After what felt like an eternity on the road, Seattle Reign FC returned home on Saturday night to host Sky Blue FC in the “Games in Hand” derby. Seattle romped to a 4-1 victory thanks in large part to the return of Megan Rapinoe and her brace.
This was the first match where Seattle had all of their top players available for selection. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski opted to use a very attacking-minded lineup, featuring two outside backs who like to get forward and relying on his centerback pairing and defensive midfielders to provide cover. Aside from one or two brief lapses, the tactics worked very well, although it will be interesting to see how the team adapts to a more dangerous opponent.
Lydia Williams (4 saves, 1 goal conceded; 7) – Williams got her first start of the season, and even from the first minutes of the game she made her presence clear. She is by far the most vocal goalkeeper I have seen in person, shouting instructions to her back line and maintaining constant chatter as the game progresses. She made the right decision on the Sky Blue goal — coming over to cut down the angle and prevent a low shot or cross, but Savannah McCaskill hit a perfect lob to the far upper corner. Williams more than made up for the goal with a diving snap save of a Katie Johnson header that looked destined to score in the 88th minute.
Theresa Nielsen (6) – Nielsen finished with an astounding 94% accuracy on her 33 pass attempts for the night, which is even more impressive when you consider how she was utilized tactically. She and opposite side counterpart Steph Catley pushed up the flanks continually, interplaying with the wide forwards and causing havoc for Sky Blue’s inexperienced outside backs.
Kristen McNabb (6) & Megan Oyster (7) – As is becoming a trend for teams facing Seattle, most of Sky Blue’s action going forward was pushed out wide, with the Jersey side mostly looking to loft in crosses to Johnson or take speculative shots from distance. Oyster’s rock solid presence in the middle has been a big part of that, as she refuses to get baited into diving in and stays home, leaving her CB partner (McNabb in this case) and midfielders to chase the play and force opposition mistakes. The one tme Oyster did overcommit was on the Sky Blue goal, when she stuck a leg out trying to challenge Carli Lloyd near the top of the box, and Lloyd was able to push the ball out wide to McCaskill.
The pairing combined for over a quarter of Seattle’s passes on the night, as the Reign effectively built possession from the back and waited for gaps to move the ball forward.
Steph Catley (assist 5’; 7) – Catley had her first opportunity to work with Megan Rapinoe in this match, and it paid dividends almost immediately. The pair had a great give-and-go sequence to spring Catley on the end line, and she hit a perfect cross to Jodie Taylor for the opening goal. Catley was also involved in the second Reign goal, albeit inadvertently due to a poorly hit cross which Erica Skroski mishandled and left right at Rapinoe’s feet. Defensively she had one notable lapse in the 15th minute, when both she and McNabb were caught snoozing on a quick Sky Blue restart after a foul, which led to a Katie Johnson breakaway opportunity from a tight angle that Williams saved.
Allie Long (goal 84’; 7) – With both Reign fullbacks pushing forward a lot in this game, Long was asked to do more of the heavy lifting with building possession out of the back. She frequently dropped into an auxiliary centerback role, with McNabb and Oyster spreading out between her as a three-back set while Seattle was in possession.
Despite this, she still finished with three shots, including the gritty final goal of the match, which came thanks to her tenacity in following shots into the box, which meant she was first to the rebound after Rumi Utsugi’s initial shross caromed off the post.
Jess Fishlock (off 86’; 7) – One huge change that has been noticeable throughout the first six games of the season for Seattle has been the role Fishlock has been asked to play. With solid support behind her in the form of two defensively minded midfielders, she has been given more freedom to be a creator and asked to do less work putting out fires. Thus she has had to make less jaw-dropping tackles and lung-busting runs to provide defensive cover. This has paid dividends in her attacking play, exemplified with a fantastic chipped through ball to Taylor in the 5th minute for a good shot on goal, and two more plays in first half stoppage time — first a rocket from 30 yards out that fizzed just wide, followed by a great through ball moments later to find Rapinoe along the end line for a cross that led to a scramble and nearly a third Reign goal.
