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Valkyratings: Rumi Utsugi is a ball magnet

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Photo credit - MikeRussellFoto

Seattle Reign FC’s long road trip continued on Saturday with a visit to the Orlando Pride, with the teams splitting the points in a 1-1 draw.

Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski continued to rotate his squad, making four changes from the lineup that started last week in North Carolina. Seattle was also bolstered thanks to the return of their Japan and Australia international players.

This game also saw the team return to their more typical 4-3-3 formation, with Allie Long and Rumi Utsugi primarily assuming defensive responsibilities while Jess Fishlock was left free to serve in a more playmaking role higher up the field.

Starters

Michelle Betos (4 saves, 1 goal conceded, caution 89’; 7) – Betos wasn’t asked to do many difficult things in this match, with three fairly routine saves along with one quality stop in the 11th minute on an Alex Morgan shot that she got just enough contact on to tip off the post. That’s a testament to the organization of her backline, limiting the number of good chances available to Orlando’s dangerous attacking corps. There was next-to-nothing Betos could do on Marta’s picture-perfect free kick from 25 yards. Her only negative marks were a few botched clearances and kicks upfield that went straight out of bounds, an issue which has occasionally plagued every Seattle goalkeeper.

Christen Westphal (6; off 77’) – Westphal (and the entire Reign defense, to an extent) had another shaky start to this game, with a number of poor touches and bad passes in the opening 15 minutes before settling down and putting in a quality hour of play. She stayed back more than typical for a Reign outside back, but this likely had to do with the speed threat presented by Orlando. Alex Morgan had one good shot on goal in the 12th minute when she slipped in front of Westphal in the box, but other than that Westphal and Oyster did well to deny Morgan space and allow her to turn with the ball.

Megan Oyster (6) – Oyster had a big part in both goals in this game. On Seattle’s goal, she smartly stayed high after Orlando botched their set-piece clearance and aggressively challenged for a loose ball, leaping high over Marta to head the ball forward to a wide-open Allie Long. Later in the game it was her foul on Alex Morgan that resulted in Marta’s free kick and goal. Beyond those two actions, she had another strong, solid game in the back.

Kristen McNabb (6) – McNabb earned her first significant minutes of the season and had a quiet but solid game as the more stay-at-home centerback. Like the rest of the back line, her first 15 minutes were a bit shaky, but after she settled well. The highlight of her game was an outstanding tackle in the 14th minute to stop a Morgan attacking opportunity in the Seattle box. Her passing accuracy was unusually low for a Reign centerback at only 68%, but the entire team had a poor game in that regard.

Steph Catley (6) – Catley made her Reign debut in a stadium she knows well from her time with Orlando. Unsurprisingly, she had a rough start to the game as she adjusted to new teammates with whom she has had less than a week of practice, but like the rest of the team she settled after the first quarter hour and had a great second half. Early in the game, she got caught drifting inside several times, which enabled Pride attackers to find space in the corner and hit in dangerous crosses. As Catley and her teammates got more familiar with each other’s tendencies, that issue resolved itself and she was able to get into the attack more often, including a great cross in the 67th minute that led to a Rumi Utsugi shot, and some smart, quick play on throw-ins that caught Orlando sleeping on defense.

Allie Long (goal 33’, 8) – Long has continued to impress in the defensive midfield role for Seattle, a position where the Reign had major problems last year. She and Rumi Utsugi both had a fantastic game vacuuming up virtually every ball that came within 30 yards of them. Long had 11 recoveries and won 14 challenges. Leading up to her goal she showed good presence of mind to drift into open space in a spot where Oyster could find her, and she placed her shot very well across the face of the goal to beat Ashlyn Harris on the far post. Like much of the team her passing accuracy was unusually low in this match, including a particularly poor giveaway in her own third in the 17th minute which led to a Pride scoring opportunity, but that was offset by a beautiful through ball in the 43rd minute that found Jess Fishlock in a seam between two defenders for a great Seattle opportunity. She also did very well to chase down Alex Morgan in the 70th minute after Morgan got into a pocket of space behind Catley, ultimately sliding to block Morgan’s cross attempt.

