A quick turnaround from Sunday in New Jersey saw the Seattle Reign FC back in action tonight, taking on the North Carolina Courage in Cary, North Carolina. While the weather was far nicer than the monsoon in Piscataway, the result on the field was the opposite as they lost, 1-0 courtesy of a Jessica McDonald goal in the 70th minute.
Roster rotation was always to be expected as this was Reign FC’s second game in 4 days and with forward Megan Rapinoe ruled out because of a left hamstring strain sustained on Sunday, tonight’s starting eleven saw Kiersten Dallstream, Morgan Andrews, and Yael Averbuch get their first starts in 2018.
The first half saw both sides feeling each other out with the hosts gauging to see how much fatigue carried over for Seattle from Sunday’s match. While both sides had some looks on goal, the significant event in the first half was the very early substitution of defender Christen Westphal. Lauren Barnes replaced her in the 18th minute and while at the time it was a fair concern if it was an injury or an emergency tactical change, it’s been reported by Neil Morris that head coach Vlatko Andonovski said post-match that Westphal was battling an illness that got the best of her.
Per Vlatko Andonovski, Christen Westphal came into #NCvSEA ill and tried to give it a go. Her 1st half exit was a result of that.— Neil Morris (@ByNeilMorris) April 19, 2018
After the halftime break, North Carolina’s attacking band showed their signature speed that for even well-rested, everyone’s available teams can be a nightmare, and had Reign FC on their heels. While Seattle did have a couple promising spells into North Carolina’s third, the majority of the second half saw North Carolina pouncing on uncharacteristic giveaways by Seattle. The 1-0 scoreline is the soccer gods being generous as Courage forward Lynn Williams had two chances that 99.9% of the time, they find the back of the net, but both chances lacked an otherwise usual quality finishing from her.
Even the game’s only goalscorer, Jessica McDonald suffered the wrath of the post as 5 minutes before she got the eventual match-winning goal, her shot bounced off the post, even after Reign FC goalkeeper Michelle Betos got a hand on it. In the 87th minute, Courage rookie forward Darian Jenkins tried to seal the game, but her attempt went over the crossbar. Whether it was North Carolina experiencing their own fatigue as tonight was their second game in five days, or just some weird order of the cosmos that favored Seattle, the result was 1-0 when it probably should have been 4-0.
For Seattle, the early season test of depth did yield some positives. Allie Long was a magnet for fouls which should indicate how influential she can be on the field if given time and space, which North Carolina did not want to do. Kiersten Dallstream had her usual tenacity all over the field. Morgan Andrews showed flashes of what Reign FC fans are hoping can be unlocked in the second year pro. Yael Averbuch used her height to win aerial duels with ease, especially in the first half.
When they came on in the second half, Jasmyne Spencer and Elizabeth Addo were fresh legs to a field full of tired legs, that if that final pass or two had connected, Seattle might have been able to press North Carolina and claim an equalizer late in the game. For Addo, her appearance in the 73rd minute to replace Morgan Andrews was her season debut for Seattle.
Could the result have been different if Seattle had full rest and full availability of players? Hard to say. North Carolina is a tough team to play against period. Tougher to do so on short rest from a game played in a monsoon and an unfortunate injury to one of your playmakers. In the end, the result is what it is. Of course Reign FC fans would have been over the moon if somehow Reign FC got the win tonight and maximum points from this early season, two-city road trip. You wouldn’t have found many people complaining if they even got a draw against North Carolina. That said, an early season test of squad depth had flashes of encouraging signs and they got their second win of the season. Now it’s time for the squad to get back home and heal up whatever knocks or ailments, and they have plenty of time to do so. It’ll be another ten days before the Reign return to the field, a Saturday matinee at Orlando Pride.