The Seattle Reign FC avenged their May loss to the Orlando Pride with a resounding 5-2 win on Saturday night, lead by an individual performance to remember by defender Kendall Fletcher.
When talking about the May loss to Orlando, we said it was because whatever magic spells the Reign had, the Pride had the perfect counter spells. Over the course of that season, the league has been sharing that magic potion, as it's been in the form of a compressed defense that does not give Reign FC the space and time that has punished anyone facing Seattle. This season has been an exercise for the Reign in trying to break that compression, and tonight it sure looked like the solution was there.
Seattle has always been a possession-heavy side where smothering the ball is a must. Should they lose the ball, they get it back on a scary-quick pace. Think about it, the next time any Reign player loses the ball, start to count and on average they get it back within about ten seconds. Tonight was not any different as Seattle was on the ball a lot but where the frustration of this season has been not converting those chances, tonight it came together.
The first goal came in the 21st minute after Kendall Fletcher won a penalty fighting for a second chance attack on Orlando's goal after they tried to clear out a corner.
Kim Little smoothly converted the penalty and Seattle was underway. Seattle's second came in the 30th minute where a Nahomi Kawasumi free kick was deflected and fell into the box. Jess Fishlock was in range and just let it rip, and it found the back of the net faster than a blink of the eye.
"I saw that it was spinning backwards and I think their (Orlando's) girl thought it was spinning forwards, so I knew I had a full swing. So I just hit it. There was no placement in that, I thought nah I'm hitting it so thankfully it was close enough to go in," said Fishlock of her goal.
In the 38th minute, Orlando's Christina Burkenroad had an angle on the returning Haley Kopmeyer and it forced Kopmeyer to try and take it 1 v 1, causing Seattle's goal to be open with defenders scrambling to fill space. Burkenroad attempted a shross (shot + cross) from a tight angle and diving in like an action movie heroine or self-casting Wingardium Leviosa, Kendall Fletcher was there with a goal line clearance that got Memorial Stadium loud.
After halftime, Seattle stayed relentless, and it paid off very quickly. A miscommunication between defender and goalkeeper resulted in the ball falling at the feet of Manon Melis and in front of her was an open Orlando goal. Just like that as some folks weren't even back in the stands, Seattle was up 3-0.
Post match, Pride head coach Tom Sermani called that goal a "debacle" saying that goal finished the game. Sermanni summarized the game as, "We were outplayed in every department. Their players, and they've got several world class players, played up to the billing tonight."
Orlando's Jasmyne Spencer did get one back for Orlando in the 52nd minute, set up by a rare errant back pass by Kim Little. However, Seattle responded very quickly when a corner kick by Lauren Barnes found the head of Kendall Fletcher. If the Melis goal sealed the deal, then Fletcher's header put a thirteen-inch thick slab of concrete on top of that seal. A fifth goal for Seattle came in the 87th minute off a Toni Pressley own goal and not too long off that reset, Orlando's Kristen Edmonds claimed Orlando's second goal — though the damage was long done.
Post-match, Reign players and head coach Laura Harvey were all in unison about tonight being a statement win heading into next weekend's match at Portland, and then the Olympic break after that. This season has not been like the last two seasons where they steamrolled everyone in the regular season, and while it should not be a given that was going to be the case in 2016, the up and down performances of the Seattle Reign sure have been an oddity and not fun on the stomachs of supporters.
Points needed be claimed, and on Saturday night they did so in style where their relentless possession on the ball was converted into punishment of the opposing goalkeeper — and the goals came.
Reign FC head coach Laura Harvey said post match, "It's good for me that we can get such a good win without it being a perfect performance, because we've had better performances I think in this season and then we drop off the following week and we cannot afford to do that now. That's what we've set our standard as. We know that the performance we put on tonight, we have to build on that and if we don't, the playoffs will go out of our hands. But if we do, we can keep the playoffs in our hands which is what we need to be able to do."
And players Jess Fishlock, Haley Kopmeyer, and Kendall Fletcher shared the same sentiment that tonight was a statement win and that there is zero room for error the rest of the way.
It was a sounding team effort, though the star of the show was Kendall Fletcher.
"I was just kind of in those spots to do it and got the results. Sometimes it falls right, sometimes it doesn't. It seemed like tonight my number got called a lot. I was glad that I was able to do that and help the team get the result," a jubilant Kendall Fletcher said post-match and in transcribing her quote, I thought about typing it in all caps because she still was clearly on the adrenaline of the match.
Or maybe she self-casted Sonorus, but she did reveal that her family was in attendance tonight and it's safe to say there's always extra motivation to put on a show for your biggest supporters. It's been a while since we saw the trademark Fletcher Flip, and Kendall sure had every reason to bust it out tonight.
The win puts Seattle Reign FC sixth on the league table, two points behind Sky Blue FC and Chicago Red Stars for the fourth playoff spot. Seattle Reign FC now hit the road, down I-5 to take on Portland Thorns next Saturday at 7:30 PM.