The Orlando Pride (1-2-2, 5 points) are coming off their first win of 2017 but making it two in a row will be extremely difficult. The Pride visit Seattle Reign FC (2-1-2, 8 points) tomorrow at 9:30 p.m. ET and will have to take on the NWSL’s highest scoring team this season. The Reign are always a difficult team to play, especially at home, and with a healthy Megan Rapinoe, they’ll have their sights set on a playoff spot and perhaps more in 2017.
The first (and most recent) time the Pride visited Seattle, the Reign pasted Orlando, 5-2. Seattle is still good at home, beating Washington 6-2 last week.
Here to help us learn more about this weekend’s opponents from the Pacific Northwest is Susie Rantz from Sounder at Heart. She was nice enough to answer our questions and I repaid the kindness. You can check out my answers to her questions over at SAH.
It's not surprising that the Reign are the NWSL's top scoring club. The surprise is how leaky Seattle has been at the back. What's going on with the team's defense and how open have Seattle's matches been so far in 2017?
Susie Rantz: Oh, how I'd love to see the Reign finally get a shutout this weekend. I think the defensive struggles have been primarily due to two factors. First, this is a fairly new back line still getting to know one another. Rachel Corsie is slowly working her way back into the lineup after missing nearly six months due to injury, while both Carson Pickett and Rebekah Stott are young outside backs still adjusting to the league. It seems to be taking a bit more time for all the pieces to fit together. Most of the goals Reign FC conceded, haven't been the result of total defensive breakdowns, but small mental lapses.
The second factor is the change in the midfield. Keelin Winters was extremely underrated in her ability to shield the back line from too much pressure, and she had three years to form a partnership with Jess Fishlock and Kim Little. A new midfield has put even greater pressure on the back line, and the team is still adjusting. I'm hopeful that more time and more games is all the team needs.
Fans around the league should know plenty by now about Jess Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe. Who else should Orlando fans be aware of when it comes to the team's dangerous attack?
SR: Unlike previous seasons, where teams really targeted Kim Little and tried to limit her time on the ball, the Reign attack has multiple dimensions this year — making them hard to predict and defend. If you pay close attention to Megan Rapinoe and Naho Kawasumi on the wings, Bev Yanez, Christine Nairn, or Fishlock are ready to pounce in the middle of the field.
Yanez in particular has been a critical component of the attack. She might not score a ton of goals, but her movement to draw defenders and open the field has been a key component of Seattle's attack. For a target forward, Yanez has such great control in tight spaces. In fact, she had an 85% pass success rate last week. She brings the movement, passing, and finishing that make Seattle's possession-focused attack work.
In addition, the attack is also just as strong as the defense, and when Seattle's high pressure, defend-from-the-front approach is in sync, it creates a lot more quick breaks on offense for the Reign. While Yanez plays a big part in this, it's the whole Seattle front line working together that makes the team so dangerous.
How has Seattle improved as a team from last season? Conversely, which areas of the team do not seem as solid in 2017 as they were a year ago?
SR: Last year was so hard to figure out. On paper, the Reign boasted one of the best teams in the world. I think that what the team lacked, however, was unpredictability. They weren't a team that adapted their game plan from match to match, and instead relied on their ability to play beautiful, technical soccer consistently. Seattle suffered as teams began to figure them out and clog up balls into the midfield. This year, a combination of young energy and a renewed commitment from Laura Harvey and the team to make adjustments has jumpstarted the attack early in the season. I cannot overstate how important Rapinoe is to this team, either. Unpredictability is a cornerstone of her game, and she has been relentlessly aggressive on the defensive end. A healthy Pinoe for a full season should scare other teams.
Consistency is what the Reign still need to work on, especially on defense. The back line was really strong last year, and Seattle is letting in far too many goals in 2017. It all comes down to playing their game for a full 90 minutes. If the Reign do that, I think they'll be really hard to beat.
What’s your projected starting lineup and who’s out for the match?
SR: Project lineup — Haley Kopmeyer; Carson Pickett, Lauren Barnes, Rachel Corsie, Rebekah Stott; Rumi Utsugi, Jess Fishlock, Christine Nairn; Megan Rapinoe, Bev Yanez, Naho Kawasumi.
Injuries: Larissa Crummer (broken foot) and Diana Matheson (torn ACL) are out.
Suspended: Merritt Mathias.
Big thanks to Susie from Sounder at Heart for stopping by and giving us the scouting report on the Seattle Reign.