After a shocking midweek loss at Houston, Seattle Reign FC continued their short roadtrip with a visit to Sky Blue FC to finish the season series between the two sides. Short rest and muggy conditions made for a bit of a slog, but Reign FC emerged victorious thanks to Megan Rapinoe’s second half goal.
Seattle had six changes from the lineup that started in Houston, with the goalkeeper, both fullbacks, attacking midfielder, and two forwards rotated in an effort to rest tired legs and capitalize on the weaknesses of their opponent. For the most part the Reign used their typical 4-3-3 formation with the fullbacks pushing forward to compensate for a narrow midfield band, but as the game progressed they kept their fullbacks at home more and pulled the outside forwards back into a midfield role in a 4-2-3-1, particularly after Jodie Taylor subbed off.
Picking a Player of the Match for this game was a challenge, because nearly everyone played well, but no one had a particularly outstanding match. Instead, the team gritted out a win in tough conditions on tired legs and did what they needed to do to bring home the points. Of all the players in the match, former Reign defender Rebekah Stott probably had the best night and saved her side from losing by 2 or 3 goals, but for the Reign, I ultimately went with Jess Fishlock’s energy and tenacity in midfield.
Lydia Williams (4 saves, shutout; 7) – Sky Blue didn’t threaten much in this match, but Williams was up to the task when they did. The toughest save came in the 9th minute, when Carli Lloyd got past her defender and put in a strong shot from a tight angle that forced a big block from Williams. That save led to a juicy rebound, but fortunately there were no Sky Blue players on the far post to redirect Lloyd’s follow-up cross.
Christen Westphal (assist 64’; 5) – Westphal struggled a bit with Sky Blue’s speed on the flanks, particularly late in the first half where she got burned several times on the dribble by Savannah McCaskill, Katie Johnson, and Janine Beckie. Fortunately none of the attacks amounted to much, but against a more skilled team this weakness would be a major issue. Westphal’s assist was an interesting sequence – it started with a poor passing decision that fortuitously went off a Sky Blue defender’s leg and right back to Westphal for an unconventional give-and-go, but her follow-up cross to Rapinoe with the outside of her boot was inch-perfect and a worthy reward for her continuing to chase the play.
Lauren Barnes (6) & Kristen McNabb (6) – Seattle spent far less time holding the ball in the back this game, with Barnes and McNabb getting half the touches they did against the Dash as they worked the ball forward more quickly. Barnes had one very strange moment in the second half when she tried to pass a ball back to Williams but horrendously mis-hit it straight out for a corner kick, but otherwise both centerbacks were solid, sharp and clean with their passing and defending, and got exposed far less than in the midweek game.
Theresa Nielsen (6) – Nielsen returned to the starting lineup as Seattle rotated their fullbacks for this match. She stayed back a lot more than in her prior start, generally only pushing forward as a support player behind the ball versus making attacking forays herself and hitting crosses into the box. Nielsen led all players with a whopping 8 tackles, and aside from Lloyd getting past her for an early shot, mostly kept her side of the line secure.
Allie Long (7) – Long was the Reign’s superglue on this road trip, doing a lot of inglorious work in the back to hold things together and make the rest of the team function. She led the team in touches and passes in this match, and was a constant presence in front of the back line, keeping an eye on Carli Lloyd, intercepting attempted Sky Blue through balls, and even blocking a few shots. In this match Long didn’t get forward nearly as much as usual, but her midfield counterparts more than made up for her absence in the attacking band.
Rumi Utsugi (6) – Utsugi had a quiet game in my notes, not doing anything particularly spectacular but also with minimal errors. She was the fulcrum on a Reign set piece in the 15th minute where Rapinoe lined up as if to take a shot from distance, but instead made a short pass to Utsugi who then chipped a cross to Fishlock on the far post for a good scoring opportunity.
