Tonight the Reign welcome Abby Wambach and the rest of the Western New York Flash to their first and only trip to Starfire this season. For Seattle, it's their first game in 8 days (not counting a friendly that most of the starters didn't play in) after playing 4 in the previous 14 days. It was a tough schedule but a successful one, as they went undefeated in that run and earned their first two wins of the season. Hopefully that run can continue, and if Seattle wants any shot at the playoffs, it has to.
Talk of playoffs may seem silly for a team that scored one point in the first half of the season, but if the Reign can keep getting results they can stay in that conversation. To make the 4th place in the standings and the playoffs, they essentially need the current 4th place team to stop getting any results. Right now that 4th place team is the Flash, so this game is one of those 6-pointers. A loss here would put the playoff cutoff at 25 points, 16 ahead of Seattle with only 7 games to play. A win would get them 11 back with 7 games. Still hard, but not unreasonable. Of course, a lot else has to go right. The existing top 3 teams have to win nearly every game to keep the Flash and the other chasing teams out of the picture. It may feel weird rooting for the Thorns to win every match, but that's what we're looking at.
But regardless of whether a playoff run is in the cards, this is clearly an improved team. Megan Rapinoe is now fully integrated into the squad and the Reign's new strikeforce of Ranae Cuellar, Jessica McDonald, and Kennya Cordner looks like a clear upgrade over the players they've put up front in the past (including many midfielders). And this game is also the return for Stephanie Cox, a regular national teamer who last season played for the Sounders Women and who's been out of the game having a child. Her first appearance is as a starter on a young backline that could use her experience.
The Flash predictably revolves around Wambach, who's only the all-time leading international scorer in the women's game. That means a lot of getting the ball to the wings and in for high crosses for her to head in. Hope Solo will have to be on her game to gather and clear out those crosses. And Seattle's group of converted midfielders on the backline will have their hands full keeping Wambach off the ball.
If they can do that, Seattle's new offense looks entirely capable of scoring, even against what's statistically the best defense in the league. And that's a recipe for keeping this run going and keeping those flickering playoff hopes from guttering out.