We caught up with Susie from Sounder at Heart to ask her three questions about Sunday's game between the Houston Dash and the Seattle Reign.
*Questions were exchanged before Saturday's NWSL games aka the Reign still had a chance at the playoffs.
DT: It's the last game of the season and the Reign haven't locked up a playoff spot nor do they completely control their destiny.They need to get a win over the Dash and for the Flash to lose to the Breakers to get in. If they miss out on the playoffs it would be the first time since 2013 for the team to miss the playoffs. What does making or not making the playoff say about the team this season?
SaH: It's so hard to truly define the Reign this season. For a team that returned virtually all of its starters, most predicted Seattle would again sit at the top of the league. What does it say about the team if it doesn't make the playoffs? Most fans wont read too much into it and agree it's just been an uncharacteristic season that was affected by a lot of injuries.
But I think one thing was made clear: teams have figured out the best way to beat Seattle, and that's by cutting off balls into the midfield and compressing the field of play. This also says a lot about the league. The level of talent across the NWSL grows and grows. To have a few new teams sit at the top of the league can only be a good thing, in my mind.
DT: Houston is 0-6-0 against the Reign with a +13 goal differential for the Reign. How has the Reign been able to consistently shut the Dash down each time they play each other?
SaH: The Dash seem to be a team that loves to have space to take players on and run with the ball. Kealia Ohai is a perfect example of that. Seattle's Laura Harvey has coached her team to put quick pressure on the ball on defense. She preaches a "defend from the front" mentality. It can leave Seattle susceptible to speedy counter attacks, but seems to be the perfect defensive approach against Houston.
DT: The Reign has scored eight goals in the last four games. What has changed on offense for the Reign?
SaH: There seems to be a lot more urgency from the team on offense, which is both exciting and frustrating, as we didn't see it earlier in the season. One big reason for the spark has been the return of a healthy Manon Melis, who really seems to be finding her stride. Melis is fast. So fast. And Seattle has been focused on getting her the ball in dangerous positions early in the match, in order to set the tone of the game.
Melis is a direct-to-goal kind of player, and the Reign might be the first team she's played on that deploys a possession-based attack. It has taken her a bit of time to time her runs correctly and connect with teammates. but she's found a groove and has been a big reason for Seattle's last-season surge.