6) – Naho nearly had a fantastic attacking performance, but her touch was just a bit off for much of the game. She had four shots, but none ended up on target – three went wide and one was blocked. She smartly intercepted a poor Jane Campbell clearance in the 31st minute and quickly found Jess Fishlock streaking in on goal for a good scoring opportunity, and set up two additional chances in the game with some promising crosses into the box.
Beverly Yanez (7; assist 50’, off 78’) – Yanez played a hybrid role in this game, nominally as the center forward, but often swapping roles with Merritt Mathias or Jess Fishlock and moving wide or back into midfield to present a lot of different looks for the Reign attack. It was one of these times where she dropped back that led to the Reign goal. Upon receiving a pass with her back toward goal, she made a beautiful spin move to slip between two onrushing Dash defenders and step toward the net. A third Dash defender stepped up to contain her, leaving Mathias completely unmarked near the corner of the box for a nice through ball.
Beyond that assist, Yanez had numerous interceptions high up the field and had several great looks of her own, including a blast that rang off the crossbar in the 66th minute on a Reign corner kick, as well as another solid shot four minutes later as Seattle pressed hard for a second goal. All-in-all, it was a vintage Yanez performance.
Merritt Mathias (7; goal 50’, off 78’) – I’ve said this several times now, but the Merritt Mathias we’ve been treated to over the past month or so has been light-years ahead of the one we witnessed at the start of the season. After a few weeks of solid defense, this week we were treated to a great offensive performance as she moved back into the attacking band and further demonstrated her versatility. It was her smart run into the box that won Seattle an early penalty kick, and she followed that up early in the second half with two more smart runs into space. The first led a good breakaway opportunity that Jane Campbell did well to save, while she held up on the second one, baited Houston to step toward her, and launched a rocket to the far upper corner for the game’s only goal. All of that was coupled with another impressively clean game (3 fouls suffered, only 1 committed).
Maddie Bauer (incomplete; on 74’) – I don’t think Bauer was a planned sub, or at least not to come in to replace Utsugi, but she did admirably at defensive mid, as well as getting up field when the opportunity presented itself, most notably toward the end of the game when she worked well with Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe to control possession in the Dash corner.
Katie Johnson (incomplete; on 78’) – Johnson had a short but surprisingly productive appearance at the end of this match as the target forward. In her dozen minutes on the field she created three scoring opportunities, completed 10 of her 11 attempted passes, and won three fouls deep in Dash territory to maintain possession for Seattle.
Megan Rapinoe (incomplete; on 78’) – Rapinoe made her triumphant return from injury with a late cameo appearance, doing well to help seal the win. She started brightly, with a great scoring opportunity that clanged off the far post, although it was ultimately whistled for offside and wouldn’t have counted regardless. In the final few minutes she teamed up with Bauer and Fishlock to help kill the game by possessing the ball in the Dash corner.
Rosendo Mendoza (6) – For the most part, I thought this game was called fairly. It was a bit more physical than I like to see, but both sides had some comparably questionable challenges that he let go, so neither side was particularly advantaged by it. The penalty call was solid and was unquestioned by Houston. There was one questionable non-handball call on Naho in the 26th minute that he was in good position to see, and the time-wasting caution to Barnes in the 77th minute seemed a bit harsh, but otherwise I had no major complaints.
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