Injury-Time Thriller Keeps Reign Undefeated

Mike Russell

Seattle struggled to get accurate crosses over a compact Flash defense, but they got just enough in to preserve a draw on a day when the bounces just weren't going to be kind.

The reason an undefeated streak as long as the Reign's this season is so hard to earn in a league with any kind of parity is that there will inevitably be days when the bounces just never seem to go your way. In a game where a handful of bounces are the difference between a comfortable win and a thrashing loss, surviving one of those days is very difficult. And for 90 plus 2 minutes today it looked like it was going to be one of those days for the Reign.

Western New York came in with a solid plan. Much like Kansas City at midweek, they compressed the space in the central midfield by staying narrow, pushing the defense high, and pulling the forwards in. That starved Kim Little and Jess Fishlock of any time on the ball, forcing it out wide to the wings. With a fully healthy Reign roster, that'd be a devil's bargain, as the Nahomi Kawasumi and Megan Rapinoe would use that space on the wing to carve up the opponent. But with Kawasumi out with national duty and Rapinoe out with a foot injury that had her back on crutches today, it was a good gamble. It forced Seattle to play high balls over the pushed up back line, and with their two best crossers not in the game, good balls were few and far between.

The first score came in the 17th minute, when Reign defender Kendall Fletcher scuffed her attempt to clear a low cross across the box. She ended up bouncing it directly to Abby Wambach at the top of the box, and she isn't the all-time leading scorer in international women's soccer for nothing. She slotted home the goal easily and the Reign were behind for one of the few times this season.

The equalizer game late in the half on one of the better crosses Seattle sent in. In the 45th minute Stephanie Cox sent in a high early cross that perfectly dropped in front of Fishlock's run. The Reign's Welsh talisman leapt and at full extension redirected the ball with her instep into the net. With the Flash relying on counters and Seattle not able to get many accurate balls past the defensive line, there weren't many chances in the first half. Neither keeper made a save in the first half and there were only two shots on goal: the two that went in.

The second half was similarly compact and devoid of many chances. In the 62nd minute the Flash earned a corner — always a dangerous situation with Wambach on the field. She easily won the first header, sending it back across the face of goal where Carli Lloyd skied to head it past Solo for the lead.

That lead held comfortably until about the 80th minute, when the gates seemed to open for Seattle. Whether it was Flash fatigue, Seattle's subs, or just desperation, the Reign were finding more space and more chances. But it still seemed like it just wasn't going to be their day as they couldn't put any on frame. What looked to be the best chance came in the 87th, when Fishlock took a long free kick and launched a bullet that hit the crossbar and fell to an onroshing Goebel, who couldn't settle the header and sent it over the bar. And it looked like the undefeated streak was coming to an end.

But there would be one more good chance. In the second minute of injury time Fishlock redirected a long entry ball to a wide open Goebel on the wing. She cut it back to Little at the top of the box, who took a touch to free herself and settled a shot inside the far post to tie the match at the death.

The draw keeps Seattle 7 points ahead of 2nd place Chicago and the goal keeps Little tied for the league lead with Amy Rodriguez with 8 for the year. Last season the team's scoring leader was Rapinoe with 5.

Next the team travels to face Sky Blue in New Jersey next weekend, in a rematch of their first away game this season, which was played in torrential rain. That should also feature the return of Kawasumi from national team duty, which would give the team some width and better punish teams for the compact defense that's stymied Seattle over the last week.

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