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Washington Spirit fall 6-2 to Seattle Reign

A poor tactical shift resulted in a barrage of goals

Mike Russell Foto for Sounder at Heart

Despite only trailing by a goal at the hour mark, the Washington Spirit ended up falling 6-2 to the Seattle Reign. The Reign scored twice in the first half before Havana Solaun converted a penalty kick in the 60th minute. Then, the Spirit switched to a three-back and proceeded to concede three goals in a 10-minute span. Naho Kawasumi was phenomenal for Seattle and recorded four assists.

The Spirit and Reign both started with a 4-3-3 and Cheyna Williams started for the first time since a groin injury in the Spirit’s opening game. Due to Merritt Mathias’ suspension, Reign (and former Spirit) midfielder Christine Nairn started.

The match started off rather evenly with fairly equal possession. Washington pulled off an easy shot in the first minute and in the 13th minute Francisca Ordega cut the ball in to Williams but the Reign cleared it for a corner kick.

In the 20th minute, Nairn scored the game’s opening goal and her first goal of the season. Kassey Kallman conceded a turnover that allowed Seattle into the box and Nairn converted it to the far side of the goal.

Line Sigvardsen Jensen and Havana Solaun combined well in the 30th minute when the pair played it back-and-forth; it culminated in a low, hard shot from Solaun that bounced off Seattle defenders.

The Spirit looked much less organized on defense than the team did in previous games. Part of this was due to the pressure the Reign put on the Spirit and how often Seattle switched the point of attack but also how many numbers the Spirit were putting forward.

Kawasumi ran down the right flank in the 35th minute and Kallman couldn’t catch up in time. Kawasumi sent in a cross and Bev Yanez split Whitney Church and Shelina Zadorsky in order to slot a one-touch shot past Labbe.

After the goal, the Reign started putting increased pressure on the Spirit backline and the Spirit began to get pinned in their own half and were unable to work the ball upfield to the forward in addition to the defensive issues this presented.

Kallman exited in the 59th minute and was replaced by Arielle Ship. While Kallman was struggling to defend Kawasumi, this substitution resulted in the Spirit playing an aggressive three-back with Solaun and Williams as wingbacks. Defensively, this was a big risk against Seattle whose wing players are particularly strong.

Williams forced a handball in the box in the 60th minute and Solaun executed the ensuing penalty kick perfectly and Kopmeyer had no chance at stopping it.

But the Spirit’s comeback was short-lived; as the Reign started to profit from flank play and catching the Spirit in transition, the defense crumbled.

Megan Rapinoe had acres of open space as she worked down the left flank in the 69th minute and crossed it to Kawasumi who only needed to tap it in to score the Reign third goal. Part of Kawasumi’s ease in the box was because there was essentially two Spirit defenders in position to defend. Between the two, Estelle Johnson was chasing down Rapinoe and Kawasumi was able to run in behind Church who was also keeping an eye on Yanez who was making a run into the box.

Two minutes later, the Reign scored again. A turnover in the Spirit’s offensive third resulted in a quick buildup from Seattle. Katie Johnson had a nifty backheel to Rapinoe and then Rapinoe and Kawasumi were 2v1 against Zadorsky. Rapinoe played it across to Kawasumi, Labbe followed, and Kawasumi played it back to Rapinoe who had most of the goal to shoot on.

Five minutes after Rapinoe’s goal, Rapinoe scored again to give the Reign a 5-1 lead. Kawasumi took the ball up the right flank and cut it across for Rapinoe who pushed it right by Labbe.

The Reign wrapped up their ten-minute spurt of goals with a 79th minute goal from Lindsay Elston. Rapinoe hit it up the left flank to Johnson who lifted a high cross to kawasumi on the right side of the box. Kawasumi volleyed it to and Elston took a one-touch shot and converted it past Labbe.

In the final minutes, Kristie Mewis made her return from a quad strain and added a consolation goal. Church sent a 30-yard free kick in from the right flank and it went through the box and to the left side where Mewis hit the bouncing ball into the goal to make the final score 6-2.

While it was certainly a poor performance overall from the Spirit, the switch to a three-back at the hour mark resulted in the onslaught of goals. With the aggressive three back that had two forwards as wingbacks, the Spirit had little defense on the flanks and it was far too easy for the Reign to turn one Spirit turnover into a quick goal. Credit also goes to Kawasumi who posted four assists and an unbelievable performance that could have resulted in even more goals.

Next week the Spirit return home to the Maryland Soccerplex to face FC Kansas City on Saturday at 7pm. This Tuesday, newly-signed Mallory Pugh will start practice with the Spirit and will likely see time against the Blues on Saturday.