Win and they’re in.
Okay, technically a draw would have gotten them in, but Seattle Reign FC increased their chances of securing the second seed and the right to host a playoff semi-final match with their 2-0 victory over Houston Dash on Tuesday night.
Much like last week’s scoreless draw against Chicago Red Stars, there was controversy before kickoff even happened at Memorial Stadium.
For the second straight week, Seattle was smothered with smoke from wildfires in central Washington and Canada. And just like last week, it put the air quality into unhealthy conditions — and while the team had been communicating as best as they could to fans in the hours leading to the match, official word from the league did not come until a little under a hour before the scheduled kickoff that the match would proceed. The discussion about the need for better contingency plans and communication to fans for rescheduling for extraordinary situations like this, probably — hopefully — will come in the off-season, but again, at this point in the season and with playoff implications well at stake, it’s easier said than done to just reschedule a match.
For the match itself, it was a thorough team performance by Seattle. They would get the bulk of chances on Houston’s goal in the first half, with their best chance coming from a Jess Fishlock effort. If you can believe it, for the second straight match, Fishlock’s strike struck the post, but didn’t get that lucky deflection to go into the net.
There was another sequence in the 36th minute where Megan Rapinoe and Fishlock authored a wonderful sequence but Jodie Taylor was just a step too late to finish off the triangle.
“I thought it was there for us and we just didn’t have that edge in the first half,” said Rapinoe after the match about the chances Seattle had. “We needed to just put the pedal down a little bit more. Definitely talked about that at halftime and came out, great start. Two great goals by Jodie (Taylor).”
And great goals they were. Seattle came roaring out of the second half start, putting early pressure on Houston and got off some incredible shots, but Houston’s Jane Campbell came up with even bigger saves.
Taylor’s first goal came in the 58th minute when she finished from the six-yard box, a sublime cross from defender Theresa Nielsen who cut along the right flank and passed it off just as she entered the box on the side. The buildup of Taylor’s finish is something to admire and very much a product of the working together ethos that Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski has instilled on the squad. Kristen McNabb plays the ball to midfield, passes it off to Jasmyne Spencer who draws enough attention from Houston so Nielsen can complete her run, connects with her and you can see Taylor moving into the danger zone, splitting Houston’s center backs and then... -chef’s kiss-
The second goal from Taylor was a bit more individual magic from the England international. After collecting the pass from Rapinoe just beyond the half-circle, Taylor took a couple steps, turned and fired a chip that you think at best would flirt with maybe hitting the frame or just a bit outside. However, this one had the precision, Campbell was in a position where she couldn’t do anything about it, and there was Taylor’s brace.
Houston nearly got one back in the 75th minute when Kealia Ohai got a shot off near-post that forced Seattle goalkeeper Lydia Williams to punch out but her deflection saw the ball go up and back down, and McNabb’s clearance attempt was aimed toward the end line and bushes in the west end of Memorial Stadium, but actually bounced off the post and right back into Williams’ clutches.
It was a tense moment as it happened, but post-match Williams did joke about it. “Yeah, little bit. I said she’s gonna be our Fool of the Week video that we have coming up in our video session we have.”
Wednesday’s clean sheet was Williams’ 10th on the season and, yes, that leads the league. Between her and Michelle Betos, Seattle has claimed 12 on the season, and its a testament to not only the team’s ability to build a roster with two experienced, dependable goalkeepers, but also the commitment to defense the team has. It’s not just the players officially listed as defenders, but from the midfielders and forwards who also do their part. A total team effort that Andonovski is most proud of when the team performs and gets the result like they did last night.
From day one of the Vlatko Andonovski Era, he had emphasized building a culture of not necessarily reinventing the wheel, but reshaping it. Where one player in the past would try to do 10 things on the field, while doing so admirably/okay, it was now simplifying it down to five things and doing them exceptionally. As much as our natural reaction would be to rolls our eyes at the first mention of it, Andonovski has said over the course of the season, trust the process — hard to argue against it now that Seattle has stamped their return to the NWSL Playoffs. And there’s still work to do.
Last night’s win also increases Seattle’s chances of securing second place on the table and with that comes the reward of hosting the other playoff semi-final. As of Wednesday morning, Seattle has 40 points with two matches remaining, Portland 33 points with three games left, and Chicago 31 points and also three matches left to play.
A win this Saturday against NWSL Shield winners North Carolina Courage secures second place for Seattle. That coveted spot can be made one step closer if tonight down in Portland, Sky Blue FC gets at least a draw against Portland Thorns FC. Seattle could then go for the kill in their regular season match and sweep Portland down in Portland in two weeks time. Chicago Red Stars needs to win all three games to secure second, and they would then hold the regular season tie-break advantage over Seattle — head-to-head — with their victory back in July.
Seattle Reign FC hosts the North Carolina Courage on Saturday, August 25 and it’s an afternoon affair with kickoff scheduled for 1 PM PST.