Seattle Reign FC had a short turnaround after their cold, rain-soaked game in New Jersey on Sunday, heading straight to North Carolina to face the league-leading Courage in their third match of the season on Wednesday. The weather was much better for this game, but injuries, absences for international duty and fatigue led to a dreary performance that could have ended much worse than the 1-0 scoreline might suggest.
With a short bench and facing a dangerously speedy and tall Courage attack, Vlatko Andonovski tried something new in this game, shifting Seattle to a 4-2-3-1 formation to provide additional defensive support. For the first 30 minutes the tactic worked reasonably well, and Seattle had some decent looks in attack, but as exhaustion set in the Courage pressed forward more aggressively and absolutely dominated the last hour of the game.
There’s probably not too much to be learned from this match other than that Andonovski might consider more defensive squad rotation the next time Seattle has a short turnaround between games. On the positive side, the team never looked like it gave up in this match, unlike some of their poor performances last season.
Michelle Betos (4 saves, 1 goal conceded; 8; PotM) – Aside from one questionable decision to come out for a ball early in the game, Betos had a great performance and was a huge part of the reason this game ended 1-0. She was aggressive off her line several times to clear balls before they led to anything dangerous, including hoofing one into the upper deck in the 56th minute just ahead of an onrushing Crystal Dunn. Late in the game as the Seattle defense collapsed around her, Betos had a number of outstanding saves, including tipping Jess McDonald’s breakaway shot in the 65th minute.
She also blocked a wide open Darian Jenkins shot in the 88th minute, and had a third excellent fingertip save in second half stoppage time to push a Lynn Williams shot wide. There wasn’t much she could do on the goal, which was yet another breakaway opportunity for the Courage that McDonald placed excellently, but Betos did everything in her power to keep Seattle in the match to try and steal a point.
Christen Westphal (off 18’; incomplete) – After playing the full match in New Jersey on Sunday, Westphal was once again tapped to start at outside back in North Carolina due to a lack of other healthy options, but was reported to be feeling ill and could only go 17 minutes before needing to be substituted for an exhausted Lauren Barnes. Westphal looked reasonably good in her short appearance, aside from getting badly outraced by Lynn Williams just before coming off; but Williams does that to most of the league even when they’re fully rested and healthy.
Yael Averbuch (6) – Averbuch got her first minutes in a Reign uniform, providing some much needed height on the Seattle back line to counter the towering attacking presence of Williams and Jess McDonald. The Courage tried putting high crosses into the box in the early phase of the game, but after Averbuch headed several crosses and corner kicks clear, their tactics shifted and they all-but stopped attacking in that way, showing how effective her presence was.
The entire Reign defense struggled as the game progressed and the Courage kept overloading the wings, and several times Williams, McDonald, or Darian Jenkins split the centerbacks for dangerous scoring opportunities. The primary issue seems to have been one of fatigue, combined with Averbuch coming off an extended off-season and ongoing recovery from her battle with colitis, as well as it being her first game working with new defensive partners in a competitive game.
Megan Oyster (4) & Theresa Nielsen (4) – There’s no dancing around it – the entire Reign FC defense looked bad for long stretches of the game. If not for a great performance from Betos and some unusually poor finishing from Courage attackers, this game could have been much worse. Oyster and Nielsen both struggled a lot with their touch in this game, making a lot of poor passes and iffy first touches that put them under undue pressure or resulted in turnovers. Seattle’s formation asked a lot of the outside backs to loft balls up to lone striker Jodie Taylor, but for the most part the service simply wasn’t there. As the game progressed, the exhaustion of both defenders became obvious as Courage forwards danced around them almost as if they were standing still.
Allie Long (7) – For the second game in a row, a Reign FC opponent essentially ceded the midfield to Seattle, choosing instead to take the ball wide in attack. Long was a big part of that, challenging hard for every ball that came into her zone, winning four tackles and suffering four fouls for her efforts, as well as making a sliding block of a strong Crystal Dunn shot in the 83rd minute. She was also one of the few bright spots in passing, completing 90% of her 50 pass attempts,12% higher than anyone else for Seattle.
Jess Fishlock (6) – It took years of research, but scientists have finally determined that you can tire out Fishlock if she plays non-stop on three continents for five years straight without a rest. Yet even in her exhausted state, she still made her mark on the game, making five tackles and leading the team with 81 touches while partnered with Long as a defensive mid pairing. Her one lowlight of the night was a howler in the 65th minute, when she attempted to pass the ball back to one of her centerbacks, but instead hit it between them and directly to a wide open Jess McDonald. Betos made a top-notch save on the ensuing shot, but Fishlock slamming the ground in frustration as soon as she made the pass told you everything you needed to know about how the game was trending for Seattle.
Kiersten Dallstream (off 67’; 6) – Dallstream made the most of her first start of the season, playing as a hybrid outside attacking mid/forward. Her biggest contribution came in the 18th minute when she was positioned on the far post on a Courage corner kick, when she cleared away a shot that looked to be headed in. She should have been credited with a shot on goal in the 24th minute off a Fishlock free kick, but the officials incorrectly ruled her offside on the play. Near the end of her shift she got roasted by former teammate Merritt Mathias on a dribble and juke, but Fishlock was backing her up and snuffed out the danger.
