Seattle Reign FC traveled to hot, smoky Sandy, Utah, on Saturday for another challenging match against Laura Harvey’s Utah Royals FC. Injuries and weather conditions made for tough play, but Seattle saw out yet another 1-0 victory thanks to a stingy defense and just enough offensive firepower.
Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski made two changes from the lineup that defeated Washington the week prior, starting Morgan Andrews in place of Kristen McNabb in midfield, and selecting Christen Westphal rather than Alyssa Kleiner at left back. Injuries remained a concern for Seattle, with six players out yet again and a short bench as a result. With the weather, injuries, and a midweek matchup against Chicago looming, Andonovski opted to ride his starters longer than typical even though the team showed signs of fatigue in the final half-hour of the game. The tactic paid off on Saturday, but whether it has repercussions in the upcoming matches remains to be seen.
Lydia Williams (2 saves, shutout; 7) – Another game, another shutout, and another fairly routine two-save performance by Williams. Like last week, the Reign defense was stingy and generally forced Utah into low-probability shots, which made Williams’ job much easier. The most difficult save of the night came on an opportunity in which Williams wasn’t even credited with a save — a long Christen Press shross in the 86th minute that nearly got over her head, but Williams made an acrobatic leap to grab and hold onto.
Christen Westphal (6) – Westphal made the most of her first start since early June, holding down the left flank as Utah frequently tried to overload and attack from that side. Other than one very sloppy touch in the 41st minute that could have ended badly in her defensive end, but which she immediately chased down and cleaned up to win a Reign throw-in, Westphal looked solid. She was smart about when to push forward and when to stay back in defense, and rarely got caught up when Utah started counterattacks.
Lauren Barnes (8; PotM) – Barnes was the unsung star of the day, preventing Utah’s dangerous attackers from getting many good looks on goal. She was omnipresent in the box, disrupting passes, preventing turns, and forcing opponents into inopportune locations all game long, in addition to providing cover when her back line counterparts made occasional errors, and most importantly she held up and remained solid for the full match. In a game where most of the team performed admirably but ran out of gas near the end, her solid presence in the back really cemented what Seattle is about this season and pushed her over the top to be my player of the match. Her crack from distance that fizzed just over the crossbar in the 53rd minute would have just been icing on an already delicious cake.
Megan Oyster (assist 48’; 7) – Oyster had an incredibly busy day. She led the team in touches with 79, completed 86% of her 58 pass attempts, and let us not forget to mention her gorgeous, pinpoint cross to assist on Jess Fishlock’s goal. On that she had the vision to realize Utah had abandoned the far side of the field to defend the initial corner, and took the ball into acres of space on that side after picking it up in the middle. The main thing that put her slightly below Barnes in my ratings is that she had a few fatigue-related errors in second-half stoppage time that could have wiped out Seattle’s lead. Fortunately, the first, where she forgot to track Utah’s forwards on a cross into the box, was covered by Lu Barnes, and the second was snuffed out by a shanked Christen Press shot.
Theresa Nielsen (7) – Nielsen was busy up and down the entire right flank, providing fantastic support to Jasmyne Spencer in attack and also showing her prowess as a 1-v-1 defender throughout the match. She led the team with 5 tackles and made a few lung-busting runs to get back and break up Utah attacks when she was caught up field, most notably in first half stoppage time when she caught Press from behind, and again in the 67th minute when she not only caught Amy Rodriguez, but then won a foul to relieve the pressure.
Allie Long (7) – Long moved back to her deep midfield role to start this game, picking up passes from the centerbacks and moving the ball forward with some precision passing. She led the team both in pass attempts (62) and accuracy (90%!), and it wasn’t just because she was dinking it around with her teammates in the back. She was very good at finding channels between Utah players and threading passes in to start attacks and also switching the point of attack. As you can see in her passing map below, the majority of her passes outside of the defensive third were attacking in nature.