Jess Fishlock (off 66’; 7; PotM) – After not seeing the pitch during the midweek match in order to get some additional rest and recovery time in, Fishlock returned to the lineup this game and was quite busy in her abbreviated appearance. With Sky Blue’s lack of defensive-minded midfielders, she frequently found herself in big pockets of space where she could dribble forward and link up with Reign attackers. Fishlock had a great shot early in the game after Elizabeth Addo laid off a short pass to hear near the spot, but it went right at Kalien Sheridan. Shortly thereafter she hit a beautiful through ball to Jodie Taylor, who had her defenders beat, but unfortunately couldn’t get a shot off in time before Rebekah Stott got back to toe-poke the ball away.
Megan Rapinoe (goal 64’; 6) – If you just looked at the statistics you might think Rapinoe had an outstanding match – a goal, 8 shots (5 on target), and very nearly an assist to go with it. But in reality it seemed like she was forcing play much of the time, with the majority of her shots coming from deep positions 20+ yards out and without much venom, when the better option might have been to look for a teammate or recycle play to keep possession. After her goal (a nicely taken one-time shot), Rapinoe seemed to settle down and showed a renewed vigor and focus. She put a great cross through the 6 yard box in the 70th minute that just missed connecting with Jasmyne Spencer, and in the 80th minute she sprung in alone on goal but Sheridan came up with a big save and Stott then cleared the rebound off the line.
Jodie Taylor (off 56’; 5) – Taylor had an off night, getting only eight touches all game and no shots off. She made some great runs and was put into dangerous positions the few times she received a pass, but inevitably was whistled offside or couldn’t quite finish off the opportunities. After playing every minute of every game to date, she likely needed a rest. Everyone has an off day here and there, and a substitution was probably overdue to let her rest and recharge.
Elizabeth Addo (off 81’; 6) – Addo earned her second consecutive start, but moved up the pitch in this match by taking Naho Kawasumi’s spot rather than a midfield role. She looked much more comfortable on the ball in this game and was given some freedom to roam. Addo was quite active, and came back frequently to help on defense and provide an outlet to help move play up the field. Her passes seemed more quick and sharp, with less dribbling into trouble, although there were still some issues with sometimes being out of sync with her teammates’ runs. She was unlucky not to earn an assist for her layoff pass on Fishlock’s 11th minute shot. Kawasumi likely brings more creativity to this position when Seattle needs to break down a defense, but Addo has energy and individual dynamism that will be useful in some situations, particularly when Megan Rapinoe is absent.
Jasmyne Spencer (on 56’; 6) – Spencer relieved the tired Taylor early in the second half, and was more active than her predecessor. She had a few great runs that were unlucky not to be rewarded with a goal, including coming inches away from redirecting a Rapine cross in the 70th minute, and a pair of long runs near the end of the match, the first of which she dribbled through two lines of Sky Blue defenders before ultimately losing the ball to Rebekah Stott, and the second of which she wisely slowed down and cut back to allow teammates to catch up and take more time off the clock.
Beverly Yanez (on 66’; incomplete) – With Yanez’s entry, Seattle permanently shifted to a 4-2-3-1, leaving Spencer alone at the top while Rapinoe and Addo dropped back with Yanez between them. Yanez had a fantastic pass in the 80th minute to put Rapinoe in on goal.
Alyssa Kleiner (on 81’; incomplete) – Similar to the Portland game a few weeks ago, Kleiner came on as a late sub in a defensive shift, nominally playing as a wide forward but more realistically serving as a defensive mid and extra fullback.
Jasmine Peralta (5) – This was a fairly physical game, with a lot of collisions and hard challenges throughout the game. For the most part Peralta let play continue and didn’t call much on either side, and fortunately things did not escalate further. There were two potentially controversial calls in the game. The first came in first-half stoppage time when Carli Lloyd went down in the Reign box after a challenge from Nielsen, but on replay it appeared that Lloyd ran into Nielsen as she attempted to dribble through her, more than Nielsen stepped into Lloyd’s path and tripped her up, so a non-call was the right decision there. The second was in the 59th minute, when Addo went down just outside the box as she attempted to dribble forward. Again no call was forthcoming, but on replay it looked like she was indeed fouled.
Who was your Reign FC player of the match?
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