Despite some early pressure to start the match, Seattle Reign FC looked out of sorts and fell 2-1 to Sky Blue FC in their NWSL home opener. Yes, the 24-game Memorial Stadium undefeated streak is over.
The Reign starting lineup was only slightly changed from the side that won a second straight NWSL shield last season. Dutch international Manon Melis started up top in place of the injured Megan Rapinoe, while Elli Reed reclaimed her 2014 starting spot at right back, and rookie Carson Pickett got her first start at left back, replacing the retired Stephanie Cox.
A very young Sky Blue team came to Seattle for the Sunday afternoon match, which was attended by 3,987. In fact, six of the 11 starters logged their first NWSL minutes in the game. The Reign came out in the first five minutes as expected, capitalizing on the inexperienced Sky Blue side and dominating the run of play at the start, with two shots in the first 10 minutes.
But it was Natasha Kai who got the first goal in the 16th minute. The once-USWNT forward, who just returned to soccer after a few years off, got her head on a Kelley O'Hara cross, and Hope Solo couldn't stretch across goal to save it.
O'Hara, a versatile USWNT regular known for her never-ending speed, caused trouble for the Reign all match. She repeatedly got past Elli Reed on Sky Blue's left flank and put her team in dangerous positions. O'Hara earned a penalty kick in the 36th minute, when she was taken down in the box by Merritt Mathias. Thankfully, Hope Solo saved the Sarah Killion penalty, keeping the match at 1-0 going into halftime.
While Seattle didn't come out with a lot more energy at the start of the second half, they were able to equalize in the 53rd minute, when Jess Fishlock chipped a cross to the far post, and Merritt Mathias put it away with her head.
After that goal, the Reign had a few other chances they were unable to capitalize on. Sky Blue, however, did capitalize in the 68th minute, when they recovered the ball off some uncharacteristically poor distribution from Hope Solo. From there, the Reign gave Taylor Lytle too much space on the right. Her cross/shot went off the post and found a wide open Kelly Conheeney on the back side, who back-heeled the ball into the net.
For the last 15 minutes, the Reign played three in the back, but still couldn't find a goal. The bounces weren't going their way, the midfield was essentially shut down, and Sky Blue never really took their foot off the gas.
"I don't think we deserved to get anything out of the game today," coach Laura Harvey said. "That's hard to say because when you come in -- home opener, and you've waited so long -- and you don't perform, it's difficult to swallow. But that's how I thought it went. We never really got going."
The match felt extremely out of character for the Reign, but this is the same team that lost two of its first three matches in 2015 before dominating the league and earning the NWSL Shield.