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Reign Report: Giving Jersey the (Sky) Blues

It’s forecast to be another stormy night in New Jersey.

Photo by MikeRussellFoto

What You’ll Watch

Seattle Reign FC continues its two-game road adventure with a weekend match against Sky Blue FC. This is already the third meeting this year between these two clubs — their final matchup for the regular season.

Despite the mid-week loss, Seattle remains second in the league with a record of 4-2-2 (14 points in eight games played; 1.75 ppg) while Sky Blue sits in ninth place with a record of 0-6-1 (one point in seven games played; 0.14 ppg). On Wednesday, Seattle lost 2-1 in the final seconds to the Houston Dash, while Sky Blue fell 1-0 to the Washington Spirit. Both games were played on the road.

This will be the 16th all-time meeting between the two clubs. Seattle is 6-4-5 against Sky Blue, with 26 goals scored and 21 conceded. The last time they met, just two weeks ago, Seattle won 4-1 in a game that was played at home at Memorial Stadium. Reign FC also earned a 1-0 victory in April against Sky Blue in tough weather conditions — with strong wind and rain.

A Look at the Enemy

Last Five: L-L-L-L-T

Leading Scorer: Katie Johnson and Savannah McCaskill, two goals each

Assist Leader: Sarah Killion, two

Injury Report

Sky Blue

QUESTIONABLE: Erica Skroski (right hamstring strain), Rebekah Stott (right groin strain)

Seattle

OUT: Yael Averbuch (illness), Jaycie Johnson (right knee sprain – D45), Megan Oyster (left knee sprain)

Weather Report

At kickoff, it is expected to be 84 degrees with 59 percent humidity. Unfortunately, the forecast also calls for scattered thunderstorms beginning an hour into the match.

Match Officials

Referee: Jasmine Peralta

AR1: Ian Mckay

AR2: Benjamin Wooten

4th Official: Thomas Snyder

What to Watch

Sky Blue’s System

Sky Blue plays in a standard 4-3-3 formation, with most of the play happening narrowly through the middle of the field. Unlike most teams that deploy this formation, the New Jersey side does not rely on runs up the flanks from their outside backs. Instead, their defenders generally stay put and they try to build play through their midfield.

Seattle was able to punish this last match by pushing outside backs Steph Catley and Theresa Nielsen up high constantly. It resulted in some great interplay between Catley and Rapinoe — and I expect Vlatko Andonovski will try something similar against Sky Blue this weekend.

Under new head coach Denise Reddy, Sky Blue has adjusted its playing style dramatically. Last year’s team played incredibly direct — getting the ball as quickly up the field to Sam Kerr as possible. Without the 2017 NWSL MVP on their team, and with a new coach, tactics have shifted. The team now focuses on quick, one- and two-touch passes, trying to move the ball quickly around the field to find gaps. Despite only playing seven matches — when many teams have racked up nine or 10 — Sky Blue is second in the league in passes (3,073), behind only Laura Harvey’s Utah Royals.

All that passing hasn’t resulted in many goals, however. Much of that has taken place deeper in the midfield. Carli Lloyd and Sarah Killion lead the team in touches and passes. A lot of their play feels passive and without a real hunger for goal, and the stats back this up. Sky Blue is at the bottom of the league in fouls committed — often a sign of high pressure — and their defenders, on average, win only 47 percent of duels.

Despite these data points, this Sky Blue team has a ton of talent in the attack. They have players like Savannah McCaskill, Katie Johnson, and Shea Groom who are all capable of pressing high and pressuring defenses. Will they deploy this tactic on Saturday? It’s hard to say — but if Seattle focuses on playing its style of aggressive, attacking soccer, the team should be able to conclude its road trip with three points.

Quick Keys

  • Pressure the midfield: It’s where most of Sky Blue’s passing takes place. Pressuring the New Jersey midfield into mistakes should spring a few quick Seattle Reign restarts.
  • Use the width: Sky Blue should adjust its tactics and play wider against Seattle, but they haven’t proven to be a very malleable team up to this point. Expect Reign FC outside backs to press high up the field on the flanks — looking for quick one-two passes with the wing players in the attack.
  • Close out the game: Seattle has given up 7 of its 8 goals between minutes 61-75. That’s a time when tired legs and a foot off the gas pedal can be punished. Reign FC will need to focus on energy throughout the second half, but especially during these 15 minutes.

How to Watch

Date/Time: Saturday, May 26, 4:00 PM PT

Location: Yurcak Field, Piscataway, New Jersey

Streaming: U.S. go90 (app/website), International: NWSL (app/website)