On Monday, the post-superstar era of Sounders Women play officially began. After scooping up a big chunk of the US national team last season in the wake of the collapse of WPS to give them a chance to play together (at least for Sounders home games) while ramping up to the Olympics, the team drew attendances in the thousands — on par with WPS attendances and well above anything the W-League had seen before.
The hope for this season was to retain some of that enthusiasm and attendance without the national team players and with a new pro team starting up in the same market (and at the same venue). So far, so good. The opener drew 816 fans — well below the glory days of 2012, but very good by W-League standards. It was the third highest attended W-League match of the season so far and the two ahead were both doubleheaders with higher division teams. So if it holds up there's a good chance that Seattle will finish the season with the highest average attendance in the 25-team league, where attendances of 100 to 300 are the norm.
On the field the team faced the LA Strikers, who just the week before had beat the formidable Pali Blues 2-0. Seattle's roster was clearly still getting familiar with one another after a preseason that didn't include many of the college players, so there was some ragged possession and missed connections early.
I had to watch the game over the stream and it cut out early so I didn't get to see LA's first goal, which they scored in the first couple minutes of the game. Seattle was able to come back in the 32nd when local youth national teamer Isabel Farrell was able to steer a roller just under the keeper. But LA took the lead again a few minutes later when some very loose defending in the Seattle back allowed Tanya Samarzich to chest down a cross in the box and fire in the goal.
Seattle, like the Reign, are playing in a 4-3-3 variant with a lone striker in the middle. That means the offense needs support from the midfield to get enough numbers into the attack to be consistently dangerous. In the second half, the team started to get that timing down and create chances. In the 50th, Mily Reiter picked a ball off an LA defender and fired a short hard cross across goal that forced an own goal to tie the match.
Then the Sounders really took over possession and the Strikers were limited to occasional counter attacks. The pressure finally paid off in the 88th when a deflected ball in the box off a set piece went right to Annie Sittauer's head and she steered it to the far post for a 3-2 lead. Then they iced the game in the 91st when LA stretched the defense looking for the equalizer and a pinpoint pass from Farrell sprung a counter that ended with an easy cross and shot.
The 2-goal win puts Seattle at the top of the standings after round one. Their next match is on Friday against the Colorado Rush and then it's exclusively road games until late June. So if you want to see the Sounders Women at Starfire before then, Friday is your only chance.
Seattle has an unquestionably strong roster. If the results and the attendance hold up, they could become a consistent force in the W-League even without Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe.Other Notes
- Lesle Gallimore, head coach of the UW women's team, joined the Sounders Women as the technical director this season. She's also doing color commentary for the broadcasts as well as color commentary for the Reign broadcasts. So she's staying busy.
- The highest W-League attendance last season outside of Seattle was Vancouver, where they averaged just under 1,000. But the Whitecaps pulled out of the W-League this season, giving Seattle a good opportunity to hold on to the attendance title.