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Valkyratings: Lydia Williams and her defense keep things clean

The rain wreaked havoc on the offense, but the defense rose to the occasion.

Photo by MikeRussellFoto

Seattle Reign FC hosted the Chicago Red Stars in a defensive battle on Saturday night, with neither side finding the net in a 0-0 draw that saw two solid defenses and offenses that couldn’t consistently get into gear. A big, unexpected challenge in this game was the rain and swirling wind that kicked up about 15 minutes into the match, creating slippery and blustery conditions that plagued both teams and led to abysmal pass completion percentages – Seattle completed 65% of their passes (about 5-10% lower than typical), while Chicago was even worse and found the intended target only 56% of the time.

As I mentioned in reviewing performances after the first Sky Blue game during week 2, my ratings take conditions into account, so that poor passing in this weather doesn’t affect ratings as much as it would on a calm, clear day.

Starters

Lydia Williams (4 saves, shutout; 8; PotM) – Williams came up big when she had to in tough conditions, with some big punches to clear set pieces early in the game and a massive double-save in the 42nd minute to preserve the draw. With long pases failing miserably for most of the team all night, Williams and her centerbacks had to do a lot of passing out of the back, and they did well to keep possession in the face of a high press and not commit too many turnovers. There were a few Chicago crosses and chips into the box that I thought Williams might have been a bit more aggressive to claim rather than letting her defenders clear them out of play, but given the conditions it probably made sense to be more cautious.

Alyssa Kleiner (6) – Kleiner got her first start of the season in place of Theresa Nielsen, and put in a good performance. Toward the end of the game Chicago moved Sam Kerr wide to her side trying to find some gaps to exploit, but Kleiner did well to keep Kerr in check and not cede space.

Kristen McNabb (caution 86’; 5) – McNabb had a bit of a mixed game. She mostly did well when defending, with some nice clearances and recoveries, but her distribution left a lot to be desired and led to some dangerous Red Stars counterattacks. Her late tackle in the 86th minute was also nasty, and I thought she was fortunate to only see yellow.

Lauren Barnes (7) – With Megan Oyster’s injury, Barnes returned to the starting lineup for the first time since week two. For much of the game she had primary Kerr-marking duties, sticking with her like glue and preventing Kerr from making turns and runs with the ball, where she is most often dangerous. With Oyster out for the coming road trip, I would expect to see Barnes reclaim her starting spot for at least the next two games.

Steph Catley (6) – Catley had fewer defensive duties than her opposite counterpart since Sofia Huerta preferred to operate more in the midfield space and loft crosses in, rather than make runs at Catley. Thus, Catley was able to press forward more, and contributed to several of Seattle’s best scoring opportunities. In the 17th minute she had a great give-and-go sequence with Rapinoe to spring the latter into space near the corner, and when Chicago pressed Seattle’s defense while in possession, she partnered well with Barnes and Williams to break the press and move the ball upfield effectively.

Allie Long (6) & Rumi Utsugi (6) – Both teams had big struggles in the offensive phase in midfield, which I can only attribute to the weather conditions since preferred starters were on the field and each team had a full week of recovery from their prior match. Despite being well below her usual standard, Long led all Reign players with 75% passing accuracy. In the defensive phase they looked better, with Utsugi and Long each clogging up passing channels, intercepting balls, and winning a number of second balls on challenges.

Jess Fishlock (off 87’; 7) – Fishlock had a nice game in attack. Although she was only credited with one shot and one chance created, she also won a team-high five fouls and committed none. Her snap header off a Rapinoe cross in the 23rd minute was well taken, although the ball streaked just wide of goal. She and Rapinoe traded roles in the 68th minute when her long, arcing pass from the Reign defensive third hit Rapinoe in stride for another shot.

Megan Rapinoe (7) – Rapinoe was her usual busy self in this game, always looking to make runs toward goal and try shots from all over the attacking third. This game she also served as a creator, with a great play in the 7th minute to draw defenders out toward her before slipping a pass behind them to Taylor for a shot. In the 17th minute she had a great bit of interplay with Catley to get into space near the corner, but Alyssa Naeher did well to deflect her shot from a tight angle. A few minutes later she hit a pinpoint cross onto Fishlock’s head that snapped just wide. Another great shot from distance in the 68th minute was tipped over the bar. Her one big negative came in passing, much like most of her teammates – only 44% of her 34 pass attempts connected successfully.

