It has been 22 long days since Seattle Reign FC featured in an NWSL match — its home opener — but the club’s longest pause between regular season games comes to an end on Sunday when Seattle visits Sky Blue FC. The match kicks off at 2 PM PT and will stream on the go90 platform.
The competing clubs are the only two in the nine-team league to play just one match so far this season — all other teams entered the weekend with two games played. Sky Blue and Seattle have a few other things in common, as well. Both clubs brought in new coaches this season, with Seattle acquiring Vlatko Andonovski and Sky Blue appointing former Washington Spirit assistant coach Denise Reddy.
The two sides also saw significant roster changes in the offseason. Reign FC focused on shoring up its defense and bringing in experienced international veterans. Sky Blue, meanwhile, brought in a slew of young, emerging talent — including former Reign FC players Rebekah Stott and Katie Johnson. Balancing the youth movement in New Jersey is Carli Lloyd, who returns to the region where she grew up and helps provide a veteran presence in the midfield.
“Sky Blue FC did a very good job in the off-season of building a young, deep and talented roster. We expect they’ll be very dangerous in the attack, with Groom, Johnson and — of course — Carli Lloyd all capable of creating problems for us,” said Andonovski. “We expect they’ll be well-organized and disciplined, which will provide a difficult challenge, but should be a really exciting match for fans.”
Let’s just hope it isn’t as exciting as last year’s matches between the two clubs. The raucous goal-scoring affairs highlighted the dynamic attacking talent on both squads, but the matches mostly exposed the holes and struggles that Sky Blue and Seattle each had on defense. While both teams have built a stronger defensive line, Seattle’s certainly looks more complete.
Despite having a young backline, however, Sky Blue held its own for much of its opening match against the North Carolina Courage. The New Jersey side dominated possession and finished with 65 more passes than the Courage. Much of that came through the midfield, but Sky Blue struggled to make anything productive offensively from that possession. They got just three shots off, none of which were on frame.
It was Sky Blue’s opening match, so it might have been early season jitters. You could sense that Reddy was trying to get her squad to focus on quick passes and one- or two-touch possession — moving the ball faster and focusing more on the buildup. If it starts to connect, Sky Blue’s attack — which includes Shea Groom, Johnson, Savannah McCaskill, Raquel Rodriguez, Janine Beckie and Lloyd — could be dangerous.
Depth in the next week is going to be a crucial issue for Seattle, who have to travel to North Carolina immediately after the match for a game just three days later. With their Japanese and Australian internationals out for the Asian Cup — both countries qualified for the 2019 World Cup on Friday but have two more matches in the tournament — Andonovski will need to rotate out starters in the attack, midfield, and on defense. Players like Morgan Andrews will likely see a lot more time this week.
This weekend against Sky Blue, Seattle will need to be relentless in the attack to test their opponent’s young backline, something the Reign did effectively in their home opener. The Reign FC defense will also need to remain composed for all 90 minutes. It sounds simple, but it was a struggle for the team last season. If Reign FC can find the attacking form it is capable of, they should leave New Jersey with three points before facing a tough match against the Courage in North Carolina.
6’ - Megan Rapinoe buries the PK to put Seattle up 1-0! A Theresa Nielsen cross was swatted by Sky Blue defender Erica Skroski.
33’ - Textbook Jess Fishlock tackle. Pops right up with the ball.
Halftime - Reign head into half up 1-0
85’ - Reign FC get another penalty, but Jodie Taylor can’t squeeze it around Kailen Sheridan. Needed a bit more power or a less telegraphed shot.
Full time: Reign win 1-0 on Megan Rapinoe’s penalty. It was windy, wet, and cold — and an overall forgettable match. Next up: NC Courage on Wednesday. Rest and recover.
Reign FC: OUT – Jaycie Johnson; International Duty – Steph Catley, Nahomi Kawasumi, Rumi Utsugi, Lydia Williams
Sky Blue injuries: OUT – Amandine Pierre-Louis, Domi Richardson, Erin Simon; QUESTIONABLE – Madison Tiernan; International Duty – Thaisa Moreno
How to Watch
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