In this weekly series, I will be highlighting a player from the weekend who was their respective team’s unsung hero, win or lose. A player who does the dirty work, does the little but important things in a game and someone who didn’t exactly fill up the stat sheet but found other ways to contribute.
This week I’ve chosen Seattle Reign FC forward Megan Rapinoe.
Rapinoe has been one of the original Seattle fan-favorites since 2013, when the National Women’s Soccer League began. Making 46 appearances while scoring 22 goals for the Reign, Rapinoe has been a key part of Seattle’s rise to the top of the NWSL over the last five years. But after tearing her ACL with the National Team in December 2015, Rapinoe’s appearances with her club team have been limited, and when she does take the pitch, she’s been a little rusty.
But now, I think we can all say with confidence: Pinoe’s back, baby.
Seattle 1-1 Orlando:
Throughout the first six weeks, Seattle has had a kind of Jekyll and Hyde feel about them, while Orlando’s start has been a little underwhelming, to say the least, until their surprise win over the NC Courage in Week 5. So no one was particularly surprised as the match started and the Reign started out strong, dominating early possession. The Reign are considered one of the best clubs at home and currently have a 10 match undefeated run at their Memorial Stadium home. Orlando, on the other hand, have yet to earn a win in their last 13 away games.
One of the biggest difference makers for me in this match was the 31-year-old Rapinoe, who was vital in the Reign maintaining possession throughout the match and controlling the pace of the game.
One of the best parts about Rapinoe’s game is her passing ability. An early example of this was in the seventh minute of the game, when Rapinoe checked into space near the midfield, her back to the opposing goal, to receive a pass from Christine Nairn. With one last quick shoulder check on her defender, Rapinoe took a single touch with her right and sent a lovely ball towards Jess Fishlock, who was wide-open and charging into Orlando’s eighteen yard-box territory at the time.
In this instance, the Pride’s defensive back Alanna Kennedy was able to slide over just in time to force a crunching tackle, and both players got tangled up trying to win the ball. But what many people may overlook in watching the ball is how Rapinoe not only knew where Fishlock was running too in that split second, but gave Fishlock a real chance with her placement of the ball.
One reason it’s difficult to defend the Reign is because they are known as a technical team, they love the one-touch passing game and time and time again, they are synchronized moving up into the attack. This season, Seattle are working with a 4-3-3 formation, pushing Rapinoe up top with fellow veterans Bev Yanez and Nahomi Kawasumi. The attack is supported by a well-connected midfield, composed of Fishlock, Christine Nairn and Rumi Utsugi. But the most important part of the Reign’s dominance on the pitch is that all the players mentioned above–Rapinoe and her teammates in the front and midfield–are interchangeable on the field. Each one of them could swap positions on the pitch at any point and perform to Laura Harvey’s exacting standards. That’s how they create so many quality chances and in doing do, currently lead the league in Goals (15), Assists (10), Shots on Goal (39) and are second in Shots overall (73).
Rapinoe was busy all game long finding space and getting service to her teammates in critical areas. In fact, the lone goal for Seattle came off service from that special right foot in the 40th minute. After the second consecutive corner found its way back to Rapinoe out wide, she whipped in a tantalizing ball that sent Orlando backup goalkeeper Caroline Stanley out to the six-yard box to only land a weak punch that landed the ball at Rachel Corsie’s feet. Corsie, then, deflected the ball toward Yanez, who scored with a beautiful tap-in.
But remember. It all started with Rapinoe. With Rapinoe not giving up on the right side after a few minutes down in their end, making the decision to continue pressing forward toward goal and pressuring the Pride’s defensive with her service.
The goal–the point, the eventual draw–it all started with Megan Rapinoe.
While Seattle are sitting in fourth place with two wins, one loss, and three draws, they once again have the talent and leadership to make it back to a familiar place–the coveted NWSL Championship game. If Rapinoe can continue to find the back of the net (four goals so far in 2017, second in the league) while also finding opportunities for her teammates, it just may be Reigning in October.