If there were any questions about whether the Reign's Sunday match against the Spirit — the first ever nationally televised NWSL game — would also be their first sellout, they were quickly dispelled by the 45 minutes it took to drive the last three blocks into Starfire (Also: a shoutout to all the traffic cops out there. That's a rough job).
Thanks to that little adventure, I missed the first 25 minutes or so of the match. So when I jogged into the stadium and saw the 1-0 score in favor of the Spirit, my first two thoughts were "Ugh" and "probably a penalty". And I was right! Because of my acute tactical mind and because referees seem to have a serious problem officiating Reign games and because Washington hasn't scored a goal in the run of play since May 16 — the last time they visited Starfire. To be fair to the center ref, after seeing a replay I can't argue that the handball called on Keelin Winters in the box wasn't a penalty. I wish those weren't called (or were indirect free kicks or something) but they are and that was. Here's the incident and the PK.
Fortunately, as soon as I arrive the Reign took over the game completely. The additions of Megan Rapinoe, Renae Cuellar, and Jessica McDonald have completely transformed an offense that for months looked completely bereft of any idea of how to create a goal scoring opportunity. Now opportunities fall like Seattle sunshine. In the 30th. a run of sustained Seattle pressure culminated when Christine Nairn nimbly dribbled across the top of the box and slipped a ball in to Tiffany McDonald who was wide open but being held onside by a ragged Spirit defensive line. Her first time shot inside of the post was unsaveable and the Reign had tied the match. Watch.
Three and a half minutes later they scored again when fullback Elli Reed made a bombing run forward on the right flank to cross the ball and drop it right in front of the 6 yard box, where McDonald was able to get a head on it before keeper Ashlyn Harris could get there and in it went for the 2-1 lead. Watch.
That was the end of the scoring, but not the end of the chances. Better finishing and/or a little luck could have led to 3 more Reign goals and probably another for the Spirit. Rapinoe was predictably a catalyst for most of the attacks with deft crossing from the left wing. At the other end, the Reign backline is still prone to mistakes. Lauren Barnes was probably the best defender in the game and the most consistent defender over the last stretch of games, but even she just handed the ball off to a pressuring Diane Mattheson at one point and she and Kaylyn Kyle had to scramble back to make a tackle. We're still awaiting the debut of national team defender Stephanie Cox, who's been on the bench the last two matches. But most coaches are loathe to sub a defender if it's not necessary, so we may not see her until she's fit enough to start.
Other than the goals and the consistent chances, the other notable event was a second half injury to USWNT player Ali Krieger. A headed shot went off the top of the crossbar and went straight up and down, where both Krieger and Kyle lined up for the header. Their heads collided and both players went down. Kyle was up a minute later, but Krieger was down for a while and was subbed out and would eventually start concussion testing on the bench. Hopefully she's well after missing most of 2012 with an ACL tear.
So let's talk about the playoffs. We have to be realistic that a playoff berth for the Reign is incredibly unlikely. The Reign are still in second to last place in the league, and are 9 points back from Western New York Flash and 11 points back from FC Kansas City. They have only six matches left to make up that deficit. Four of those six games are on the road, with the Reign's next game being a "six-pointer" in Kansas on July 20th. There is also a six-pointer in New York on August 7th. Meanwhile WNY Flash has 5 of their final 6 at home. The Reign's best shot may be to overtake Kansas City, who will have 3 road games of a final 5 after hosting the Reign. If the Reign win in KC, that goes a long way towards closing the gap on both teams. What really mucks it up is that the Boston Breakers and Chicago Red Stars have a 5 and 4 point lead on the Reign, respectively, each with a game in hand. The Reign not only have to catch WNY or KC, they also have to climb past Boston and Chicago on their way there. It is a mountain of a task, and the Reign can hardly afford any draws, let alone losses, but we're saying there is a chance.