A busy three-game week saw Seattle Reign FC make a quick mid-week visit to Utah for the first time before returning home to host their arch-rivals from the south for the only time this season, emerging victorious over Portland Thorns FC thanks to a late goal by Jodie Taylor.
Due to the compressed schedule and some technical snafus we won’t be writing up ratings for Utah, but long story short, Michelle Betos was the player of the match thanks to some huge saves which helped preserve the 0-0 draw. The midfield trio was good in that match, the defense was okay (although they gave up a number of dangerous looks), and the forwards struggled once again. Escaping with a point at altitude on short rest against a rival who is just behind you in the standings can be considered a success, and Betos was the key reason for that.
Fast forward to Saturday, and Seattle once again found themselves facing a strong opponent on short rest, and this time with a large contingent of very vocal away supporters doing their best to disrupt Fortress Memorial. Seattle has been blessed with an exceptionally large amount of depth this season, and Vlatko Andonovski once again put it to use by rotating his starting goalkeeper, one of his centerbacks, attacking midfielder, and right forward.
Author’s note: Valkyratings will be taking a break for the next two weeks while the author is traveling. Look for him in the stands when Seattle visits Chicago next weekend!
Lydia Williams (0 saves, shutout; 7) – Williams likely would have performed at a higher level than this rating if she’d been asked to, but when you face no shots on target you don’t have to do much to earn your clean sheet. Portland did test her with a few tough crosses, most of which she came out to grab or punch clear, but the few that did find Thorns attackers were redirected off-frame.
Steph Catley (6) – I didn’t have a lot in my notes for Catley, either good or bad. Megan Rapinoe was feasting on Ellie Carpenter’s iffy defensive positioning all night, so Catley didn’t need to bomb forward as often to provide outlet passes and put crosses in. Portland did eventually adjust to provide Carpenter more support in the second half, at which point Catley helped set up two good chances for Rapinoe through smart passing sequences. On defense she had three tackles.
Lauren Barnes (caution 35’; 7) – Barnes returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games while in concussion protocol, but it looked like she didn’t miss a beat. She had the back line organized solidly, exemplified by the tight line they held on a Thorns free kick in the 44th minute, where Portland thought they’d scored off the set piece but were instead whistled for being offside by about a yard. She had only one negative mark in my notes, a play in the 62nd minute when Lindsey Horan juked her badly to get into space and send in a dangerous cross, which was thankfully headed over the bar. Her caution seemed absurd — Hayley Raso clearly chased down Barnes and clattered into her backside, rather than Lu grabbing Raso.
Megan Oyster (6) – As seems to be the pattern when Oyster and Barnes are on the field together, Barnes stays at home more while Oyster is asked to be more aggressive in defense. In this game, that involved a lot of tracking dangerous balls into the middle where players like Christine Sinclair thrive, and snuffing out those passes through whatever means necessary. Oyster and Barnes also shared the most pass attempts on the night, each with 62, as Seattle deftly handled whatever high pressure Portland applied while circulating the ball around the back. Oyster’s one notable negative came on the same play as Barnes’ — after Horan broke free in attack Oyster seemed to freeze, uncertain whether to challenge Horan or drop to cover a runner, which left a huge gap for Raso to run into behind her.
Theresa Nielsen (6) – Nielsen had a great game in attack, and a so-so game on defense. Her crosses were fantastic all night, including a beautifully hit ball to Bev Yanez for a diving header that forced a big save from Adrianna Franch in the 39th minute. Conversely, she consistently struggled in two aspects of defending crosses — first in letting Meghan Klingenberg get around her to hit balls into the box, and secondly to track Raso and stay between her and the goal when Thorns crosses came from the opposite side.
Allie Long (7) & Rumi Utsugi (7) – The defensive midfield duo were fairly quiet on the night, but were integral to Seattle maintaining the lion’s share of possession and breaking through what little defensive midfield pressure the Thorns could apply. Long was second only to her midfield counterpart Andressinha in passing accuracy, albeit with twice as many touches and passes attempted, and once Seattle decided to push forward in attack the duo were smart with their passes to find open channels. In defense they occupied that important pocket of space in front of the back line, keeping Sinclair and Horan from getting time on the ball to work their customary magic.
