Reign Gamethread: Fox in the Reignhouse

Mike Russell (mikerussellfoto.com)

Seattle welcomes a national TV audience to a sold out Starfire at 5:30 tonight as they look to extend their undefeated streak to six games against a Spirit team that embarrassed them in their last matchup in Tukwila.

When Fox Soccer Channel scheduled their NWSL broadcasts, I'm sure they didn't expect the first two teams they featured to be the bottom two teams in the standings. Fortunately, the Reign are no longer playing like a bottom-of-the-table team as they're currently riding a five game undefeated streak. And the draw of players like Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe should add the star power to the match that Fox will be hoping for. They'll also have a full crowd to feature — the team announced today that the match is sold out.

Washington, on the other hand, remains pretty bad. They've scored only one goal in their last 8 matches and have only one win this season. That win, you may remember, was over the Reign in their previous matchup at Starfire and was one of the lowest points of an early season that was mostly low points. The Reign defense somehow allowed Washington to score 4 goals in that match. That's nearly half of their entire season total of 10 goals. So on top of the improved Seattle play there will be some hunger for payback and very little chance of taking the Spirit team lightly no matter where they are in the standings now.

That Reign defense is still a work in progress. The team has yet to record a shutout this season (as do the Spirit). The return of Solo from injury certainly shored the backline up, but they're still good for 4-5 good chances allowed a game that either become goals or highlight reel saves. We're still waiting for some minutes from Stephanie Cox, who was on the bench in the last match but will provide veteran and international-level defense and leadership when she takes the field. Kate Deines is healthy but she seems to be unlikely to displace either Lauren Barnes — who's been the most consistent defender — or Kaylyn Kyle, who head coach Laura Harvey seems to be committed to as a centerback converted from midfielder.

The midfield, on the other hand, remains rock solid and may be getting even stronger. Keelin Winters and Jess Fishlock are two of the better holding midfield players in the league. Christine Nairn leads the team in assists. Megan Rapinoe is obviously world class. And the team just added Australia national team midfielder and co-captain Emily Van Egmond, who's already in town. With that midfield setup you only need one forward in the 4-3-3, and Renae Cuellar has taken over that spot, looking good in her two games with the team. And Jessica McDonald is waiting on the wings.

That's enough offensive punch to outscore a lot of teams, and that's how they've been winning on this streak. Against the Spirit, who have the worst goals-against in the league, it may only take two goals to get the win. That would be a fine display for the national audience, would continue to the undefeated streak to six, and most importantly would keep the playoffs a part of the conversation. If things go well earlier and the Flash lose to the Thorns, Seattle would only be 8 points out of the playoffs with a win. That's still a tough ask, but given how the team's first half of the season went, it's all the chance they could ask for. And with this offense, it might be all the chance they need.

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