Smoke followed Seattle Reign FC home from Utah, blanketing Memorial Stadium in a haze to welcome the Chicago Red Stars to town for their final meeting of the 2018 regular season. Although the air quality was marginally worse than it was in Utah, the lower elevation and smaller field helped Seattle battle Chicago to a 0-0 draw despite dealing with short rest and an continuing barrage of injuries.
With Megan Rapinoe out, Seattle made one change from the side that won in Utah, giving Nahomi Kawasumi the start in her place. Tactically, Seattle started with a similar formation and game plan as on the weekend, although it was presented as a 4-2-3-1 with Morgan Andrews joining Allie Long in the defensive mid and Jodie Taylor alone at the top of the attack. However, Chicago’s high press, full rest and deeper bench meant that they controlled much of the early going, and only Lydia Williams’ heroics in goal kept Seattle from falling to Chicago for the second time this season.
With two hydration breaks each half the game was split into six periods, and coming out of each break there were some clear adjustments to the tactics by Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski, and gradually momentum shifted toward the home side, but not enough to break the stalemate despite some good looks on goal late in the game, and the two sides split the points.
Lydia Williams (5 saves, shutout; 9; PotM) – Sometimes you earn your shutout the easy way with minimal work involved, and sometimes you make miraculous diving saves and punches to bail out your defense. Wednesday’s game was one of the latter, and Williams added to her league-leading stats with her 9th shutout in only 13 appearances — boosting her save percentage to 85%, a full 6% ahead of any other keeper not named Michelle Betos. One thing that has made Williams’ performances so stellar is her uncanny ability not to give up uncontrolled rebounds. She either smothers the ball, or when she can’t get a good grip, she has the foresight to punch it into spots where only her teammates can get to it. There are no big, juicy rebounds for opponents to jump on and slam home.
Lauren Barnes (6) & Megan Oyster (caution 47’; 5) – Seattle’s centerback duo had some struggles against Chicago’s rested and speedy offense. Early in the game they had significant problems tracking Morgan Brian on set pieces (of which Seattle surrendered quite a few), leading to some dangerous scoring opportunities on unmarked far post runs. After the second hydration break things improved somewhat on that front, but Oyster in particular continued to have problems with Sam Kerr, who burned her twice in the second half for scoring opportunities. Oyster’s caution early in the second half was for persistent infringement — it was only her second foul, but the fourth time that a Reign player had fouled Kerr, and by then the referee had seen enough. Chicago’s high press also stymied Seattle’s efforts to play out of the back and dictate tempo. Barnes and Oyster finished with 70% and 67% passing accuracy, respectively, on fewer touches and passes than usual.
Theresa Nielsen (7) & Christen Westphal (6) – Where Seattle’s centerbacks struggled, their fullbacks shined… at least going forward. Nielsen was once again a wild attacking fullback, even going end-to-end and all the way to the opposite corner of the field in the 38th minute when Chicago ceded her space, although it caught everyone off guard enough that she didn’t have great passing options by the end and was forced to recycle possession to the midfield. Her crosses were once again dangerous and found open players on the far post for scoring opportunities, including two great passes to Jess Fishlock in the 82nd and 88th minute for Seattle’s best chances of the game. On the other side, Westphal continued her run of good form with some nice defensive positioning to force weak shot attempts when Chicago’s offense broke through Barnes and Oyster to put in dangerous crosses.
Allie Long (off 90+7’; 7) – After the game in Utah, Fishlock mentioned Long as being one of the unsung heroes on this Reign team, and once again she showed her value in subtle ways that make the players around her more effective. She connected on a whopping 94% of her 48 pass attempts, which was vital in a game where Chicago was aggressive in applying pressure and forcing defensive turnovers. She did have one scary moment when an errant pass in the 28th minute went directly to Sam Kerr, but fortunately Kerr’s ensuing shot streaked wide of goal. Long was roughed up a bit in the closing minutes of the game and ultimately came off injured. Seattle will need to make some significant adjustments to their possession tactics due to her absence in Tuesday’s game against Houston.
Morgan Andrews (off 87’; 7) – Andrews earned her second start in a row in the middle of the Reign midfield, acting once again as a shuttler between Long and Fishlock. After the second hydration break at the half-hour mark, she started dropping back more as a second defensive mid, supporting Long and the defense in an effort to help contain Chicago’s speedy and ever-shifting attack. From this deep-lying position Andrews showed some great vision both on offense and defense. When Nielsen bombed forward at 38’, Andrews dropped back and covered for her on the right wing, even acting as the fullback for Seattle’s ensuing build-up while Nielsen retreated back into position through the midfield. Andrews also sent in a number of long, pinpoint through-balls to Jess Fishlock. The first in the 42nd minute was just a few inches ahead of Fishlock for a redirect on goal, and one in the 75th minute stymied Chicago’s defense enough that Arin Gilliland hauled Fishlock down for a professional foul.
