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Valkyratings: The good, the bad and the ugly

It could have been much closer, or much, much worse.

It was a rough day for Seattle Reign FC, who once again fell to a strong North Carolina Courage side that they have yet to defeat. Seattle started brightly with a penalty save and early goal, and thought they had a second before the half-hour mark, before the wheels fell off in defense.

Reign FC used their usual 4-3-3 formation to start the game, relying on two defensive mids to help protect their backline from a dangerous and speedy North Carolina attack that always takes a lot of shots, but rarely puts most of them on target. Unfortunately for Seattle, the Courage were sharpshooters in this match, putting over half of their 25 shots on target, while the Reign finishing was poor yet again.

Seattle actually had more possession, far more passes, and better passing accuracy, but it was all for naught as they got only 5 of their 16 shot attempts on target and were pulled into playing the type of game the Courage excel at — speed and direct, physical play, rather than playing a finesse and technique game focused on possession like they prefer. Reign FC need to rediscover their finishing technique and get back to the basics that worked well for them in the early part of the season to break out of their recent slide in form.

The 4-1 score line flatters the visitors a bit, especially considering that the Reign dominated possession and shots in the second half, but there was no question who was the better team on the day.

Starters

Lydia Williams (penalty saved 8’, 10 saves, 4 goals conceded; 6) – You know it was a rough game when your goalkeeper has to retrieve the ball from her net four times, and still put in one of the better performances of the match. Williams started off brightly, with a huge save on a well-placed penalty attempt by her fellow L. Williams, Lynn. She followed that up with a pair of huge stops in the 15th minute, first charging out to deny Willams an open shot with a full-body block, and then scrambling to deflect Debinha’s shot off the rebound.

The only goal she probably could have done a bit more on was the bomb from Merritt Mathias early in the second half, which Williams dove to punch wide, but due to the fact that the ball was curling away from her ended up only deflecting off her hand and into the side netting. Williams did everything she could to keep her team in the game, finishing with a season-high 10 saves, but the Courage attack was relentless and precise.

Steph Catley (4) – The entire Reign defense had a rough outing in this game. The Courage attack overwhelmed them with speed and physicality, and Seattle was unable to adjust. In Catley’s case, the game started with her getting whistled for a handball in the box. It wasn’t intentional, but her arm was clearly in an unnatural position. She was also outjumped by Lynn Williams on the first Courage goal. Catley finished second on the Reign in touches and had a decent night passing, but only created one chance out of all that effort.

Kristen McNabb (4) & Megan Oyster (goal 18’; 4) – This was the first time Oyster and McNabb started together since game 6 against Sky Blue, back in mid-May, which coincidentally also finished 4-1 and was the last time Williams conceded a goal. The pair had a rough outing this go-round. They struggled to deal with the speed and interchanges of North Carolina’s forwards and attacking mids. Seattle’s tactics in possession also generally circumvented them, with each having about half the usual number of touches and passes, and their passing accuracy was abysmal for defenders, both just barely above 60%.

Oyster was in a great spot to pick up the rebound to score Seattle’s lone goal, which she roofed into the net from about six yards out (it’s a good thing she wasn’t another foot or two back!), but she also shared a big part of both goals scored by Crystal Dunn. On the first, both she and Alyssa Kleiner were caught watching the ball which had gone out of bounds and bounced upfield, and didn’t notice that Jess McDonald had picked up another ball for one of her long throw-ins, which left the entire Reign defense in disarray as other players scrambled to pick up marks. On the second, Seattle had shifted to three in the back, but Oyster stayed tucked in toward the middle and failed to track Dunn making a run to her side, instead opting to step up to triple-team Lynn Williams, who was able to slide a pass to the wide open Dunn.

Alyssa Kleiner (off 65’; 4) – My first impressions while attending the match were that Kleiner had a good match — she made several huge tackles to bail out her teammates, including a Fishlockian dispossession tackle of Dunn in the 26th minute, and another lung-busting run and tackle to break up a potential 2-v-1 in the 53rd minute, but upon rewatching the match I realized those were among the few high points of the game for anyone on defense. Just a minute after her first huge tackle, she got roasted by a Jaelene Hinkle shimmy and cut, which enabled Hinkle to loft in the long cross for the first Courage goal. Kleiner was also a black hole in possession, completing a disappointing team-low 47% of her pass attempts, which exacerbated the issue of the Courage springing fast counters against a defense caught upfield.

Allie Long (5) & Rumi Utsugi (off 58’; 5) – The Reign midfield was the main bright spot in this game. Long and Utsugi did well to limit the danger of McCall Zerboni in attack, disrupting play whenever the ball came near her or fellow center mid Denise O’Sullivan. Unfortunately, the inverse was true when Seattle possessed the ball — Zerboni was a constant pest, forcing Seattle to change their attacking approach and get the ball upfield (generally to Megan Rapinoe) as quickly as possible rather than building attacks with slow, deliberate possession. As usual, Long was among the most accurate passers on the team, but like the centerbacks behind her she had far fewer touches than usual. Utsugi was on pace for more touches and more passes before being sacrificed to presumably rest her for Wednesday’s game and also to make the midfield a bit more attacking-oriented to chase the game.

