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Lauletta: Two years after Shield, Reign sit 14th on NWSL table

Seattle coach Laura Harvey watches her squad from the sidelines.
Photo Copyright Jaylynn Nash for USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Reign insist they are okay. The National Women’s Soccer League table, which shows the three-time Shield winners on the bottom, suggests otherwise.

“Not a lot of things are going their way right now,” coach Laura Harvey said following Saturday night’s 1-0 loss in North Carolina, adding that she told the team she was proud of them. “They could drop their heads and show a different mentality and they’re not. And that’s really hard to do.”

The loss to the Courage was the Reign’s fifth in a row following an opening weekend, 1-0 victory over the Washington Spirit. These are rare occurrences in the Pacific Northwest. Not since a nine-game skid in 2013—before the club had ever won a game—have the Reign lost as many as 5 in a row.

At one point during the unsightly 0-9-2 start to the inaugural 2013 season, Harvey sat on the pitch with then-owner Bill Predmore and questioned whether she could get things turned around. That is not the case this time around.

“I thought we did some really good things,” she said. “We stuck to the game plan, we executed it, just didn’t show the quality in the final third that we needed. We outshot them, by a lot (17-10), which isn’t easy to do when you come here.”

Harvey further acknowledged that the Reign needed to be better defending on the sequence that created the lone goal of the match. The ball was being contested in midfield when a Denise O’Sullivan ball sprung Ashley Sanchez and pulled the Reign defense apart. They did not recover enough to keep tabs on Tyler Lussi and she sneaked into a dangerous area unmarked while Sanchez hit her in stride. It was all the Courage would need.

“It was an unfortunate result for us,” Tziarra King said. “They kind got a lot of their attack in transition and off our mistakes.”

Olivia Van der Jagt said she thought the team did well pressing the Courage but that the team is still lacking the final mixture to start attaining results.

“I swear I say this every time,” she said, “but just the little details, the finishing. We’re so close. If we could just put some away.”

Van Der Jagt started on the bench but was pressed into service early when Quinn went down in a tackle with Brianna Pinto and had to come off. Harvey, who as of her press availability had not seen the injury, said the high-pressure game plan was always going to require substitutions and that using one in the 5th minutes was less than ideal. She added that Quinn has a knee injury, but it is not believed to be a torn ACL.

Quinn joins Jordyn Huitema and Claudia Dickey on the sidelines, and lest we forget the Reign lost Megan Rapinoe to retirement and Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett to free agency. Veterans Jess Fishlock and Lauren Barnes are 37 and 34 respectively. It is not the roster that won the Shield two years ago or that reached the NWSL Championship last November. But 14th place is hardly the standard.

“Once we get the product out there that we want,” King said, “we can be a force.”


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Around the league

Spirit 2, Pride 3

Barbra Banda hat trick, anyone? The 24-year-old Zambian scored a goal, assisted on another, and drew a penalty for her third in her maiden NWSL start. First Banda ran into a Summer Yates long ball, beat Annaig Butel to the goal line and crossed back to Angelina who put the Pride ahead. Next she headed in a Julie Doyle corner kick to give the Pride a second lead. And just a few minutes later, dribbled into the box where Buteg took her down for a penalty that Yates converted.

The win was the Pride’s 3rd in a row and snapped the Spirit’s win streak at 4, one shy of a club record. Ouleymata Sarr and Ashley Hatch scored for the home team with Hatch’s shot slipping through the hands of Orlando keeper Anna Moorhouse and making for a tense final 25 minutes plus stoppage time. Things became even more tense when Pride defender Brianna Martinez was booked a second time and subsequently shown the door just as the clock approached 90.

Lots of love for Banda coming out of this one but watch how an alert Angelina gets on her horse to make an amazing run to be on the end of the cross.

Angel City 1, Current 3

The Current had to come from behind to remain unbeaten and wound up defeating Angel City for the second time in four games. Angel City controlled the first half and had the Current on their heels like at no other time this season. They paid it off with just a single goal when Claire Emslie got into the box unmarked, took a lovely step to her left to evade the closing defender Stine Balisager, and set herself up for a perfect finish. It was Emslie’s third goal in two games following her direct free kick/keeper lob display a week earlier against the Courage.

The Current made the second half count though. Vanessa DiBernardo leveled it on a blast from beyond the 18-year box. The subs took over from there as Claire Lavogez hit the winner in the 90th minute and another in stoppage time. Debinha, in her first match back after an opening day injury, was instrumental in helping the Current carry the play in the final 17 minutes plus stoppage.