Morgan Andrews (off 73’; 7) – Andrews started in the middle of an attacking band of three midfielders, showing some creativity and flair while trying to create something for an exhausted Seattle side. She had a cheeky backheel flick to Bev Yanez in the 10th minute for Seattle’s only official shot on goal for the match, and was the main source of service up to Jodie Taylor, and later Jasmyne Spencer, in attack. She had two shots of her own, but one went wide and the other was blocked.
Beverly Yanez (6) – Yanez played as a wide attacking mid in Seattle’s adjusted formation, but still did a lot of work in defense, racking up 6 tackles and applying high pressure late in the game as the Reign sought respite from the unceasing Courage attack. She had a quality look on goal early in the game, forcing Sabrina D’Angelo into her only save of the match, and was one of the few players who played most of the match at Sky Blue who didn’t look completely exhausted by halftime of this game, which is a testament to her fitness.
Jodie Taylor (4) – Taylor had a tough game, both because of fatigue and due to the change in formation and tactics Seattle used in this match. She was generally all alone up top, asked to play with her back to the Courage defense and look for long balls played up or through channels between defenders, then either look for layoff passes to her attacking mids, or make a move toward goal if she could break between the centerbacks. Fully rested, Taylor probably could have handled this task well. But due to the fatigue of the short turnaround between games, she struggled quite a bit, as did her teammates in providing her the needed service. She did have a very nice layoff pass in the 36th minute that led to a backwards chip shot by Morgan Andrews, but otherwise Taylor didn’t get involved nearly as much as in her prior two outings, and when she did get the ball she was almost instantly pressured by the Courage defense. That said, I’m not sure what more Taylor could have done in this game, and there weren’t any great options on the bench to rest her.
Lauren Barnes (on 18’; 5) – It looked like Barnes would get some much needed rest after playing the full game on Sunday, but Westphal’s illness forced a quick substitution. Without other outside backs available, Andonovski turned to the Reign veteran to step in rather than pull someone else out of position and disrupt what little momentum Seattle had at that point. Barnes struggled a bit early on, taking a few minutes to adjust to the tempo and position she was unexpectedly dropped into, but settled in reasonably well.
Seattle’s attack became very lopsided after her introduction, with Nielsen continuing to push forward while Barnes stayed back and shifted almost into a three CB formation. This shift had some consequences for how the Courage attacked; Jess McDonald often moved wide into the space vacated by Barnes cheating toward the middle, and received a lot of passes in this space that she could run onto and dribble, using her speed to exploit the tired Reign defense. It was on one of these moves that the Courage finally found their goal. The Seattle defense was pushed forward while Jasmyne Spencer wheeled down to the end line, and a quick counter caught everyone off guard, leaving McDonald to race in on goal unimpeded, while Barnes chased behind.
Jasmyne Spencer (on 67’; 6) – In hindsight, this might have been the game to start Spencer, rather than in New Jersey on Sunday, and use her speed to pressure a shaky Courage defense, but Seattle couldn’t have foreseen Rapinoe’s injury or the fact that stalwart NC centerback Abby Dahlkemper would miss her first ever professional minutes. Spencer’s entry into the game revitalized a tired Seattle attack and gave the team their only credible scoring chances of the second half. Almost immediately upon entering she broke up a Courage attack and challenged aggressively for the ball, and used her speed to push play and stretch the North Carolina back line the entire time she was on the field. In the 70th minute she took a ball nearly from midfield all the way to the end line before placing an excellent cross through the 6 yard box that skipped past Sabrina D’Angelo, but unfortunately no Reign attackers were in the area to tip the ball in.
Elizabeth Addo (on 73’; incomplete) – Addo saw her first competitive minutes for Seattle late in this game and had a bit of a mixed appearance. She showed that she could handle the physicality of the toughest team in the league and was willing to challenge hard for the ball, but she also got nutmegged by Jaelene Hinkle and promptly pushed her to the ground to commit a foul in a dangerous area. More positively, Addo showed her top-notch dribbling skill, looking like the ball was almost glued to her foot at times as she worked in tight spaces, and she completed 78% of her passes. Given more time and familiarity with her new teammates, she should provide an exciting change of pace in the Reign midfield or attack.
Kevin Broadley (6) – I was happy to see Broadley willing to issue a caution to Kristen Hamilton early in the match for a physical foul, rather than just giving a stern talking-to and letting the physicality of the match escalate further. That decision seemed to settle the game and keep things reasonably clean through the remainder of the game. There were two questionable offside calls in the game, both in the same end of the field – the first was on Kiersten Dallstream in the 23rd minute, where she was clearly onside when Jess Fishlock served in a free kick that deflected off a Courage head to Dallstream’s feet. The near side assistant presumably thought a Reign player made contact with the ball and thus flagged the play as offside, but replays showed otherwise. The second came in the 78th minute, when Lynn Williams was easily five yards offside on a pass but the flag stayed down; thankfully her shot went off the post and didn’t affect the outcome.
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