Elizabeth Addo (6) – Addo started her second game in a row in attacking mid and had another quality performance. She had the best passing of any starter in this match, completing 85% of her 40 attempts, and had a few decent looks on goal, but unfortunately none of her attempts were on target. She was the primary fulcrum to switch play in midfield as Seattle pressed the ball upfield with more urgency than usual, and her accuracy was critical in generating many of Seattle’s best chances. For the second game in a row she was also the most fouled Seattle player, again winning the team four free kicks in good positions. Her bike attempt in the 85th minute was a bit audacious and not even close to being on target, but given the game state it was worth the attempt and recovered the crowd’s waning attention.

Megan Rapinoe (6; PotM) – Even more than typical, for the last few games everything Seattle has done in attack has channeled through Rapinoe. She finished with a team-high 97 touches (numbers more typical for Reign centerbacks as they pass the ball around in the back to look for channels forward in attack). She also won the foul that led to Seattle’s only goal, and her well-placed set piece forced a big rebound that Oyster was able to slam home. Seattle had a ton of corner kicks in this game, and Rapinoe’s placement on most was quality, finding teammates or putting them into dangerous spots more often than not.

Although she played hero ball at times and took a few shots that might have been ill-advised, she was reasonably generous in trying to set up teammates for scoring opportunities. She had a great cross to Bev Yanez in the early moments of the second half which was unfortunately headed over the bar, and a fun backheel flick to spring Adriana Leon on goal, but Leon’s first touch let her down. Her one big negative mark came in defending the third Courage goal. Mathias picked up a clearance near midfield and Rapinoe stepped over to mark her, but only halfheartedly thrust a leg out to challenge, which Mathias easily dribbled around before taking a wide-open shot.

Jodie Taylor (4) – Taylor’s slump continued in this game. For the second match in a row she recorded only one shot, as she seemed to struggle to figure out her best role as more and more of the Reign attack moves through the left side rather than via through balls and the hold-up play that worked well for her at the start of the season. For a while in this game she moved wide and swapped spots with Bev Yanez in an attempt to shake things up a bit, and was rewarded with a few more looks on the ball and even created two scoring chances, but it’s now been six games since her last goal.

Beverly Yanez (off 65’; 5) – Yanez had a couple of good scoring chances in this game, but her finishing let her down in both cases. Like Taylor, she struggled to find the game at times since most of Seattle’s opportunities were coming from the opposite side. For a while in the second half she moved to the central role, and had a nice give-and-go with Rapinoe just before subbing off to put Rapinoe in on goal for a shot from a tough angle.

Substitutes

Morgan Andrews (on 58’; 5) – Andrews saw her first playing time since week 8 against the Dash, coming on as a more attacking sub for the defensive-minded Utsugi. Of note, after the three Reign subs came on Seattle dominated possession, registering eight of their 16 shots in the final 21 minutes. How much each sub contributed to that versus the Courage being willing to sit back more with a comfortable lead is debatable, but regardless the Reign looked much better in that period.

Nahomi Kawasumi (on 65’; 6) – After being an unused sub last week, Naho returned to the pitch this week and played a bit of a hybrid midfield/wingback role after subbing on for Alyssa Kleiner and moving to three in the back. She had one shot but also created a good scoring chance in her 25 minutes on the field. Her footwork and play on the ball was refreshing to see after Seattle wasted so many passes and dribbles earlier in the match.

Adrianna Leon (on 65’; 4) – The newest Reign FC player made her debut just a few days after being traded to Seattle and nearly doubled her minutes played this season in her 25 minute cameo. Just moments after coming on she nearly had a fantastic scoring opportunity after making a good run and receiving a Rapinoe backheel to spring her in on goal, but her first touch caused the ball to bounce far from her and let Katelyn Rowland charge out to smother the ball. Leon has had barely any playing time this season, and combined with being new to the Reign and only having a day or two of practice with them, the rust showed. She should be an interesting option as a sub in the future, but it’ll probably take a few weeks to fully integrate and get up to speed.

Officials

Lucasz Szpala (4) – This was a disappointing game from an officiating standpoint. The early penalty call was proper, but from then on the match was called very inconsistently. The match was quite physical, and in several instances players were clipped from behind or pushed but Szpala let play continue even without a clear advantage when it would have been preferable to blow the whistle and settle play a bit. Twice in quick succession midway through the first half there were situations where a Seattle player appeared to have been fouled and the ball went out of bounds, which either should have resulted in a foul called or a Reign throw-in if Szpala thought the Courage player got the ball rather than the player, but which were instead awarded to NC.

The second Courage goal came off a throw-in that was taken about 10 yards from the spot where the ball went out. Typically this is a non-issue and Seattle should have been paying closer attention to the play, but later on Szpala got very nitpicky about positioning, to the point of asking players to move over when they were just a yard or two away from where the actual spot should have been for the throw.

Finally, the camera angles available make it difficult for me to judge whether the offside call on Allie Long in the 23rd minute, which brought back her apparent goal, was correct or not. In real time she looked to be on by a half-step, but there was no conclusive angle made available which shows her and the defenders at the exact moment Rapinoe struck the ball for the pass.

Poll

Who was your Reign FC player of the match?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Elizabeth Addo
    (8 votes)
  • 17%
    Megan Rapinoe
    (3 votes)
  • 5%
    Lydia Williams
    (1 vote)
  • 23%
    No one
    (4 votes)
  • 5%
    Other (note in comments)
    (1 vote)
17 votes total Vote Now