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Reign Season in Review, Part II: The Better Part

Continuing the Reign offseason with a look at the second half of the season, when the team went from abysmal to hopeful.

Mike Russell (

Previously (by which I mean over a month ago) I reviewed the first half of the inaugural Reign season, which tldr: was pretty terrible.

When we last left our heroes they had staggered through an implausible 9 game losing streak that encompassed their entire season since the draw against Chicago in the season opener. They were by far the lowest scoring team in the league and by far the leakiest defense in the league. The playoffs were realistically out of the question at that point and the only questions were whether they could avoid a historically bad season in the short annals of womens' pro soccer in the US and whether they would be able to fix their problems in time for next season.

But there were some positive signs. They had started a midseason rebuild of the woeful offense, with the additions of reserves player Kennya Cordner, Australian Emily van Egmond, and eventually Renae Cuéllar. The most important improvement was that two of the team's three US allocated players were finally on the team. On June 23, when the Reign traveled to face Abby Wambach's Western New York Flash, they would add Megan Rapinoe to the squad for the first time, a few weeks after Hope Solo returned from a wrist injury. And probably not coincidentally, they earned their first point since game one. A first half Keelin Winters goal was called by a second half WNY penalty kick (yes, yet another penalty) that also forced the Reign to play a player down for the last 30+ minutes of the match. Up to that point, Seattle had unimaginably bossed the game on the road against a very good team, but down a player they just held on.

They would have to wait until the next game for the franchise first that was so tantalizingly close in New York. Against Boston three days later in Somerville, Massachusetts, it looked like they had forgotten all of the quality they'd shown against the Flash. The Breakers bossed the game but thanks to some unlikely misses on sitters, good goalkeeping from Solo, and the offside flag they only had a 1 goal lead in the 78th minute. That's when a Rapinoe free kick shot was saved into the path of Jess Fishlock, who tied the game. In the 86th, Christine Nairn got a second and Seattle had a lead that they held onto for their first ever win. They had won despite being mostly outplayed, which is a thing that happens in soccer and yet, miserably hadn't happened for Seattle all season. But now they had 4 points in two games and were looking forward to continuing the momentum at home.

And that they did. Three days later, they beat Chicago 3-1 at home for their first ever home points. It was a beautiful day, attendance was high, the beer garden was open for the first time all season, and Rapinoe scored her first Reign goal in the win. It was easy to feel optimistic, and we weren't disappointed. Next they drew Boston at home 1-1, then came back late for a 3-2 win over the Flash. Then, in the first game nationally televised by Fox, Seattle beat the Washington Spirit 2-1 at Starfire.

Suddenly the team was on a 6-game undefeated streak. Suddenly the bounces (and even some of the calls) were going their way. Rapinoe was now fully integrated into the squad. They'd even added former Sounders Women and US national team fullback Stephanie Cox, who'd taken a year off to have a child. A run at the playoffs had gone from unthinkable to just really unlikely. They'd have to nearly win out and hope some borderline teams like the Flash and Kansas City would stumble down the stretch. But at least that was the conversation we were having instead of conversations about whether Seattle would ever win a game.

The odds went much longer when they finally went back on the road and lost 2-0 to KC, who if anything were looking like they were getting better as the playoffs approached. Coming back home, Seattle re-asserted themselves with a 4-1 win over Chicago in which Rapinoe had two goals, one assist, and forced the penalty that led to the 4th goal. She was dominating the left wing of the Reign attack and was the best player on the pitch no matter who we faced (yes, even the Thorns).

That win was the last match of July and finished off an 8 game stretch from that Flash game in early June with a record of 5-1-2 and 17 out of a possible 24 points. Even a mediocre first half of the season would have put Seattle in firm contention for a playoff spot. But unfortunately it was well below mediocre and the playoff odds were still tenuous. So when they kicked off the August schedule with a 3-1 away loss to Chicago, they couldn't hold off the reaper any longer and we knew we'd be playing out the string in the final 3 matches. That string didn't get played out particularly well, as they lost all three of those final matches by a goal. That included the home finale against the playoff-bound Thorns, with Christine Sinclair's brace holding up over Rapinoe's goal. And that loss also guaranteed the ignominy of going the whole season without earning a shutout.

So the Reign finished the season firmly in seventh place (12 points behind 6th place Chicago). Their second half run had saved them from a historically bad season and even from a basement finish, which was reserved for the lifeless Washington Spirit. And it also gave them some hope that if they can get the right pieces together, Seattle at least be a team that's competitive every game, and maybe if things go a right a team with a shot at a playoff berth.

Unfortunately, much of that second half spark came off the boots of Rapinoe, who once again will be with French side Lyon until halfway through the NWSL season. Next season they will have to find a way to at least tread water until their best player joins the team.

But first, the offseason. In the next installment I'll give out some (highly coveted!) awards for the first season, and then I'll look at the offseason moves the team has made already and look forward to the allocation and the draft.

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