Red Stars 0, Thorns 2

Sophia Smith’s brace in the opening 26 minutes led the Thorns to their second win in a row since Rob Gale took over as interim head coach. The win extended the Thorns regular season dominance against the Red Stars, against whom the club is now 15-2-10.

Both of Smith’s goals were products of her individual brilliance. On the first one she gained possession in the box and worked Tatumn Milazzo to create the smallest of windows to get a shot off that beat Alyssa Naeher. The second goal came after taking a pass from Christine Sinclair and sliding it through a narrow opening between Naeher and defender Taylor Malham and finding the back of the net via the far post. Smith now leads NWSL with 5 goals.

Royals 0, Dash 0

Both teams added reinforcements to their lineups after rough showings a week earlier and the result was a measured, scoreless draw that was the first shutout for the expansion Royals. Amandine Henry made her debut for the Royals and was a calming presence in midfield. For the Dash, Paige Nielsen debuted and Nat Jacobs returned to help stabilize the back three and Ramona Bachmann started wide left in midfield. Both teams looked decidedly more comfortable than the week prior when the Royals lost 5-1 in Louisville and the Dash 4-1 in Portland.

In stoppage time, Royals coach Amy Rodriguez was shown a straight red card. Asked about the reason she said: “I haven’t been told yet. And I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.”

Wave 2, Bay 1

The Wave scored multiple times for the first time this season including a sublime winner that saw Jaedyn Shaw play pinball with several teammates in the buildup before being the one to finish it. Makenzy Doniak put the Wave ahead with a goal from distance with the assist going to 16-year-old Kimmi Ascanio on her first professional shot. Asisas Oshoala scored for Bay, tapping in a rebound off the crossbar.

Gotham 1, Louisville 1

A choppy affair seemed destined to end without a goal until a series of plot twists during stoppage time. Emma Sears helped put Louisville on top when she ran on to her own ball down the left side, beat Emily Sonnett, and drove it to the far post. The cross appeared to come off the foot of Gotham’s Jenna Nighswonger to Reilyn Turner and the rookie backheeled it in for an apparent game winner.

Gotham fought back though with a little help from Louisville keeper Katie Lund. Bruninha drove a ball near the top of the 6 and Racing communication broke down leading to Lund colliding with Lauren Milliet and Arin Wright. Instead of an easy catch the ball stayed alive and went to Rose Lavelle who had little trouble putting it into a mostly open goal. It was the oft-injured Lavelle’s first appearance this season and first time in a Gotham kit. New signing Ann-Katrin Berger also made her Gotham debut and was solid in goal.

Louisville lost two midfielders in the match. Jaelin Howell was taken off early with what appeared to be a knee injury. Later Savannah DeMelo left the match as a concussion sub, several minutes after being cleared to return from what looked like the initial injury.

Talking Points

The NWSL quietly relaunched its website, nwslsoccer.com, last week. It was more than a month after the original target date we heard tell about, and the old was certainly in need of a refurb. But a few days spent scrolling the new site has me convinced that testing was either not prioritized and/or was not sourced out to people who would normally go there for basic soccer information.

I’ll spare you most of the details. Either you have been there and have your own opinions or don’t need to start now. But a few glaring issues are the inability to sort player stats, lack of basic information (including saves and assists) in match reports, and no ability to sort the schedule by team (you can click on any team at the top and then on the schedule tab.) The fact that not all of the main menu tabs are hard links and it takes two clicks for basic information like getting the schedule, is a major breach of the unwritten laws of web design.

Users who spend more time on mobile than I do have reported other issues as have users looking for ADA compliance.

The good news is that there is clearly work being done already as some corrections have already been made. But for a league that has never had a particularly strong web presence this was not a good look in the rollout.

Free Kicks

  • Staab has now started 96 consecutive matches, extending her league record.
  • Prior to their win over Bay, the Wave were shutout in consecutive regular season matches for the first time ever.
  • The Kansas City Current fired medical department head Carlos Jimenez last week for violating the league’s anti-fraternization policy. The news was first reported in The Athletic by Meg Linehan. No specific details have been made available. Earlier this year the Dash parted ways with goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson for violations of the same policy.
  • Never been a fan of the NWSL using assists as a tiebreaker for the Golden Boot. It has come into play once, in 2016, allowing Lynn Williams to be recognized as the Boot winner at the expense of Kealia Watt (then Ohai). So it was ironic that it was a discussion point during Friday night’s Amazon broadcast with Ohai working the sidelines.
  • Williams and Watt were joined again a few weeks after that 2016 ended and both were called into the national team. Williams debuted first and set the program record by scoring after only 49 seconds on the pitch. Four days later, Watt made her debut and pushed Williams out of the record book by scoring after 48 seconds.

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