Seattle Reign FC returned from the international break with a visit to the Washington Spirit, which saw neither side able to find the goal in a 0-0 draw. Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe had a huge role in helping her side to split the points, with some huge saves which earned her league Player of the Week honors.
Both sides were dealing with some significant injuries; Seattle’s most notable was Jess Fishlock, who missed her second match of the season while dealing with a quad strain. Elizabeth Addo took her spot in attacking midfield, while Beverly Yanez started up front in place of Naho Kawasumi. The team listed the lineup as a 4-3-3, but tactically Addo played a very aggressive attacking role and Yanez (and later Rapinoe) dropped back quite a bit more than usual for Reign forwards, while Allie Long and Rumi Utsugi operated as a double pivot in midfield and didn’t roam upfield as much as usual, meaning the formation played more like a 4-2-3-1.
Overall the tactical ideas were solid, but Bledsoe’s stellar performance and some issues with finishing meant that Seattle was unable to find goal for the second game in a row.
Lydia Williams (2 saves, shutout; 7) – Williams didn’t have too much to do in this game, facing only two shots on target, both of which were fairly routine shots right to her, and rare crosses and chips into the box that she had to claim. Thus, her rating reflects more the task she was asked to do versus what she might have been capable of if she had faced more challenging shots like her counterpart for the Spirit.
This was Williams’ fourth consecutive shutout, and she had conceded only one goal all season. As a team, the Reign have conceded the fewest goals in the league – 8 over their 11 matches, tied with Utah – while over half of the teams have given up more than double that number. Seattle might not be scoring at the pace they were in prior years, but when you don’t give up goals you can’t lose. In comparison, at this point last year they had conceded 15.
Steph Catley (7) – Catley was very active on the wing, with the team preferring to use her side to move play forward and create chances. She had great passing statistics – connecting on 85% of her 27 attempts, and she had a fantastic chipped cross into the box in the 86th minute to Rapinoe’s head which forced a huge save from Aubrey Bledsoe.
Lauren Barnes (off 77’; 7) & Megan Oyster (7) – A big factor in Williams having a quiet game was her centerback pairing, both of whom did a great job blocking shots and crosses into the box and forcing the Spirit to take more speculative chances from distance. Oyster looked like she didn’t miss a step in during her downtime with injury, and after a shaky 2017 campaign, Barnes appears to have regained the form that saw her win Defender of the Year honors in 2016. The only negative mark in my notes against either was in second half stoppage time, when Oyster lost track of Andi Sullivan on a long run during a Spirit counterattack, but Sullivan skied her wide open shot from 10 yards out.
Theresa Nielsen (6) – Nielsen had a steady game, albeit more quiet than her counterpart Catley. Her pass quality wasn’t quite as good, but some of that is reflected in her mostly working with Bev Yanez on her side, who frequently dropped back into midfield to cover for Elizabeth Addo, versus Catley working with Rapinoe. With the Spirit preferring to attack more directly and through the middle, the Reign fullbacks did not have as much defensive responsibility in this game and were able to press forward aggressively and often.
Allie Long (6) & Rumi Utsugi (6) – Both defensive midfielders had good games this week. They didn’t do anything too flashy, but provided an extra layer of defensive support and helped build play out of the back as usual. Long was second behind Oyster for both touches and passes in the game. There were a few times where Addo pressed forward high enough that it would have been nice to see either Long or Utsugi move up to make a secondary run into the open space at the top of the box, and neither had their best shooting boots on this game. In the 37th minute Addo chased down a ball near the end line and centered it back to Utsugi on one of her rare forays forward, but the open shot was skied.
Elizabeth Addo (caution 47’; 7; PotM) – Addo continues to be in favor with Vlatko Andonovski, and she rewarded him with her best performance of the season in her first full 90. She was officially lined up as an attacking midfielder in place of the injured Jess Fishlock, but in reality played the role as more of a withdrawn forward, frequently ending up as the highest player on the pitch. In the early going this caused some issues because there was a big gap in the Reign formation where she was meant to be, about 30 yards from goal, but both she and her teammates eventually adjusted to compensate for this. Bev Yanez frequently dropped back to help occupy that space when defending, and Megan Rapinoe and Jodie Taylor likewise dropped back to receive passes in possession and then look for Addo or the outside backs for give-and-gos.
