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Reign Report: Let’s be a Royal pain

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It’s the final match between Utah and Seattle Reign. This one will be at altitude.

Photo Credit: Nikita Taparia

What You’ll Watch

Seattle Reign FC head on the road for the team’s final regular season match against Laura Harvey and the Utah Royals. The Royals currently sit in sixth place with a record of 7-6-7 (28 points in 20 games played; 1.4 ppg) while Reign FC are in second with a record of 9-4-6 (33 points in 19 games played; 1.7 ppg).

Utah is coming off a mid-week match, which was also hosted in Sandy, Utah. Facing the Washington Spirit, the Royals came away with a 1-0 win. This previous weekend, Seattle took on the same opponent and defeated the Spirit 2-0.

With just three games left for Utah after this weekend, and four for Seattle, these points are crucial. Utah will be hungry for the home victory as the team works to claw its way into one of the three remaining playoff spots (North Carolina has already claimed the top spot).

A Look at the Enemy

Last Five: W-W-T-L-L with 4 goals scored and 4 conceded

Leading Goal Scorer: Katie Stengel, 5

Assist Leader: Gunnhildur (Gunny) Jónsdóttir, 2

Injury Report and Suspensions

OUT: Alex Arlitt (left knee strain – SEI), Makenzy Doniak (left knee ACL tear – SEI), Mandy Laddish (right hip contusion – SEI), Kelley O’Hara (right hamstring strain)

QUESTIONABLE: Desiree Scott (right quad strain), Elise Thorsnes (left hamstring strain)

Seattle

OUT: Elizabeth Addo (right knee strain), Yael Averbuch (illness – SEI), Stephanie Catley (excused absence), Kiersten Dallstream (right knee sprain – SEI), Rumi Utsugi (left calf strain), Beverly Yanez (right foot fracture)

Match Officials

REFEREE: Eric Tattersall

AR1: Adrienne McDonald

AR2: Cory Richardson

4TH: Brad Jensen

What to Watch

Utah’s System

Laura Harvey’s side typically lines up in a standard 4-3-3 formation. In that system, her midfielders are given free range to push forward and drop as needed, working off each other to build the attack. With Canadian holding midfielder Desiree Scott out these last few games due to an injury, the midfield has been even more fluid — with Gunny Jonsdottir playing a bit deeper and Lo’eau LaBonta helping break up passes and push the attack.

Under Harvey, it is no surprise then that the Utah Royals have maintained more overall possession this season than any other team in the league (54%). Utah also has the most passes (9,106, compared to 8,306 for Seattle) and best pass completion rate (73.6%). Centerback and former Reign FC defender Rachel Corsie leads the league in passes, although Reign FC’s Allie Long sits just behind her in third.

However, most of Utah’s possession has been in their own defensive half and seems to slow down their attack. They don’t always have a sense of urgency to their possession, aside from the newly acquired Christen Press, and the Royals rarely use their flanks to whip in crosses — attempting the second fewest crosses in the league behind the Spirit.

Speaking of Press, since acquiring her earlier this summer, Harvey has deployed her up top alongside Amy Rodriguez in more of a 4-4-2 diamond formation and on the wings in a 4-3-3. While she has been a big spark for Utah’s attack, and the team has scored more goals recently as a result, Press has not been able to get on the ball close to goal as much as she’d like. With Harvey preferring Katie Stengel or Amy Rodriguez in the center forward role, Utah is still figuring out how to get the most out of Press’ goal-scoring prowess.

Unlike Houston, who likes to concede possession and look to pounce on the counter attack, Utah likes to keep the ball and hunt for pockets of space to exploit or win the ball quickly in midfield to spark a quick restart. This strategy hasn’t actually resulted in many shots or goals for the Royals. The Royals have taken the fewest shots this season in the league and have only scored more goals than Sky Blue and Washington, the two teams at the bottom of the league.

However, while they don’t score very often, Utah also doesn’t concede many goals. They went 1-0-2 against the dominant North Carolina Courage because of the team’s ability to slow down the game. Being adjusted to the high altitude is a huge advantage for the Utah side as well, making their constant pressure in the midfield even more effective. They have some vulnerabilities on the flanks, however, and Megan Rapinoe and her wide attacking partner could create some strong opportunities by spreading the field and utilizing their width.

It’s always a bit of a chess match when Laura Harvey and Vlatko Andonovski go up against each other. If Seattle doesn’t get pressured into mistakes and takes advantage of the very few chances they’ll get, they could be leaving Utah with a point or three. After Saturday’s match, Seattle has a three-game homestand before closing out the season in Portland.

Quick Keys

  • Use the width: Pull their midfielders out of position and find the pockets of space to exploit.
  • Play quickly: Utah is a team that will pounce on every ball. Seattle can’t be lazy or slow in their passing and decisions.
  • Take advantage of restarts: Seattle’s lone goal against Utah came from a corner. Portland found success against the Royals on set-piece plays. They won’t give you much—take advantage of those moments.
  • Pressure the goal early: Utah is 1-1-5 when they concede first. Putting early pressure on them could cause some panic and bad passes.

How to Watch

Date/Time: Saturday, August 11 @ 12:30 PM PT (pregame); 12:50 PM PT (kickoff)

Location: Rio Tinto Stadium | Sandy, Utah

TV: Lifetime

Streaming: MyLifetime.com, NWSLSoccer.com (International)