It’s Week 2 of NWSL action and the Houston Dash are on the road to face the Seattle Reign. We caught up with Susie from Sounder at Heart to get her perspective on the Saturday game.
Dynamo Theory: The Seattle midfield looked vulnerable last weekend against Sky Blue. Do you expect any lineup changes this week to try and solidify the midfield?
Susie: Seattle's midfield probably won't dominate in the same way it did the past three years, but it can still be a force in this league. Rumi Utsugi should fold back into the starting lineup after missing most of the preseason with Japan. The moment Utsugi subbed onto the game in Week 1, Seattle regained control of the midfield. Having her in a natural holding midfield role will free up Jess Fishlock to play more of a box-to-box position, where we have seen her thrive for the Reign. She played way too deep against Sky Blue, at times sitting along the backline to help the defense absorb pressure, and Seattle needs her to help spark the attack.
I suspect Christine Nairn will be the third midfield partner again. She's still figuring out her best role on the team, including where to be on defense and which runs to make off Fishlock. Hopefully, all that is needed is a bit more time together.
DT: The Dash have a strong front three in Kealia Ohai, Rachel Daly and Janine Beckie. How do you think the Reign defense will be able to contain them/keep them off the scoreboard?
Susie: To be honest, I have some concerns. Seattle showed last week that it has a hard time containing opponents who bring a lot of speed and like to counter-attack. Hopefully, Haley Kopmeyer doesn't have to put in another NWSL Player of the Week performance to keep the Reign in this game. Having the veteran Lauren Barnes on the backline helps a lot, especially with a long of younger players alongside her. If Barnes is able to ensure the defense keeps its shape, it's possible Seattle keeps the match close.
Memorial Stadium is a smaller pitch as well, and this game will be on turf, which means Houston is going to be at a bit of a disadvantage if it wants to rely on space and speed. There is a reason Seattle has only lost two matches on this field in the last three years; the team knows how to play on the more narrow pitch.
DT: What will the Dash's backline need to do to keep the Reign from scoring?
Susie: Seattle likes to possess the ball and find the gaps in an opponent's defense. Sky Blue disrupted this style of play during Week 1, and the New Jersey side was unlucky to allow the Reign to score and not put away more than one goal on their end. If the Dash wants to keep a clean sheet, they are going to need to be relentless in pressing on defense, especially Houston's forwards. Disrupting balls into the midfield to prevent Seattle from building attacks was one of the most effective ways to stop the Reign last year.