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Valkyratings: It could have been worse

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It’s not a good sign when your goalkeeper is one of the bright spots in a 3-0 loss.

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Reign FC seems to have a game or two like this every season. A match played in less-than-ideal circumstances, either due to injury or travel or short rest, where the team comes out flat and never seems to get in sync, and ends up losing badly. Last year there was the 4-1 loss in late June to the North Carolina Courage, and 2017 had a shocking 3-0 thumping by the Boston Breakers in the team’s third game of the season.

The Reign have always bounced back and played well in their following matches, so there’s hope that their match on Sunday against the Chicago Red Stars will be another one of those anomalous one-off flops and not something indicative of deeper problems.

For this match the primary anomaly was weather-related, with the originally scheduled Saturday night kickoff postponed at the very last minute due to blizzard-like conditions blanketing the Chicago area. The teams were at the stadium and in the midst of preparations when the decision was made, meaning that all of the physical and mental prep work players put into gameday — sleep, meals, music, superstitions, routines — had to be unwound without proper release and then ramped back up 17 hours later. Whether it was that abrupt shift, better planning and strategy by Chicago, or some combination thereof, the Reign were outclassed throughout much of the game when it was finally played on Sunday morning in conditions that were still cold and windy, but thankfully sunny and dry.

That’s not to say there weren’t bright spots in the match for the Reign, and indeed if one of several shots or crosses were aimed just an inch or two different the team could have several goals. Conversely, it was only through some huge saves by Lydia Williams on countrymate Sam Kerr that the loss wasn’t worse. What’s most puzzling about the match is that there weren’t any truly horrendous performances, but everyone was just enough subpar that the cumulative effect was bad.

In games like this there’s not a lot to be gleaned from highlighting all of the negatives, particularly when most of them can be boiled down to “a step too slow and not in sync with teammates”, so we’ll keep things brief this week, mostly noting the bright spots.

Starters

Lydia Williams (3 goals conceded, 6 saves; 6; PotM) – Got caught in no-womans-land on the first Red Stars goal, where she was probably expecting Short to put in a cross rather than a shot that hung up a bit in the headwind. After that things settled down, and she made a couple of tremendous saves to keep Sam Kerr off the scoresheet on 1-v-1 and breakaway opportunities. There wasn’t much to be done on the other two Red Stars goals – Yuki Nagasato’s came immediately after Williams charged out to stuff Kerr on a breakway, and Brooke Elby’s goal was due to another big defensive breakdown in front of her. It’s hard to argue that a keeper who gives up three goals deserves player of the match, but it’s also hard to argue that anyone else did more to help the score line.

Kristen McNabb (5) – This was McNabb’s second consecutive game slotting in at left back, and although two of the Red Stars’ goals came from her side of the field there was a lot of blame to go around. For the first McNabb made the right decision to stay with Yuki Nagasato but she didn’t receive defensive help to mark Short, while the second was the end result of a larger defensive breakdown that first led to a Sam Kerr breakaway and the entire Reign defense scrambling to drop back into position.

Lauren Barnes (6) & Megan Oyster (off 69’; 5) – Barnes was selected by the team as their player of the match, and her stats were impressive in a vacuum. She had a match-high 108 touches and 82 passes, completing over 85% of them. She also made several big stops to break up potential Red Stars attacking opportunities, but the Reign centerback pair kept letting Kerr make runs in behind them, something that should not have come as a surprise to anyone who has played against Kerr in the last few years.

Celia Jimenez Delgado (5) – Celia did fine in the defensive phase of this game. Because of Chicago’s wide formation, with five midfielders spread across the field, she didn’t have a lot of space to move into when going forward, which rendered her less effective in the attacking phase, but she still managed to create two chances. She was also credited with a shot, but it was a speculative effort from about 40 yards out into dense traffic.

Rumi Utsugi (6) & Allie Long (6) – The Reign defensive midfield duo had a respectable game, handling the challenge of Chicago’s aggressive 4-1-4-1 formation reasonably well. Both had good possession and passing numbers with over 70 touches and 80%+ passing accuracy. Long had a decent look on goal in the 70th minute with a spin and shot from the top of the box, but unfortunately she kicked it straight at Naeher.

Beverly Yanez (off 69’; 4) – After heaping praise on her midfield performance last week, I sadly must revisit that assessment this week to wonder what happened for Yanez. She was disappointingly ineffective in possession, attempting only 32 passes and connecting on less than 60% of them. Defensively she was also far less active and attempted only one tackle.

Bethany Balcer (5) – Balcer was again one of the most active players on the team, taking a team-high six shots and nearly opening the scoring with a long-range rocket in the 5th minute after winning a second ball and getting her head up quickly. Unfortunately, she was caught roaming onto the opposite side of the field in the build-up to the first Red Stars goal, which meant that her defensive responsibility, Casey Short, was given acres of space near the corner of the box to set up and shoot.

Jodie Taylor (off 69’; 5) – Soccer is a game of inches, and unfortunately Taylor has been just a smidgen off all season, in more ways than one. She added two more offside calls to her season tally (and should have been called for a third), and could have had a couple of goals in this game on crosses that were just an inch above or behind her, and on a questionable goal-line clearance after she successfully chipped Naeher. However, her hold-up play continues to be good and she links up well with her teammates and is making smart runs, so there remains hope that she can get off the schneid before England reports to camp in a few weeks.

Shea Groom (4) – Groom wasn’t as much of a wrecking ball in this game as she was the week before, in large part because Chicago didn’t waste much time holding the ball in the back so she wasn’t able to apply as much high pressure. She still ended up with four tackles (second only to Barnes) and had much better passing numbers this week (62% of her 21 attempts were successful).

Substitutes

Theresa Nielsen (on 69’; 5), Elise Kellond Knight (on 69’; 5) and Jaycie Johnson (on 69’; 4) – Vlatko Andonovski opted to make a rare triple-sub to shake things up after the Reign went down by two goals and things didn’t seem to be getting better. Nielsen came on for Oyster, but moved into her normal right back role with Celia moving to centerback and McNabb switching flanks. She was the most active of the three subs and was caught out of position on the third goal, pinching inside inexplicably, which left Brooke Elby wide open at the corner of the box. She nearly atoned for it on the ensuing kickoff with a fantastic long cross to Balcer that the forward one-timed just inches wide. Kellond-Knight and Johnson had smaller impacts on the game and weren’t able to do much with their minutes.

Officials

Danielle Chesky (19 fouls called, 1 caution issued; 6) – For a slow and somewhat sloppy game it was relatively clean, with few rough fouls or questionable calls, and the one late/reckless foul in the game was booked appropriately. The biggest controversy surrounded Jodie Taylor’s near-goal in the 59th minute, which looks like it probably crossed the line before it was cleared by Katie Naughton…

...however, Taylor was about 7 feet offside on the initial pass, so that missed goal call was probably for the best.

Poll

Who was your Reign FC player of the match?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Bethany Balcer
    (0 votes)
  • 63%
    Lauren Barnes
    (7 votes)
  • 27%
    Lydia Williams
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (note in comments)
    (0 votes)
  • 9%
    No one
    (1 vote)
11 votes total Vote Now