Jess Fishlock (8) – Fishlock was a menace to Chicago’s backline all night, drawing four fouls and two yellow cards on defenders trying to mark her. She had by far Seattle’s best scoring opportunities of the game, clanging one shot off the post in the 82nd minute, and putting another just wide six minutes later off a similar play. She also had a big tackle in midfield in the 24th minute to break up a promising Chicago attack near midfield where they had numbers streaming forward while Seattle’s fullbacks were still caught upfield, and even won Seattle a throw-in in the process.
Nahomi Kawasumi (off 79’; 5) – Naho got her first start in nearly a month, playing on the less familiar left side due to Megan Rapinoe’s injury. Her touch seemed a bit off, perhaps because of the rust, the unfamiliar side, or a bit of both. Several of her passes and set pieces went straight into Red Stars defenders, and she and Westphal seemed to not be in sync on runs and passes. She did have a great far-post run in the 25th minute to receive a Nielsen cross, which she put back across the face of goal. That cross caused Alyssa Naeher to scramble and put a rebound off Julie Ertz’s leg, which almost caromed in for an own goal. Ultimately, Naho’s talents were probably wasted in this game, because Seattle was not able to find much success in holding possession in the final third to make use of her creative talents.
Jodie Taylor (5) & Jasmyne Spencer (5) – Aside from Fishlock, the Reign attack really struggled to get going this game. Chicago’s high pressure and fatigue from the short turnaround meant that Seattle couldn’t dictate the tempo and line of attack as much as they prefer, instead needing to pull players back to defend more than ideal. Taylor was often left alone up top to pressure, and when Seattle did get the ball to her or Spencer, Red Stars players were quick to pounce and not let them turn, causing their passing to be much more dismal than usual (58% for Taylor, 50% for Spencer). The duo finished with no shots on the night, although Spencer had a great chance in the 61st minute when she won a ball in midfield, then had a give-and-go with Taylor to break through the defensive line, but Naeher saw the play and rushed out to smother the follow-up pass. Spencer also set up Adriana Leon for a good shot moments before the final whistle.
Adriana Leon (on 79’; incomplete) – When it became clear that Seattle’s best opportunities were coming off long crosses and through balls rather than creativity in the final third, Vlatko Andonovski made the decision to swap Leon on for Naho and have her make some runs at the Red Stars defense. I would have actually liked to see this change earlier, but even in her limited time on the field Leon had some good looks. In the 93rd minute she showed some fancy footwork to keep the ball near the touchline and push into the corner, and moments before the final whistle she had a golden opportunity set up by Jasmyne Spencer, but her one-time shot fizzed just wide of the far post.
Kristen McNabb (on 87’; incomplete) – Once again McNabb came on for Andrews late in the game to solidify the Reign defense and help secure a point. She had a big tackle in the 93rd minute to break up a Red Stars counterattack near midfield, which gave her teammates time to get back and set up to defend, and another big clearance a minute later in the Reign box to deny Danielle Colaprico a shot.
Jaycie Johnson (on 90+7’; incomplete) – Johnson made yet another extremely late entry, and this time she even got a touch on the ball!
Lukasz Szpala (4) – I was not impressed by Szpala in this game. He started off fine, but the quality of the officiating quickly devolved in the second half. He spent an excessive amount of time gesturing and lecturing players on how to set up for free kicks and corners, covering things that seemed utterly unnecessary to discuss with professional players about not sticking hands out while standing in the wall and so forth. I had no problem with any of his bookings – Kerr’s intentional handball in the 27th minute was the sort of thing many refs would overlook but is deserving of a card, the persistent infringement booking after the fourth foul on Kerr, and the two nasty fouls that took out Fishlock on potential Reign counters.
I thought there could have been several more cards in the game, but some of the incidents didn’t even get whistled as fouls. Most notable were a late tackle by Allie Long in the 50th minute, and Sarah Gorden crushing Jasmyne Spencer into the ad boards in the 85th minute as the ball trickled out for a Chicago throw-in, but there were several other rough challenges in the second half, including Theresa Nielsen crunching Julie Ertz in the 46th minute and one on Allie Long in the Red Stars box in the 85th minute that directly led to her knee sprain.
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