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Seattle Reign settle for draw against North Carolina

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A last-minute Courage equalizer prevented Seattle from securing a home semifinal on Saturday.

Mike Russell

Once again facing less-than-ideal weather conditions — with the league mandating water breaks every 15 minutes due to the air quality — Seattle Reign FC hosted its last regular-season home match of the season. Facing off against the top-ranked North Carolina Courage, a team that has lost just one match this season, Seattle played to a 1-1 draw.

Theresa Nielsen scored the first goal of her NWSL career with a header in the 67th minute, but Seattle’s shutout streak came to an end on a Lynn Williams stoppage-time equalizer that salvaged a point for North Carolina.

Reign FC came out of the gates swinging and had North Carolina on their heels early in the match, earning corner kicks in the 1st and 2nd minute of the game. Things would become a bit more transitional until about the 20th minute, when North Carolina took control. Seattle weathered the storm, though, and thanks to some fantastic saves by goalkeeper Lydia Williams, the team headed into halftime with a respectable 0-0 scoreline.

Williams’ biggest stops came in the 14th and 27th minutes, when she cleaned up a shot from Jess McDonald first and then stopped a point-blank header from the forward not too soon after.

Seattle was more organized defensively in the second half, preventing the Courage from getting too many shots at close range and forcing them into shots outside the box. Williams once again had a fantastic half, and at the close of the match, she had amassed 12 saves.

Against the run of play at the time, it would be Reign FC who got on the score sheet first. In the 67th minute, Jess Fishlock sent a corner kick to the far edge of the 18-yard box, where defender Theresa Nielsen headed it back into the box. Jodie Taylor ran onto it and was kept onside by Denise O’Sullivan, who was on the far post during the corner. Taylor challenged goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland for the ball. Neither player got the ball, and it bounced around the screened Rowland and trickled into the net.

Nielsen came up huge on the other end as well, clearing a ball off the line in the 88th minute after Abby Erceg connected with a Courage corner kick in the box.

Heading into stoppage time, Elizabeth Addo — who was causing the Courage a lot of trouble in the middle of the field — cleverly took a pass from Fishlock’s corner kick and spun into the box. She sent a cross toward goal that hit the hand of Courage defender Abby Dahlkemper in the box, but no penalty was called.

Just minutes later, in the 96th minute, North Carolina got back-to-back corner kicks. There was a chaotic scramble in the box, and unfortunately Seattle was blocking shots left and right, but the team was unable to clear the ball. Williams pounced on the loose ball and slid it between multiple Reign FC players and over the endline with just 30 seconds to go in the match.

With the draw, the Courage went to 16-1-6 on the season, giving the team 54 points, which ties the league record set by Seattle Reign FC in 2014. Meanwhile, Seattle will have to wait for their closing regular season match to break any shutout records. Their 12 on the season ties an NWSL record.

Lynn Williams’ goal was certainly a disappointing end to a match that still had plenty of positives. Seattle did well in the second half to contain the Courage — especially in the midfield. And the return of Addo, who went the full 90 minutes after sitting out for a month due to a knee sprain, bodes well for the next set of games for Seattle.

Unfortunately, Seattle has to wait until Friday, September 7 to know if the team will have a home playoff match. With a win today against the Washington Spirit, the Portland Thorns sit two points behind Seattle. The two squads face off at Providence Park on the 7th, making it a must-win (or must-draw) match for Seattle to secure second place and a hosted semifinal.

It sounds like Rumi Utsugi, who was on the bench today, should be healthy for the match. There’s also a strong likelihood that Bev Yanez and Allie Long should be available. The one outlier is Megan Rapinoe, who Reign FC coach Vlatko Andonovski confirmed post-match suffered a fractured rib on a fall earlier in the week against the Houston Dash. She may need more than two weeks to recover from the injury.

This is a Reign FC squad that has gritted their way through injuries, however, and if they have proved anything this season, it’s to never count them out. The September 7 match against Portland should be a thrilling close to the regular season. A draw or win down there would give Seattle fans one final chance to catch this team at home before a hopeful return to Providence Park for the NWSL Championship match.