Rumi Utsugi (9; PotM) – Utsugi was a beast in midfield in this game. Every time the ball drifted into the middle of the pitch, she inevitably popped up and claimed it as hers, finishing with a whopping 9 tackles and a ton of interceptions. Orlando ultimately adjusted their tactics in the second half in an effort to bypass the black hole that was the Reign defensive midfield, opting to instead play more direct and send balls into the corner for their attackers to chase down. Utsugi also had a great look on goal in the 67th minute, making a late run into the box to and one-timing a nice Steph Catley cross. It was a close call between Utsugi and Long for Player of the Match, but ultimately Utsugi’s gritty defensive play won out for me.

Jess Fishlock (6; off 57’) – Fishlock was given a lot more freedom to get involved in the attack and be the playmaker in this game, with Long and Utsugi responsible for the defensive side of things. Despite her injury-shortened outing, she had the second most shot attempts on the team. She also won the foul that led to the Reign goal. She and Pride midfielder Alanna Kennedy had several clashes throughout the game, each taking out the other a few times, including the collision that led to Fishlock leaving the match with an injury. Hopefully the injury is not too severe, but this is probably the first season ever where Seattle has sufficient quality depth to weather an absence.

Beverly Yanez (6; off 73’) – Yanez’s playing style this year has shifted a bit from her more offensive mentality in seasons past. She has shown much better two-way ability this season, and her defensive stats are significantly better, including yet another game with six tackles. She had two good looks on goal shortly before subbing off — the first was blocked, and the second fizzed just wide of goal a minute later.

Jodie Taylor (6) – Taylor came inches from opening the scoring in the 31st minute after finding herself wide open at the top of the 6 yard box on a Naho Kawasumi cross. Her shot had Harris beat, but it hit the post and was cleared away. That was one of her team-high five attempts on the day, but none of the others tested Harris too much. Although Taylor didn’t get onto the score sheet, her high pressure and hold-up play continue to be a positive, and she forces opposing defenses to track her and leave space behind and wide for her teammates to work in.

Nahomi Kawasumi (7) – Kawasumi had a great match, leading the team with 5 chances created and putting in some great crosses, including the aforementioned ball to Taylor that ultimately went off the post.

Substitutes

Morgan Andrews (on 57’; 6) – For the third match in a row, Seattle had to make an unplanned sub, which meant that Andrews entered the game fairly cold and not in the position she was expecting to play even if she was going to sub in later. However, aside from one particularly poor pass her entry was almost seamless, and she actually finished with more pass attempts than the player she replaced, despite playing only half as long.

Jasmyne Spencer (on 73’; incomplete) – As usual, Spencer brought a spark of energy to the Reign as the team tired in the second half. Although she was playing as an wide forward, she put in a lot of defensive work to support Catley and had a decent shot on goal.

Theresa Nielsen (on 77’; incomplete) – Nielsen did not get the start this time at right back, but subbed in late to replace Westphal. She didn’t have many chances to get forward and join the attack, but the pairing of her and Catley wide should present a lot of interesting attacking opportunities for Seattle in the future.

Officials

Javier Santos (4) – This was Santos’ first NWSL game (and only his fourth professional league match ever as a center official, if the PRO Referees website is accurate). Overall, I thought he let a bit too much go on both sides. Fishlock and Kennedy had several clashes throughout the game, and the one that led to Fishlock’s injury was not even called as a foul despite what looked to be a push by Kennedy. Similarly, there was a stretch around the 75th minute where the Pride had a number of questionable late tackles in a row in midfield, but play continued on since Seattle maintained possession. I would have liked to see play stopped for at least one of them just to settle things down a bit.

There was also the question of what exactly happened in an incident between Ashlyn Harris and Jodie Taylor, but we’ve already talked about that in some detail…

Poll

Who was your Reign FC player of the match?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Michelle Betos
    (0 votes)
  • 31%
    Allie Long
    (9 votes)
  • 65%
    Rumi Utsugi
    (19 votes)
  • 3%
    Other (note in comments)
    (1 vote)
29 votes total Vote Now