For the third match in a row, Seattle Reign FC played in dubious conditions, this time welcoming the Houston Dash to Memorial Stadium to finish out their season series in unpleasantly smoky conditions. The game was once again punctuated by two hydration breaks each half, meaning that the coaches could strategize in 15-minute increments and adjust their game plan based on the current state. Seattle had by far the better of the opportunities in the first half, with a 7-1 advantage in shots, but was unable to find that final bit of skill to beat Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell until a pair of Jodie Taylor goals four minutes apart settled the game, which Seattle won 2-0 to secure a spot in the NWSL playoffs.
After missing the prior game due to injury, Megan Rapinoe returned to the starting lineup, and Steph Catley returned to the team following an extended absence due to the death of her father. Allie Long was sidelined with injury, and Kristen McNabb replaced her in midfield to complete the trio of changes for Reign FC from their lineup that faced Chicago in similarly smoky conditions the week before.
Choosing a player of the match was a challenge this week because nearly everyone put in such a strong performance, but in the end the quality of Jodie Taylor’s effort, particularly her vision on the second goal, won me over.
Lydia Williams (3 saves, shutout; 6) – Williams was credited with three saves in earning her fourth consecutive clean sheet, but two were slow, bouncing shots from distance, and only one presented any sort of challenge. That shot, a close-range effort by Kealia Ohai, forced Williams into a reaction save that pushed the ball straight up and led to a momentary scramble. Otherwise, it was a fairly mundane night for Williams, and her rating is reflective of simply not needing to do much.
Steph Catley (off 86’; 7) – After missing the last three matches for bereavement, Catley returned to the Reign and reintegrated herself almost immediately. She and Rapinoe were in sync on runs all night, causing havoc for the Dash defense on that side. She also shared corner kick duties with Rapinoe, giving some additional variety to the looks Seattle could present on set pieces.
Lauren Barnes (7) – The bread-and-butter of the Dash attack is to sit back and absorb pressure, then send long balls up to their speedy attackers for lightning-quick counterattacks. That technique burned Seattle for several goals in prior matches this season, but the Reign defense was better prepared this game and didn’t get caught flat-footed. Barnes in particular did very well at stepping up and clearing balls before Dash forwards could chase them down.
Megan Oyster (caution 28’; 5) – It feels like Oyster has been in a bit of a funk the last few games. After going her first 14 appearances without a booking, she now has three in her past four games. She also had a few uncharacteristic giveaways in dangerous spots, most notably a pass straight to Rachel Daly in the Reign defensive third in the 65th minute, which fortunately Barnes was quick to clear. A few minutes later she lost track of Sofia Huerta on a far post run, which led to Houston’s best scoring opportunity of the game on a header to redirect a cross, which Huerta put just wide of the far post. It could be the weather or some late-season fatigue, but hopefully Oyster regains her focus before the playoffs.
Theresa Nielsen (assist 58’; 7) – Nielsen has been a rock on the right wing for the past month or so. She’s been solid and consistent on both sides of the ball, and her excellent crosses were finally rewarded with her first NWSL assist on Jodie Taylor’s opening goal. Her only notable miscue came on a Dash cross into the Seattle box in the 75th minute, where she misjudged the bounce and saw the ball bounce through her legs to Kealia Ohai for a wide open shot.
Kristen McNabb (7) & Morgan Andrews (7) – While neither player is in Seattle’s ideal XI, both have stepped up at different times over the last month and had big contributions during Seattle’s shutout streak. With Allie Long and Rumi Utsugi out injured, McNabb returned to the defensive midfield role in this game, while Andrews earned another start as the shuttler behind Jess Fishlock. Aside from one very big whoopsie by McNabb on a botched clearance in the 75th minute, which nearly resulted in an own goal, both were solid and are clearly growing into these roles and getting accustomed to playing aside one another. Andrews shows great promise as a deep-lying playmaker, with beautifully weighted through balls that can unlock attacks, and McNabb’s positioning and awareness has improved and she’s showing more aggression in stepping up to players with the ball in midfield and forcing the play on them.
