Seattle Reign FC traveled to the Garden State on Sunday to face Sky Blue FC for the first time this season. In what’s becoming an unpleasant pattern, it was yet another game between the two sides that was played in awful conditions, with chilly temperatures, strong winds, a saturated field, and driving rain stymieing play for much of the match.
Much of the game appeared to be played in an impressionist painting, so there’s a little less detail to some of today’s ratings, but enough of the key action was discernable that we can at least confirm that Seattle won 1-0 thanks to an early Megan Rapinoe penalty kick.
I should note that the way my rating system is calibrated takes conditions into account, meaning that a performance earning a 6 in this game (average NWSL starter) would likely rate much more poorly in optimal conditions.
Michelle Betos (1 save; 7) – Betos wasn’t asked to do too much in this game, but when she was called upon to step up she did well, particularly considering the wet and windy conditions that mirrored the issues she faced in the pre-season friendly versus UW. In the 15th minute she recognized the danger of a badly under-hit back pass and charged out to clear the danger, and she claimed or parried virtually every ball that was lofted into her box. She had one questionable moment in first-half stoppage time when she charged out to challenge for a ball and misjudged where it was rolling, causing the ball to bloop past her and her defense to scramble to cover, but Sky Blue was unable to capitalize on the blunder.
Christen Westphal (4) – Sky Blue was unable to get much of anything going through the middle of the park, so they continually played balls wide in attack trying to exploit Seattle’s tendency to push their outside backs up the field. Westphal most often faced off against Shea Groom and struggled mightily through much of the match, committing a team-high four fouls and tending to drift inside and lose her mark out wide, leading to crosses into the box or scrambles as the defense had to shift and adjust to cover. On the plus side, she had one of the steadier passing performances of the game for the Reign, connecting on 73% of her attempts, and she defended Groom well on Sky Blue’s lone shot on goal, steering Groom wide and forcing her to shoot from a tough angle.
Lauren Barnes (6) & Megan Oyster (6) – It’s only been two games, but Barnes and Oyster seem to have already settled into a pattern that’s working well for them. Oyster generally pushes forward more aggressively to challenge for balls, almost as a stopper, while Barnes hangs back more to serve as a second line of defense and clean up anything that slips through. Between this defensive routine and a solid central midfield in front of them, Seattle faced only a few dangerous looks that came through the middle, conceded only one shot on goal, and earned their first clean sheet of the season. Oyster had one particularly bad pass back to Betos near the start of the game that nearly led to disaster, and Barnes had a few mishit balls of her own, but on the whole the duo performed admirably considering the conditions.
Theresa Nielsen (6) – Nielsen was once again extremely active for the Reign, leading the team in touches (70) and chances created. It was her well-weighted cross that led to the first penalty call, as Erica Skroski misjudged the loft and wind and ended up spiking the ball down near the top of the box. Nielsen delivered another pin-point cross a few minutes later that found Bev Yanez and led to more danger.
Good example of how the ball stayed in the air an extra second was this exquisite cross from @NielsenTheresa8 that found @beverlygoebel's head.— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) April 15, 2018
Really though, sit back and admire that cross from Nielsen. #NJvSEA pic.twitter.com/J5IJnbGJBr
She had a few particularly strong challenges in the second half to win balls and block crosses, and had a team-high three tackles as well. On the minus side, she often got caught up-field and the CB on her side (usually Oyster) had to shift over to help cover as she recovered. She also has a tendency to turn over the ball, completing only 44% of her passes, significantly lower than her backline counterparts. Given her contributions in diversifying Seattle’s attack this is probably a worthwhile trade-off.
Allie Long (6) – The defensive midfield tandem of Long and Jess Fishlock smothered virtually every ball that Sky Blue put into their zone, forcing the Jersey side to play wide when they wanted to move forward. Long didn’t get into the attack much, but she helped to effectively facilitate moving the ball forward
Jess Fishlock (8; PotM) – Fishlock put in a vintage performance this game, seemingly popping up everywhere to put her mark on the game. She and Long were ball magnets in defensive midfield, she quickly adapted to the weather and played a number of nice through balls throughout the game, and won several great tackles including one of her patented moves where she pops up with the ball and is immediately off in the opposite direction in the 33rd minute.