Morgan Andrews (off 75’; 6) – Seattle started this game the way they ended the prior one, with Andrews serving as a shuttler in the central midfield, sitting just ahead of Long. Early in the season Vlatko Andonovski still seemed to be figuring out her best role, and tried her as an attacking mid in a few games, but this role slightly further back seems to better suit her talents. Nearly all of her touches were in the middle third of the field, and she kept things clean and simple, which is exactly what you want from someone in this role. She also did well dropping back to provide defensive support when Utah overloaded flanks.
Jess Fishlock (goal 48’, caution 74’; 8) – Even more than last week, Fishlock was an attacking presence in this game, and was rewarded for her efforts with an impressive headed goal off Megan Oyster’s cross to recycle a corner kick. With that goal, Fishlock joins elite company in having scored in every NWSL season. In addition to her busy day in the attacking third, she continued to drop back to support the defense. There was no question about her yellow card, which was nearly a patented FishTackle, but Katie Stengel managed to get just enough of a touch to move the ball out of reach and instead was a clear trip.
Megan Rapinoe (6) – It seems funny to say, but Rapinoe had a fairly quiet game this week, at least in terms of what she is capable of, which puts her performance squarely into “quality NWSL starter” territory. She had two good shots on goal and a shross in the 84th minute that caught Abby Smith by surprise and clanged off the post, but Utah marked her tightly and prevented a lot of the usual Rapinoe magic from happening. Instead she tended to stay wider and try to create for her teammates, and the entire Reign forward band had a lot of interchange to keep the Royals defense guessing who might pop up where. She also committed a couple of sloppy fouls, and I thought she was lucky to escape a card or stern talking to.
Jodie Taylor (off 88’; 6) – Utah played a very high line for much of the match, trying to compress the field and deny Seattle’s forwards the opportunity to make runs at them. Taylor played a bit closer to midfield as a result but was quite effective against this, providing very good hold-up play to spring Seattle attackers through the lines. She completed an impressive 89% of her passes, often short lay-off balls to the onrushing fullbacks or attacking counterparts. She also had a great chip to Jasmyne Spencer in the 36th minute that put Spencer in on a breakaway, but her first touch was too heavy.
Jasmyne Spencer (off 80’; 6) – Spencer got her third consecutive start, and again showed her guile and creativity in addition to speed. She had two good looks on goal, and also showed great awareness to make some creative runs behind the Utah high line, often pulling defenders back with her to open more space for her teammates. Early in the game she showed great positional awareness to realize she was offside on a through-ball and let Jess Fishlock bomb forward from an onside position to challenge for it, and early in the second half she had another play that nearly mirrored her goal last week, by first winning the ball in midfield and then bombing forward to beat a defender and get a good shot off that forced an impressive diving save by Smith.
Kristen McNabb (on 75’; incomplete) – As the Reign tired, McNabb came on to bolster the defensive ranks and provide more support in front of the back line. She looked better in the role this week, albeit over a shorter time and against tired attackers.
Adriana Leon (on 80’; incomplete) – Leon was surprisingly busy in her brief appearance, likely in part due to the extended amount of stoppage time for the hydration breaks. She completed 7 of 8 passes and helped Seattle settle down and maintain possession after a stretch where Utah was dominant and the Reign struggled to hold the ball for more than one or two touches.
Alyssa Kleiner (on 88’; incomplete) – Much like in the game at Portland earlier this season, Kleiner came on for a forward late in the game to shift Seattle to a 5-back set to see out the game. She had only one touch, but her entry accomplished its goals of taking some time off the clock and clogging up a few more potential passing lanes in the defensive third.
Eric Tattersall (7) – There were a few weird moments in this game, most notably when Rebecca Moros made a simulated flop to complain about a foul called against her on Rapinoe, but in general I thought the game was called fairly and appropriately. Late in the first half it looked like Jess Fishlock might have had a shout for a penalty when she went down in the Utah box, but unfortunately the camera angle wasn’t great and there were no replays of the incident. That was about it for questionable incidents.
Who was your Reign FC player of the match?
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