Jess Fishlock (8) – I wouldn’t blame Jess Fishlock if she goes to Memorial Stadium after this season and demolishes the west goalpost with a sledgehammer. For the second week in a row, she blasted a shot off the same post, in nearly the same spot. She had another great opportunity from distance in the second half that forced Jane Campbell to make a diving block, and as usual roamed the midfield and wreaked havoc wherever she popped up to challenge for the ball. This freedom to roam has reinvigorated her this season.
Megan Rapinoe (assist 61’, off 70’; 8) – There was some question coming into the game about how effective Rapinoe would be coming off a short stint on the injury report, but she quickly put those concerns to rest with an excellent performance that should have earned her a few more entries on the score sheet. She’s been shooting the ball a bit less frequently over the last few games, and instead has been taking over as a creator, threading excellent crosses through the box and drawing entire defenses toward her before chipping balls back across the field to wide open teammates. In the first half she had two nice balls through the box that just eluded Reign attackers, and she roasted Janine Van Wyk all game. Her skill to control a bouncing ball in the 60th minute by heading it down to her feet elicited gasps from the crowd and led to a great 2-v-1 opportunity sandwiched between the two Reign goals.
Jodie Taylor (goal 58’ & 61’; 8; PotM) – Taylor had an outstanding game, and easily could have had two or three more goals with a bit more luck and thoughtful shot placement, including a 36th minute cross from Rapinoe, a point-blank shot in the 60th minute that she kicked directly into Jane Campbell, and another throughball from Morgan Andrews that she chipped just wide. Her near-post run on the first goal gave her excellent position on the Dash defenders in order to redirect a hard, low cross, and her second goal was entirely about individual effort. She received a short pass from Rapinoe, shouldered off Van Wyk, and saw Campbell a few steps off her line and had the audacity to try a 25 yard chip shot which she lofted perfectly.
Make that 2⃣ for @Jodes_14!#SEAvHOU | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/MLsBXOn5ZK— NWSL (@NWSL) August 22, 2018
One remarkable stat — Taylor has by far the highest accuracy of any frequent shooter in the league (minimum 30 shots taken) — she has put nearly 61% of her 56 shots on frame; the next closest player is Lindsey Horan at 47% on 57 shots. That said, it could be incredibly rewarding if she tried aiming for the edges of the goal a bit more, even at the risk of missing the frame entirely.
Jasmyne Spencer (off 82’; 7) – Spencer put in another productive performance on the right wing, putting in strong effort on both sides of the ball. She just missed connecting with a Rapinoe shross in the 41st minute, and was instrumental in the build-up to Seattle’s first goal by dropping back into the midfield to receive the ball, which pulled her defender with her and opened up a huge pocket of space in the corner for Nielsen to run into and receive Spencer’s pass. Late in the game she showed her fitness by chasing down a heavily overhit pass which looked destined to head out for a Dash goal kick, then turned with the ball along the end line and juked Van Wyk to get a look on goal.
Nahomi Kawasumi (on 70’; incomplete) – Around the time Naho entered the game, Seattle adjusted their tactics to account for the difficult conditions and game state, making fewer aggressive runs forward and focusing more on holding possession and seeing the game out. Kawasumi got only five touches, but all of them were successful passes to help in that effort.
Elizabeth Addo (on 82’; incomplete) – Addo returned after an extended layoff due to injury, and had a little rust in her brief foray on the pitch, but still showed signs of her trademark Velcro-like ability to keep the ball at her feet on the dribble.
Christen Westphal (on 86’; incomplete) – Westphal was a late sub to spell Catley, who was coming off a long break from play. Houston didn’t challenge much in her time on the field, and Seattle opted to keep their fullbacks at home so she had only one run forward with the ball.
Katja Koroleva (6) – This was a reasonably clean and calm game, and the breaks every 15 minutes probably helped keep things from building up too much before players needed to take a pause and regroup. Despite questions from the broadcast team, I thought Oyster’s caution in the first half for a late foul on Daly looked like the right call, and Amber Brooks was deservedly booked for dissent after jawing off at Koroleva late in the game for a non-call on a 50/50 challenge. The only major controversial call in the game was a potential shout for a penalty when Jess Fishlock went down in the Dash box in second-half stoppage time, but by then the result was already certain and play simply continued.
Who was your Reign FC player of the match?
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