Reign Recap: Late Penalty the Difference vs Thorns

Mike Russell (mikerussellfoto.com)

The referee decided this one, but the Reign looked solid and dangerous for the first time in a long time, especially with Hope Solo finally between the pipes.

In the standings, all losses look the same. Zero points is zero points. But in the stands and in the locker room and in the game threads and in the car on the way home, there are flavors of losses. To this point in the season, the Reign's losses have almost all been the worst kind: the abject loss when your team is relentlessly outplayed and you never get that moment of good fortune to keep you in the game despite it. Those are the losses that make you wonder how exactly the team could even win a game.

Tonight the Reign lost again. It was their 7th consecutive loss — the only result they've known since their season-opening draw at Chicago. But this loss tasted different. Against arguably the best team in the league — with inarguably the most dangerous forward pairing in the league — Seattle was the best team on the field for most of the match. That despite a ramshackle back line that consisted of three midfielders and a fullback playing center back.

The night was notable for being Hope Solo's return to the team and her first minutes in the new league. But other than the penalty kick that decided the match, she was never called on to do anything particularly notable. Her night mostly consisted of clearing away backpasses and picking up loose bounces. Her presence was felt more in her ability to be an intense leader for the defense than a shot stopper. Instead it was her counterpart at the other end who was kept busy stopping shots. Karina LeBlanc had two diving saves to stop certain Reign goals and a number of punch-outs to clear away dangerous chances. If she has even a mediocre night, Seattle almost certainly walks away from this match 2-1 winners or better.

Late in the second half, Portland started to impose themselves on the match as Alex Morgan got more of the ball. For most of the game the Seattle defenders — particularly Kaylyn Kyle and Kiersten Dallstream — had done a good job of bottling her up and preventing good service. But she started to find spaces late and it was during one of those late flurries that the game-deciding penalty was called.

I can't say absolutely no one saw a foul. I have heard from people who say they saw Morgan being stood up. But live it looked like a ridiculous call, and I've now seen the replay 6 times and it still looks like a ridiculous call. Referee Margaret Domka would never admit it publicly, but the call was almost certainly a make-up call for a pretty clear Reign handball in the box in the 67th minute. From that perspective, I guess it's some kind of justice. But there's obviously a big difference between giving up a go ahead goal in the 67th minute — when there's plenty of time for the leading team to complacently bunker and give up a chance — and in the 84th — when the game is so close to being over.

Regardless, the damage was done and Seattle didn't have any clear chances to get the point back over the remaining minutes. So it's another loss. But a loss that ends in anger and a sense of injustice is better than a loss that ends in confusion and frustration. It may not be much, but for Reign fans it's a kind of salve.

Off the pitch there was hope as well. The Rose City Riveters were predictably well represented with about 50-60 Thorns fans packed into their section. But the nascent Royal Guard got some reinforcements from Gorilla FC and from the Seattle Seahawks drumline. It was nice to see the Seattle sports community band together to pick up an organization that needed some help in its atmosphere. And the seats were packed. The attendance of 3,324 was near capacity and solidly above average for the league. Much of that was likely due to the opponent. No doubt the first home match against the Thorns was circled on many calendars when the schedule first came out.

Now the team takes the international break off with a friendly (minus the national team players) against the Haiti national team before picking up again with a home match against FC Kansas City on the 9th. That's two weeks to brood about that penalty call. But it's also two weeks to reflect on how much better this team looked against Portland. And how close they are to competitiveness if they can play like that every week.


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