There is so much quality soccer going on right now. In addition to the action-packed World Cup group stage, NWSL play continues this weekend, with Reign FC hosting the top-ranked Washington Spirit. That match kicks off at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma at 7 PM PT on Saturday, June 15.
The Reign head into the match with some strong performances under their belt, but an ongoing bout of injuries has prevented the team from rising in the standings. Reign FC sits in 7th with a 2-1-4 record and they will have at least 14 players out on Saturday due to injury or international duty, and a fifteenth is questionable. FOURTEEN.
In response to the absences, Reign FC has added midfielder Erin Yenney as a national team replacement player and Kori Butterfield as a goalkeeper replacement for Scout Watson, who suffered a concussion in training earlier this week. Yenney, 26, made three appearances last season with the Chicago Red Stars. Butterfield is a Duvall native who played two years at Central Washington University before transferring to the University of Tampa. She was a preseason non-roster invitee for Reign FC.
The Spirit, meanwhile, sit at the top of the NWSL table with a 5-1-1 record. Their only draw has been with the Reign, a 0-0 affair that saw goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe make save after save after save to keep Reign FC off the score sheet. They’re also missing just seven players and have more of their attacking depth healthy. Sigh.
Washington’s style of play
This is a new Washington Spirit squad that is powered by young players and deliberate possession. The Spirit have three rookies who have earned starting roles: attacking midfielder Jordan DiBiasi, centerback Sam Staab, and left back Tegan McGrady.
Last year, the Spirit tried to wear teams down by dominating possession. The issue was that because they made the game so slow, they never created any good goal-scoring opportunities. They are a lot more goal-focused this year and have the talent to pull off this style of play. The Spirit lead the league in passes and pass completion (80%).
However, they sit at the bottom of the league in passes in their attacking half. Washington builds play from the back, with centerbacks Staab and Paige Nielsen (a former Reign FC player) getting most of the touches. The duo leads the league in passes and are in the top three in touches per game. They often look for long balls to the speedy Ashley Hatch up top or simple play through their holding midfielders. Both centerbacks are calm on the ball, but they can get flustered under significant pressure.
The Spirit are also not a team that relies on their outside backs for nonstop runs up the flanks. In fact, the Spirit have attempted the fewest crosses in the league.
While DiBiasi is the creative engine of the team, her ability to roam higher up the field is made possible because of the standout play of Andi Sullivan and Meggie Dougherty Howard (MDH) behind her in the midfield. After struggling last season as a rookie, Sullivan was one of the last players to get dropped from the USWNT World Cup roster. She’s making a big case for herself to get back onto that roster in the future. Sullivan is a confident holding midfielder alongside MDH, who the Spirit rely on as the more defensively aggressive midfielder to break up play (MDH leads the league in fouls committed).
Here’s the thing about the Spirit: while they have 12 goals on the season, they don’t take that many shots. They’ve taken 62 in seven matches. Compare that to the Reign’s 89 over the same number of games. They just put themselves in strong positions to score — relying on late runs into the box and balls on the ground across the face of the goal.
With the number of injuries they are facing, this is going to be a difficult battle for Reign FC. But if the home side is able to create just one or two good chances and disrupt the Spirit’s possession game, the Reign could surprise the league leaders.
Injuries, Suspensions, International Duty
OUT: Jasmyne Spencer (SEI – Knee), Taylor Smith (SEI – Knee), Michelle Betos (SEI – Achilles), Scout Watson (Concussion), Kristen McNabb (Calf), Darian Jenkins (Hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: Shea Groom (Calf)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Megan Rapinoe (USA), Allie Long (USA), Celia Jimenez Delgado (ESP), Steph Catley (AUS), Elise Kellond-Knight (AUS), Jodie Taylor (ENG), Lydia Williams (AUS), Rumi Utsugi (JPN)
OUT: Mallory Eubanks (MAT), Tiffany McCarty (Left Thigh)
By The Numbers
2-1-4, 10 points
7 goals for, 8 goals against
Bethany Balcer: 3 goals
5-1-1, 16 points
12 goals for, 4 goals against