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Overshadowed Reign loss leaves season hanging by a thread

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Two lightning delays and anthem controversy will be remembered more than the result, which nearly killed off the Reign’s postseason chances.

On a night that will be remembered more for what happened off the field — where the Washington Spirit owner chose to sneakily reschedule the anthem rather than let Megan Rapinoe kneel in protest during it — on the field the Seattle Reign fell short in what was effectively a must-win match, losing 1-2 on the road to the league leading Spirit.

Had other matches on the same night gone as you’d expect them to, the playoff chase could already be over, but neither of the Western New York Flash nor Chicago Red Stars were able to beat bottom-of-the-table teams, leaving Seattle the narrowest of margins. The Reign must win their last two remaining matches and either the Flash or Chicago must lose both of their remaining matches for Seattle to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

After the anthem shenanigans and a long lightning delay, the match kicked off with the Reign deployed in the same lineup that drew Chicago over the weekend. Meanwhile, the Spirit made the head-scratching decision to rest most of their starters, including last year’s MVP Crystal Dunn and defensive stalwart Megan Oyster.

The Reign started off with most of the early possession and chances and seemed to be in control of the match, until an early injury to Spirit forward Cali Farquharson, forced Jim Gabarra to undo the questionable rotation, re-inserting Dunn in the 6th minute. That pushed the Reign defensive line back and evened the possession, and ultimately it was Dunn who decided the match.

The now-even match saw few good chances until the 41st minute, when deputized Reign right-back Merritt Mathias conceded a penalty for the second consecutive match, tripping Cheyna Williams from behind. Christine Nairn stepped up and sent Reign keeper Haley Kopmeyer the wrong way, but shot outside of the right post, keeping the match scoreless.

That is, until a few minutes later in first-half injury time, when Dunn sent in a curling far-post rocket from the top of the box. Amazingly, it was last season’s golden boot winner’s first goal of the season, but it was a good enough one to make any striker proud.

In the second half with the Reign desperately pushing for an equalizer, Dunn struck again with another cut-in from the right flank and curled left-footed shot. This one Kopmeyer was able to save, but she couldn’t hold the ball and Williams was there for the follow-up and 2-0 lead.

Another long lightning delay gave the Reign plenty of time to contemplate the end of their season. After resumption of the match, the Reign earned a PK on a handball penalty and Little scored, giving them some hope at 1-2. But even a draw wasn’t really enough and two more goals never seemed forthcoming.

The rest of the results were kind to Seattle and we don’t have to write the season post-mortem yet. They will make it to at least Sunday, when they host the Spirit in a return match that will likely also have a lost of attention focused on the pre-match anthem, but after 90 minutes will have to produce 3 points for the Reign to stave off elimination.