On a perfect Thursday evening in Tukwila the Seattle Reign overwhelmed the visiting Chicago Red Stars and showed that — despite their stumble last week at Kansas City — the version of the team we've seen in the second half of the season can be as good as any in the league. Stephanie Cox made her long-anticipated first start in place of Kiersten Dallstream at left back and Australian newcomer Emily van Egmond started at central midfield ahead of Jess Fishlock and Keelin Winters.
The good times started off early when in the 5th minute the first foul of the game was called against Chicago in their own end. Megan Rapinoe lined up to take the 25 yard kick and she chose a low hard shot that went under the wall, through the box, and inside the far post for the opening goal. Seattle had the possession and the better chances early and it looked much more likely that they'd score a second than give up an equalizer.
That bared out in the 20th minute when a Rapinoe corner kick met a wide open onrushing Kaylyn Kyle at the far post for the easy header. That was cleared off the line by the outstretched arm of her Canadian national teammate Adriana Leon. Which is where the refereeing once again made its mark on a Seattle Reign match. The penalty was given, but Leon was only assessed a yellow card rather than a red for denying a goal scoring opportunity. There are arguments that the handball wasn't intentional, but nearly all handballs are unintentional. Referees don't read intentionality. . they're not mind readers. They check for unnatural position (basically, if the arm was at her side) and Leon's arm was clearly away from her side. Whether you like the rule or not, that's an easy ejection in 99 out of 100 cases. But of course not for the Reign, who should have played the next 70 minutes a player up.
Anyway, Kyle scored the penalty calmly to get back the goal that was stolen from her. The half continued with Seattle having the bulk of the play. Chicago had a couple of chances, but nothing that tested Hope Solo.
In the second half, Chicago came out aggressively, knowing a loss might kill their faint playoff hopes. But Seattle weathered the storm and began to dictate play again. In the 68th minute a loose backpass to Red Stars keeper Eric McLeod was picked off by Rapinoe, and she easily dribbled around McLeod for the third goal.
At that point the match looked safely in hand and the question was whether Seattle would earn their first shutout of the season. So naturally six minutes later the ref called a penalty against the Reign. It's hard to see what happened even on replay, but it looks like defender Lauren Barnes deflected a ball up onto her arm in the box. When Solo saved the ensuing (pretty poor) penalty it felt like maybe destiny was on our side and the shutout was coming. But on the very next sequence the Seattle line was a little high and Jen Hoy scored off a very nice feed from Lori Chalupny.
With the chance for a shutout gone, the only question was what the final score would be. And in the 82nd when Rapinoe launched a 50 yard switching pass to Liz Bogus, who easily slotted it past McLeod, we got our answer: 4-1.
The win represents the first time the team has scored 4 goals — keep in mind that they only had 4 goals through their first 10 games — and their first 3-goal winning margin. Rapinoe was a part of all 4 goals (scoring 2, assisting 1, and 'assisting' the penalty that resulted in the other) and obviously her presence on the team has been massive since arriving from Lyon. Now the team just has to figure out how to convince her to not miss half of next season as well
Now the team is 9 back of Western New York with 4 games to play. . not mathematically out of it, but given the Flash's game in hand and home-heavy schedule it's incredibly unlikely. Instead we should look at the fact that they're only 2 points back of Boston and 4 behind Chicago. Finishing 5th is a realistic possibility, and given where the team was at the halfway point, being the first team out of the playoffs would be a tremendous achievement.