Jodie Taylor (6) – Taylor had Seattle’s best scoring chance of the game in the 7th minute, when she received a through ball from Rapinoe in a seam of space at the top of the box, but her shot wasn’t hit with much power. She was also unlucky not to get on the end of a big rebound off a Rapinoe shot in the 17th minute, which bounced just beyond her outstretched leg. With Seattle’s struggles to complete passes in the attacking third Taylor was less involved than prior games, but she still brought a lot of high pressure and had a few good passing sequences with Rapinoe that might have turned into something in better conditions.

Nahomi Kawasumi (off 72’; 6) – An undervalued aspect of Naho’s play this season has been her defensive work rate. She regularly drops back to support her defender (Kleiner in this game). In past seasons, teams have exploited Seattle’s narrow midfield and tendency to push their fullbacks up by overloading numbers on the flank (Seattle does likewise in attack, but that’s a story for a different day.) With Naho dropping back regularly, numbers are balanced and teams can no longer pass around the Reign defense and dribble into the box or put in troublesome crosses with the same frequency. This week that was critical due to the shifty Sam Kerr, who drifted wide toward Seattle’s right flank while trying to shake the Reign centerbacks.

Substitutes

Jasmyne Spencer (on 72’; incomplete) – I was surprised not to see earlier substitutions in this game, given the tough conditions and way the game stagnated in the final 30 minutes, but with a short turnaround and two road matches in the next week I understand Vlatko Andonovski’s reasoning even if I don’t entirely agree with it. Spencer got a short run-out, but with the team having so much difficulty passing successfully most of her positives were in pressuring the Red Stars into likewise making errors.

Beverly Yanez (on 87’; incomplete) – Yanez had minimal time to make her mark in this game, but even in only six minutes of action she managed to win two fouls.

Officials

Katja Koroleva (4) – This was an oddly officiated game. I appreciated that Koroleva cautioned Nikki Stanton fairly early in the match for persistent infringement after she committed three fouls in the first 25 minutes (and the fourth foul Fishlock had already suffered), but some other calls were puzzling. In the 61st minute there was a strange sequence where the Red Stars chipped the ball over the Reign defense for Sam Kerr to run onto it, but the assistant referee inexplicably waited to raise his flag until after Koroleva whistled for offside. The match footage doesn’t show this play very well so it’s hard to tell what the reasoning was, but Rory Dames was apoplectic and had to be warned by the officials to calm down. In real time at the game Kerr did appear to be offside, so it might have been something as simple as the AR waiting to see if she played the ball (although it was clear she was running onto it and was ready to challenge Williams, so I’m not sure what exactly he was waiting for her to do.)

I agree with the caution on McNabb for her sliding challenge and thought it could have even been red, but there were several other tackles throughout the game that either garnered no whistle, or which should have similarly been booked but weren’t. Just before the hour mark there were two non-calls in a row. On the first, Barnes cleaned out Kerr on the follow-through of a tackle. Barnes won the ball cleanly, but her trailing leg took out the Australian and was deserving of a whistle. Then, moments later McNabb collided with Sarah Gorden during the follow-through of a routine play. There was no malicious intent, but McNabb’s arm was high and caused Gorden to have a bloody nose and lip, and also should have been called as a reckless foul. Finally, shortly after McNabb was cautioned for her tackle, Danielle Colaprico cleaned out Bev Yanez with a tackle that broke up a promising attack near midfield, which should have at least seen caution due to the tactical nature of it, if not due to its recklessness.

Poll

Who was your Reign FC Player of the Match?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Lauren Barnes
    (3 votes)
  • 6%
    Jess Fishlock
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Megan Rapinoe
    (0 votes)
  • 75%
    Lydia Williams
    (12 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (note in comments)
    (0 votes)
16 votes total Vote Now