Addo had one good scoring opportunity in the 30th minute when Rapinoe headed a chip back across the box to her feet. It looked like the opportunity might be wasted when she took a touch rather than one-timing a shot, but thanks to some deft footwork her second touch pulled the defender out of position and she was able to find a pocket of space to put the ball on frame. She also did a lot of dirty work with the ball, getting stuck in and taking on challenges that she was generally able to win thanks to her strong frame and excellent footwork. She was fouled a game-high four times and won Seattle several set pieces in dangerous places on the field.
Megan Rapinoe (saved penalty 52’; 6) – Rapinoe had a bit of a mixed game. She surprised everyone with a long throw-in in the 5th minute that went all the way through the Spirit box untouched, and again turned provider in the 30th minute when she headed a long cross back across the face of goal to Addo instead of redirecting it on frame. After that she became more focused on goal herself, but her touch seemed a bit off most of the game. Her free kicks lacked her usual precision, and likewise her penalty kick was low and straight up the middle at where Bledsoe was standing.
As the game progressed Rapinoe dropped back into midfield a lot more to pick up the ball, and finally in the waning minutes of the game she had a great scoring opportunity that was hit well, but Bledsoe’s remarkable diving save tipped the headed shot just wide of the post to preserve the draw.
Jodie Taylor (caution 90+1’; 5) – Attackers are often streaky, and right now Taylor seems to be going through a bit of a cold streak after starting the season hot. She had only one shot all game, and spent a lot of time chasing the game by dropping back into midfield rather than staying up high and playing off the shoulder of her defender like earlier in the season, where she could either hold up the ball and lay it off to a second runner, or turn and run onto through balls for scoring opportunities of her own. In the 70th minute she received a great long cross from Utsugi, but took an extra touch to cut it back across and gave Bledsoe enough time to charge out and smother the ball. I have no doubt she’ll regain her form in the near future, but a busy 10 days of international play and travel, combined with not having much opportunity to practice with her teammates, took a toll in this game.
Beverly Yanez (off 71’; 5) – Yanez had a bit of a predicament in this game. She was technically lined up at right forward in place of Naho, but with Addo pushing so far up the field she often needed to drop back and provide coverage in midfield, especially when Washington gained possession and started their counters. Seattle actually seemed to adjust in the second half to take this into consideration and pulled both Yanez and Rapinoe back into a midfield band. Yanez didn’t get many touches on the ball, but she had one good look on goal in the 62nd minute off an Addo through ball, but rather than one-timing a shot Bev took a touch which enabled Estelle Johnson to get back and shoulder her off and clear the ball. Yanez probably would have been better served starting as a midfielder in this game.
Jasmyne Spencer (on 71’; incomplete) – I really would have liked to see this change about 10 minutes sooner, since after the Rapinoe’s missed penalty the Spirit had momentum and were starting to apply consistent pressure to Seattle for the first time all game. Spencer’s entrance gave Seattle a new option for breaking that pressure, as exemplified by her fantastic long dribble from midfield in the 81st minute, where she slalomed through two bands of Spirit defenders before cutting inside and launching a quality shot from distance that looked to be destined for the corner of the goal before being tipped just wide by a huge Bledsoe diving save.
Kristen McNabb (on 77’; incomplete) – McNabb came into the game unexpectedly after Barnes took a hard shot to the face late in the game and was unable to continue playing due to concussion concerns. Fortunately she had plenty of experience working with Oyster earlier this season, so the pairing was able to quickly adapt to the change and see out the remaining 15 or so minutes of play.
Lorant Varga (6) – This was a somewhat physical game, but Varga kept things under reasonable control and used his book smartly to calm things down the few times fouls became reckless. I thought he could have booked Rapinoe for a poor trip on Francisca Ordega in the 56th minute, but aside from that I had no complaints about the foul calls. There was also no question about the handball that led to the penalty kick.
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