The way the Seattle Reign season has gone so far, you almost expect them to give up the first goal. In fact, you almost want them to. That seems crazy, but the results speak for themselves. Since the start of May, the Reign have earned 10 points 4 in games in which they scored first (or nobody scored) and 17 in 7 games in which the opponent scored first. Maybe the opponent sitting back a bit with a lead gives Seattle the openings they need to strike. Maybe the Reign are the fittest team in the league and can score late on tired defenses. Maybe they need the psychological boost of being behind to keep their sharpness. It's probably some combination of all three, but whatever it is it means you're never worried when the opponent scores an early goal.
That was on display tonight in muggy Rochester, when the Flash went up in the 33rd minute on a fluky set piece. The Flash took a free kick into the box and Keelin Winters was free for the easy headed clearance, but she scuffed it (can you scuff it with your head?) and it fell for a quick volley from Vicky Losada, who bounced it off the underside of the crossbar and in. But understandably neither the Reign nor their fans were feeling pessimistic, even though Seattle's only good chance of the half was a Naho Kawasumi one-on-one that was saved by Lydia Williams.
Early in the second, the Flash subbed out injured forward Adriana Martin for Jasmyne Spencer, which added speed but took away Martin's ability to hold the ball up. That gave the Reign much more possession and it eventually paid off with a goal in the 62nd. A quick throw in was taken by Kim Little up the right sideline, and she curled in a hard cross that Bev Goebel met with perfect timing, blasting the ball low and behind the keeper for an emphatic equalizer — and an emphatic reminder that this season's Reign are never out of a game.
And their confidence grew in the 68th when Megan Rapinoe subbed into the match for her first game action since the first match of the season, when she suffered her foot injury. After starting a little rusty for the first 10 minutes or so, she settled into the game and quickly became one of its most dynamic players.
In the 73rd, New York nearly earned the lead back through Spencer's speed. She blew between the two Seattle center backs to run onto a long ball over the top and dribbled around Hope Solo for what should have been a tap-in, but she sent the shot off the post. That would be New York's last good chance and they were punished in the 84th when Rapinoe earned her first assist of the season. The winger used clever footwork to split two Flash defenders, got to the endline, and sent a low hard cross to Jess Fishlock, who made a great run on the cross and tapped it in for the go-ahead goal.
Getting both the win and Rapinoe back in what might be the toughest remaining regular season game will be a huge boost to the team, who looked to struggle in their previous home match against Sky Blue. They now sit on 39 points, which is more than any team earned last season. They are 9 points ahead of Kansas City in second (with a game in hand) and 17 points ahead of Washington in 3rd place.
We've also now reached single-digit games remaining in the regular season and an undefeated campaign is no longer completely ridiculous to talk about. The Reign have two games remaining against current playoff teams, only one of which is on the road. If they're still undefeated when that Aug 2 game at Kansas City rolls around, there will be huge pressure to perform well in what would otherwise be a run-out game with a playoff spot (and almost certainly a #1 overall seed in the playoffs) well in hand. And if the streak is alive for the last regular season game — in Portland — the environment in that match will be bananas.
But for now, the team will just be savoring yet another (comeback) win, the end of their travels to the East Coast, and the return of one of their most important players for the stretch run.