Seattle's second match of the season ended up looking a lot like the first, which but for a somewhat questionable penalty would have included the score. The Reign were once again clearly the better team — even without Megan Rapinoe, who was downgraded to the bench thanks to a minor injury.
In her stead Sydney Leroux moved to the left wing, Bev Goebel took over as the forward, and Nahomi Kawasumi started on the right wing after coming on as a sub in the first match. Other than that twist, the lineup was unchanged.
Washington countered Seattle's midfield quality by trying to stay compressed, with the defensive line pushed up and a single forward set with little upfield pressure that let them keep a lot of numbers in the midfield. It was a promising look, especially with Goebel up top rather than Leroux, who'd be more likely to punish a high line with speed.
But whatever plans the Spirit had to keep Seattle off the scoreboard were undone early. In the first minute, the Reign earned a corner, which Naho sent in low to Goebel, who tipped it up into the corner for a sure goal if not for an impressive Ashlyn Harris save. But that save led to another corner, which was taken short to Jess Fishlock, who sent in a cross for central defender Kendall Fletcher's first goal of the season (which she celebrated with an Obaflip. Kendalflip?) and a promising start to the night.
Seattle would continue to dominate possession and chances. The Spirit wouldn't get their first shot on goal until the 23rd minute, and that was their only shot of the first half. Still, Seattle couldn't convert a number of good chances in the box and they went into the half with just a 1 goal lead.
That was quickly remedied in the second half of another dangerous early corner. Once again Naho dropped a perfect cross into the center of the box and Keelin Winters hammered it past Harris with a running header.
With Seattle on a 2 goal lead, Washington had to come out of their shell, and that made it more likely the Reign would get a third than the Spirit would score. They continued to rack up good chances, including a Leroux goal that was called back for being just inches offside. But in fact it was the Spirit who struck next. First they got their only good chance in the run of play all night when a through ball in the box put a cutting Diana Matheson in on goal, but Hope Solo made the save and Fletcher cleared the rebound. Then a few minutes later, Fletcher was called for a handball in the box, giving the Spirit a penalty.
Penalties from handballs have absolutely plagued the league in the beginning of the season, and it's not as if they're bad calls. Seattle's first goal of the season against Boston came from a penalty off a handball. And there've been at least two others in just the first few weeks. Clearly defenders in the league need to make more of an effort to keep their arms down on crosses. Regardless, it happened and Matheson finished the penalty to end the dream of a shutout and raise the Washington hopes of an unlikely comeback with 20 minutes left.
But those dreams were ended in the 80th minute, when Fishlock picked up a pass on the right edge of the top of the box and turned to shoot a grass cutter at a somewhat implausible angle perfectly into the far corner.
That effectively ended any hope for Washington of getting a point tonight, but it wasn't the end of their woes. After losing first overall draft pick Crystal Dunn early in the second half to what looked like a minor injury, they lost Christine Nairn — who last season was the Reign's rookie of the year and was traded for the rights to Kim Little — in added time to what looked like a major injury, as she went down holding her knee after little or no contact and had to be helped off the field.
For Seattle, the win puts them alone at the top of the table with 6 points. Comparisons to their difficult season last year will eventually become tedious. But not yet! So:
- Last season the team didn't earn their second win until June 29 — their 13th game of the season (and three days after their first win).
- Last season the team didn't score their 6th goal until their 12th game, on June 26.
- Last season the team allowed 1 goal or fewer in only 12 of their 22 games and now they've done so in 2 of 2 games this season.
Next up the face expansion Houston on Sunday as they continue a dense schedule of 4 games in 11 days. The Dash haven't looked bad so far, but Seattle should be favored to get a win at home, especially with Rapinoe fully rested. And if they do, their 9 point total will already be half of the 18 points they got all last season (still not tedious!).