Rumi Utsugi (6) – Utsugi had a bit of an up-and-down game this week, with some great defensive work and a couple of good attacking plays interspersed with a couple of head-scratching mistakes that nearly led to Sky Blue goals. In the 24th minute she failed to track Katie Johnson when she dropped back and moved out wide, which resulted in a dangerous cross into Seattle’s box that Williams was able to deflect just enough to avoid a surefire Sky Blue goal. In the 69th minute, Utsugi badly mishandled a pass in the middle of the field which McCaskill pounced on, dribbled into space, and cranked a shot that went just wide of the post. She didn’t make too many errors in this game, but the ones she made were nearly very costly.
Megan Rapinoe (goals 38’ & 60’, off 66’; 9; PotM) – After a few weeks off recovering from a strained hamstring, Pinoe’s back, and it’s like she never left. Despite having not played a competitive match together before, she and Catley had a natural chemistry from the opening whistle, with Rapinoe drawing defenders and springing Catley with a give-and-go to start the first goal-scoring sequence. Her two goals were both master classes in shot placement. On the first she won the second ball after a Skroski mistouch and almost immediately chipped a perfectly placed shot into the upper corner.
Her second was even better. She received a pass from Naho and had Christina Gibbons chasing her down on her flank. With a deft move, Pinoe cut the ball back and Gibbons overran her, which opened up enough space for a similar chipped shot to the far corner. Gibbons is not a natural fullback, and Rapinoe made Sky Blue pay for playing her out of position throughout the game. On top of the two goals, she put in several dangerous crosses, including one in first-half stoppage time that should have resulted in yet another Seattle goal. Imagine what she could have done if she was completely healthy and able to play the full 90 minutes.
Jodie Taylor (goal 5’, caution 88’; 7) – I keep saying it, but it continues to be true — Taylor’s hold-up play and work-rate has been fantastic. Far too often you see forwards head crosses wildly over the bar, but Taylor attacked Catley’s cross and snapped it back down toward the ground to open the scoring. Moments before that she peeled off the shoulder of her defender to chase down a Fishlock pass and force Kailen Sheridan into a diving save. Her only negative mark in the game was a rough and needless foul on Christina Gibbons in the waning moments of the game to pick up a caution.
Nahomi Kawasumi (assist 60’, off 76’; 6) – With Rapinoe finding so much joy on her side of the field and much of the Reign attack going down that flank as a result, it would be easy to overlook Naho’s contributions to this match. She didn’t have many flashy moments, but her play was solid and consistent. She put in a lot of defensive work, tracking back to help Theresa Nielsen, and when Rapinoe would roam she alertly moved into the vacated space to maintain Seattle’s shape and provide passing options.
Beverly Yanez (on 66’; incomplete) – With the top players all essentially healthy and available for the first time this season, Yanez moved to a substitute role. I have a feeling we’ll see her a lot in this role if everyone is healthy, since she can effectively slot into any of the forward or attacking midfield positions. In her 24 minutes this week she mostly provided relief to Taylor in executing Seattle’s high press, while also dropping back to support Catley as Sky Blue found success in attacking the Reign along that side, particularly through McCaskill.
Jasmyne Spencer (on 76’; incomplete) – Spencer brought her trademark speed and willingness to dribble and take on defenders. She had a nice moment in second-half stoppage time where she took the ball into the corner to kill some time, but her passing wasn’t quite on and neither of her two attempts connected with a teammate.
Elizabeth Addo (on 86’; incomplete) – Addo was a very late sub which allowed Fishlock a chance to revel in a little more applause for her 100-game celebration as she stepped off the field. By that point in the match the outcome was basically determined and play was a bit sloppy as both sides wound down the clock, so Addo had little influence on the game.
Mark Allatin (7) – I had no notable issue with the way this game was called. I liked that he went back to caution Erica Skroski for her foul on Jess Fishlock after calling advantage on the original play and waiting for the sequence to finish; too often officials don’t return to those sorts of incidents, especially early in the game. The only two notable things I had in my notes were in the 44th minute when McNabb appeared to bulldoze Lloyd after Lloyd had already passed the ball, but no call was made, and a curious sequence after a Reign foul about 30 yards from their own goal where the ball was almost on top of a football line, but he paced off 11 yards rather than just using the provided markings to make sure he got the positioning right. Luckily nothing came of the ensuing set piece.
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