It was billed as the club that made Laura Harvey who she is (hint: awesome) coming to Seattle with a lot of intrigue, if not mystery, as to how would it play out. A Women's Super League (WSL) team from England coming to the U.S. to take on an NWSL team -- and while there is the UEFA Women's Champions League, European club teams coming to the U.S. to play club teams here on the women's side is a rarity.
And so for 4,083 at Memorial Stadium on Thursday night, they got to see something different, something new. Newly crowned FA Women's Cup champions Arsenal Ladies FC took on the Seattle Reign FC to a 1-1 draw. The result wasn't of high importance for Seattle, as head coach Laura Harvey said as far back as after last Sunday's match versus Chicago Red Stars that it was about getting minutes to players who normally don't get minutes.
Havana Solaun, Michelle Cruz, and Paige Nielsen got those minutes, each putting in full 90 shifts and making solid points for future consideration in the starting eleven.
"It felt good. I was a little nervous. This past weekend I was going to get some playing time (and) until yesterday I didn't know I was going to play all 90. I was kind of training all week, preparing to play some minutes, but not all 90. But I was excited," rookie Paige Nielsen said post-match about her first professional start.
The energy that she had off the bench last Sunday, which Harvey praised, is something Reign fans can enjoy when watching video of Nielsen's Thursday night's post-match news conference. She admitted to being star-struck that world-class players like Kim Little and Jess Fishlock are her colleagues, and it's that sort of excitement of being here that she could become a new favorite among Reign FC fans.
The friendly also was the stage for the return of Jess Fishlock, as she came back from a leg fracture ahead of the 4 to 6 week window that was announced with her injury. We have joked before about her being indestructible, and it just might be the simple truth. Post-match, Fishlock said she took an aggressive rehab process to get back as fast as she could. This involved going to Australia, complete with the team's blessing, and in her own words, "I just recover well, I'm part dragon."
She admitted that the first five minutes of the match she felt lost, but Fishlock quickly got back into the groove. "It was just important for me today to be in a game environment, make good decisions, read the game well, and see if my leg held up and I think it was fine." She praised the resources she had in Australia and here that helped her rehab faster to where she feels confident about the next match ahead -- you know, Portland.
Seattle opened the scoring in the first half with a looping wonderstrike from Beverly Yanez in the 17th minute. A ball played by Lindsay Elston from a perfectly weighted Havana Solaun pass was challenged by Arsenal goalkeeper Emma Byrne, who met Elston on the edge of the box. Yanez picked up the ball as it hung around the edge, turned and just like she did in the NWSL semifinal last year against Washington Spirit, one shot, one kill -- that's Beverly Yanez, The Sunshine Assassin for you.
Arsenal got their goal in the second goal via penalty in the 63rd minute. Vicky Losada dribbled the ball in the box and was taken down by Kendall Fletcher. Natalia Pablos Sanchon converted the penalty, and eventually the match would finish 1-1.
Those familiar with the European game know it's a lot more possession-based and technical, where the U.S. and NWSL style is a lot faster on transition and more physical. Both coaches Laura Harvey and Pedro Martinez Losa praised the match for providing a showcase of Arsenal's technical skill to test Seattle's physicality, and both were optimistic of future matches between WSL and NWSL clubs. Harvey said she would love to do a match with Arsenal again, with Seattle traveling to England if it was possible.
When the friendly was first announced, it was considered a stepping stone to the grand idea of a FIFA Women's Club World Cup, which, simply put, would be awesome. If tonight's friendly planted such seeds, then we can only advocate for more of this next year. At the end of the night, this was fun. Much like we see NWSL players going on off-season loan spells to Australia, we should want to have another WSL versus NWSL match. It gives everyone from players to fans something new and just overall raises the profiles of the women's game.
While no Reign players went down with injuries tonight, Arsenal's Leah Williamson was stretchered out early in the match after catching her ankle on the turf. Post-match, Losa confirmed it was an ankle injury but the severity won't be known until she gets evaluated in the hospital.
Seattle Reign FC travel down I-5 and take on rival Portland Thorns on Sunday. As if the Seattle/Portland soccer rivalry needs more intrigue, the recent national team call-ups will have goalkeeper Hope Solo leaving the team and joining the national team camp this weekend, but for Portland, they are losing 6 U.S. national team players. So buckle up, the Memorial Day weekend match sure is going to be interesting.