Beverly Yanez (7) – I was quite pleased to see Yanez and Elizabeth Addo swap roles this week, moving them each to positions which I think better highlight their strengths. Part of the fun of this Reign attack has been seeing so much interplay and swapping roles, and this game was no exception, with Yanez sometimes operating as a central forward, Jodie Taylor wide, and Addo roaming in the middle, with each player aware of the others and seamlessly adjusting on the fly. Yanez finished the game with three shots on goal, including a spectacular diving header off a cross in the 39th minute, and created another two chances. Her biggest contribution, however, came on a play where she didn’t even touch the ball — her near-post run to draw defenders with her was a key reason Taylor found herself in a huge gap on the goal.
Megan Rapinoe (assist 89’; 8; PotM) – After a few games where it felt like she might be trying too much and forcing the game rather than letting it come to her, Rapinoe seemed to be more comfortable this game and was unlucky not to get on the score sheet several times more. She had a pair of quality shots on goal that necessitated fantastic saves from Franch, including one in the 87th minute that earned Franch Save of the Week and contributed to her being named Player of the Week. That doesn’t even take into account the move she put on defender Ellie Carpenter to leave the defender sprawled on the turf before taking the latter shot. On top of that she set up several great scoring opportunities for her teammates with some deft footwork, including once again forcing Carpenter into a misstep before putting in a great cross to Taylor for the goal.
Jodie Taylor (goal 89’, off 90+2’; 7) – It’s been about a month, but the Taylor we saw at the start of the season was back this week. She was far more locked in this match, applying a lot of quality high pressure to force turnovers, and her hold-up play was great. She also looked more confident on the ball, with a few fun moves to try shots — first in the 10th minute when, with her back to goal, she popped a cross into the air then spun and struck it one-time with her other boot, and a second in the 80th minute when she attempted something similar with a sideways bike that deflected out for a corner. That confidence was finally rewarded in the waning moments when she first picked up the ball near midfield, then found Rapinoe on the opposite side with a well-placed pass, and finally made a late run toward goal behind Bev Yanez for the simplest of tap-ins.
Elizabeth Addo (off 89’; 5) – In my original viewing at the game, I thought Addo was marvelous, but upon rewatching more closely there were a few things that stuck out as needing some work. In a physical game like this starting her over Naho Kawasumi was probably the right choice, since her technical footwork and willingness to fight through hard challenges is a big asset, as well as her creative flair and willingness to try interesting moves to break through pressure. However, much like in her season debut she got caught dribbling a bit too often for my liking when a pass back might have been the safer option. Likewise, several times she seemed to be caught off guard by crosses to her in the box, with one weak shot and twice where the ball got caught in her feet and turned over. With a bit more polish and anticipation she could have had a few goals.
Jasmyne Spencer (on 89’; incomplete) – Just as I was becoming convinced that Vlatko Andonovski forgot he was allowed to use subs, Spencer finally entered the match to shake things up and look for a late winner. Mere moments after entering she played a very nice one-touch pass to Jodie Taylor which helped spring the goal-scoring attack.
Alyssa Kleiner (on 90+2’; incomplete) – A clock-killing sub midway through stoppage time, Kleiner had no touches in her extremely brief outing.
Christina Unkel (4) – This was an exceedingly physical game, and Unkel did a poor job keeping things under control in the early going and settling play, which had repercussions throughout the match. She let a significant amount of contact go uncalled, either opting to play advantage or awarding throw-ins and goal kicks if the ball went out of play. I appreciated that she communicated with her fourth official on the Klingenberg foul to get more detail about the intent and ultimately decided to issue a caution, but that was the high point of the match.
As mentioned above, the caution to Lu Barnes was simply inexplicable. The assistant referee was also right there, but somehow between the two officials they missed the entire sequence and made a bad assumption based on Barnes landing atop Raso.
In the second half there was another strange incident where Megan Rapinoe had her shirt nearly ripped off by a tactical foul near midfield while on a counter, at which point Rapinoe literally stopped dribbling expecting a call and caution, but instead Unkel signaled advantage since by that time the Thorns defender had released the jersey and jogged back since she likewise expected the whistle and a card.
On the other side, Andressinha was the victim of six Reign FC fouls and eventually subbed off in some pain, but somehow no one ended up in the book for persistent infringement.
Who was your Reign FC player of the match?
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