Fishlock also had a great scoring opportunity in the 61st minute where she intercepted a ball near midfield, took a few steps, and fired an strong, wind-aided shot that was arcing toward the upper corner which forced Kailen Sheridan into a leaping, highlight reel punch to clear.
Bev Yanez (5; off 89’) – Yanez’s second outing of the season in attacking midfield wasn’t quite as memorable as her first, but much of that had to do with the weather. She had one off-target shot early in the game, won two tackles, and led the Reign attack in completing 74% of her passes, and generally helped do the little things that let Fishlock run rampant.
Megan Rapinoe (goal 6’, off 56’; 6) – Rapinoe was busy again for the Reign, leading the team with four shots, but only her penalty was on target; two others were blocked. I don’t have any problems with the shots she took – in this weather you need to take every shot opportunity you have and hope the ball knuckles in the wind or skips on the wet grass. The weather significantly hampered the attack of both teams, and this was quite evident in Rapinoe’s statistics, with only 32 touches and a miserable 32% passing accuracy before she left the game with a hamstring issue early in the second half. Her penalty was excellently taken; even if Sheridan had guessed the spot correctly, it was struck with such force that she might have been thrown into the goal with the ball.
Jodie Taylor (PK miss 86’, 5) – Taylor’s bread and butter is hanging off the shoulder of the last defender and making runs onto through balls. She got some nice service in this game, but the sloppy field limited her ability to do much with it. She showed good awareness to continue her run in the 85th minute after a Fishlock through ball looked to be going out of bounds, and was thus in position to get onto the end of Kiersten Dallstream’s diagonal cross and get fouled for the second penalty kick of the game. Taylor’s penalty was well placed, but it unfortunately needed more power to beat Sheridan.
Jasmyne Spencer (off 79’; 5) – Spencer spent a lot of time dropping back to help her midfield and defense, rather than stretching the Sky Blue back line with her speed. Between that and Seattle tending to play the ball up to Rapine on the opposite wing, Spencer didn’t have a huge impact in attack, but did have two tackles to win the ball.
Kiersten Dallstream (on 56’, caution 82’; 6) – Dallstream came in unexpectedly after Rapinoe’s injury and acquitted herself very well. In the 85th minute, Fishlock hit a through ball that looked like it was going to go past everyone and out over the end line, but Dallstream found an extra gear and chased it down before hitting a diagonal ball back toward the top of the box to find Jodie Taylor, who was subsequently fouled. She was also first into the box after the ensuing penalty attempt was saved and struck a quality second shot that Sheridan blocked, and contributed well in getting back to help on defense. Her caution seemed undeserved, as it was her only foul of the game and didn’t appear to be any more egregious or reckless than most other fouls in the match.
Morgan Andrews (on 79’; incomplete) – Andrews had a better outing in her second substitute appearance, applying a lot of high pressure to keep the ball pinned in Sky Blue’s half of the field and showing the experience to take the ball toward the corner near the end of the game to help kill the clock rather than going toward goal like some younger players might.
Kristen McNabb (on 89’; incomplete) – McNabb essentially came on to help kill the clock as the game entered stoppage time, and unsurprisingly had very little impact in her 120 or so seconds on the field.
Marco Vega (4) – Both penalty calls were fine and deserved, but Seattle had a fair shout for yet another penalty in 17th minute when Megan Rapinoe was tripped up by Sheridan as she dribbled the ball toward the corner of the box. I realize that it’s tough for an official to call a second penalty so close after a first, but there was little doubt about the contact and its impact on the play. I also thought Vega let a little too much go for the conditions, with players sliding into tackles and making rough challenges that might be okay in optimal weather but which could have led to injury in this match. In particular, Jess Fishlock had a tackle in the 86th minute that seemed fairly reckless, but no whistle was forthcoming.
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