On Saturday night the Courage once again beat the Reign at Sahlen’s Stadium with no hazardous weather to deter the crowd. All four of the players from the USWNT started for the Courage, despite just playing on Thursday in California, in stark contrast to Megan Rapinoe and Rumi Utsugi of the Reign, neither of whom made the cross-country trip with their team. The loss of two star internationals hurt the Seattle side, but could not fully explain the defeat, as the Courage came out and controlled the game almost from start to finish. In any game there are going to be chances for the opposition, but the Courage defense clamped down on the Reign from start to finish, earning their 8th clean sheet of the season in the 1-0 victory.
The best part of watching the team on Saturday was seeing how hard they work from the first to the ninetieth minute in their high-press defensive mindset. The Reign constantly tried to build from the defense, playing their goal kicks and saves out to a deep defender, but Ashley Hatch, Lynn Williams or Kris Hamilton were always right there to challenge the ball. Frequently those forwards would force errant passes that were gobbled up by waiting midfielders to jumpstart the attack. There is no other group of forwards in the world who work as hard as the Courage forwards do, and it makes you feel like every player on the field is inspired to play both offense and defense. When the ball did get through the front line, Sam Mewis and McCall Zerboni harassed the Seattle midfield and allowed the back four to hold their shape. While there were a few scary moments, the defensive line typically kept their shape and prevented the Reign from taking good shots. The best play in the defensive third came from keeper Katelyn Rowland. I remember her getting her first start against Sky Blue on a Wednesday night at home when the weather threatened to ruin the game, and she has never looked back from the starting job since. The team went 4-3 with Sabrina D’Angelo at the helm, but they have gone 6-2 with Rowland starting.
The offense was surprisingly lackluster, as the outside backs were tasked with a more holding role, and Taylor Smith and Jaelen Hinkle didn’t move forward and serve the ball into the box as often as they typically do. On a few occasions Kris Hamilton and Lynn Williams didn’t take the first touch shot, allowing defenders to close down the space and prevent goals. Too many of the through balls ended up being just a little too hard, and there were two occasions where crosses from the touch line scooted right through the 6-yard box with no Courage presence. If the offense had been in gear we definitely could have blown this thing wide open, but a victory is a victory and the most important thing was to prevent the league leader in goals, Seattle, from getting too many opportunities.
The one black spot on the game was, once again, Mak Doniak. Taylor Smith couldn’t move forward with confidence and overlap into the offense because she was waiting for Doniak to control the ball and cut inside. While Doniak did have one great stretch of play where she put on a burst of speed and sent the ball into the center, where Lynn Williams collected it and scored, the vast majority of the game featured her as a black hole of possession. A place on the field where the Courage would collect the ball in the prime position, but then she would dribble it in towards the defense and give up possession in a 1v1 scenario. Doniak is a good player, technically. She has all of the skills necessary to be an excellent outside midfielder, but her burst and top speed don’t allow her to get into good positions offensively. She has become unable to take on defenders and drive to the touch line, which is a staple of the Courage offensive game plan. I genuinely believe she is suffering from a worsening case of the ‘yips’ and needs to take a break for a few games to catch her head.
The Courage play their next game on Thursday night in Kansas City. This is a replacement game for the one that was rained out two weekends ago, and will make the trip to Seattle on Sunday a little tougher. Seattle has not lost at home all season, and players like Mewis and Dahlkemper will likely be playing their 6th full game in 18 days. Hopefully the addition of two new internationals can spread the workload around by the time we get to Sunday.