If you predicated that the first scoreless draw of the 2014 NWSL season would be in late June when the juggernaut that is the new Seattle Reign hosted a team well out of playoff position in front of a record crowd, you must be some kind of sorcerer, because that is both incredibly unlikely and exactly what happened.
Sky Blue, who were just coming off of beating the Portland Thorns at Providence Park, are better than their record might indicate. And they came into the game with a good plan. We've seen a few times this season that a team that can hold a high line and compress the midfield can starve Seattle's talented center mids of the ball. That forces the Reign to beat you with good flank play, good crosses, and good run timing to beat the back line. Unfortunately, none of that was on display for the Reign, who played one of their worst games of the season.
The game started brightly enough. Through the first 20 minutes, Seattle was energetically running through that defensive line and creating chances with through balls in front of a record crowd of 5,770. The best chance came in the 16th minute when Naho played a one-two with Leroux and was clear on goal if not for a desperate sliding tackle for a corner.
But as the half wore on the Reign lost their edge. The timing of the runs just wasn't working. And the game was largely being left in the hands of the fullbacks, particularly Stephanie Cox, who Sky Blue were leaving under no pressure for the sake of keeping numbers in the midfield. A good game from Cox would have tore them apart, but she struggled to find and weight her crosses all match. And her chemistry with Naho was off, as the two would often try to build an attack by standing next to each other, rather than Cox overlapping or Naho cutting in to create space.
The second half was much like the first, but the Reign looked even more moribund as fatigue made energetic runs even more rare. Still, they had chances. In the 59th, Naho got clear for an open cross and found Sydney Leroux wide open on the back post, but the US international sent her header off the woodwork and the rebound wouldn't fall for anyone. And in stoppage time the team hit the frame again when Fishlock found a loose ball at the top of the box off a corner and rocketed it off the crossbar.
Sky Blue had their own chances, but they were largely wasteful. Haley Kopmeyer made a few saves deputizing for Hope Solo, but none of them were difficult. The visitors consistently won the first headed ball on set pieces, but most of their shots went high. Better finishing would have doomed Seattle to their first loss.
Still, it says something that even with everything apparently going against Seattle — lackadaisical play, a disciplined opponent, poor set piece marking, hitting the woodwork twice — they still didn't lose. The undefeated streak is alive, even if not in the most emphatic way. Seattle's 36 points is exactly twice their total from last season and only 2 points from the 38 that won the league last season. They've built such a ridiculous cushion that they can spend a few games finding themselves and still not have their position threatened. But come playoff time, this is the kind of performance that could end their season. So there's plenty to work on.
Seattle's next match is Wednesday, when they take on Western New York for the Reign's final trip to the East coast this season and their final regular season matchup with the Flash. The biggest question going in will be whether Megan Rapinoe is available after making the bench tonight. She has exactly the kind of ability that can unlock a compact defense and Seattle will need her for the stretch run.