After a two-week break for the Tournament of Nations, Seattle Reign FC returned to the field to take on Washington Spirit to close out their regular season trilogy. Giving home fans a flurry of goal-scoring chances to marvel at, Reign FC won 2-0 in convincing fashion.
Throughout the majority of the first half, Seattle dominated possession and chances on Washington’s goal, but credit to their goalkeeper DiDi Haracic, she stood tall when shots went straight to her, intercepted crosses before they got to a Seattle player and had a bit of luck with her defenders stepping up and blocking a shot or two. It was bend but don’t break for the visitors; however, the break eventually did happen for Seattle.
In the 44th minute, forward Jasmyne Spencer collected a wonderful lob pass from midfielder Allie Long to lob it past Haracic. The goal was her first as a Seattle Reign FC player and a fitting reward for the fact that the buildup to the goal started with Spencer tracking back to the midfield to win the ball. You couldn’t draw up a better sequence than what Seattle executed to open up space in the anatomy of Spencer’s goal.
“I’m just happy the whole team was involved in that,” said Seattle Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski about Spencer’s goal to open the scoring. It’s all things we’ve heard before in sports, most recently popularized in the phrase of “Trust the process,” but it’s not just lip service when Andonovski says it. Tonight’s performance was very much a team effort, with everyone doing their part.
Yes, Jasmyne Spencer won the well-deserved Player of the Match honors. Megan Rapinoe seemingly cannot stop as she continues to play in the form of her life. Kristen McNabb got the start in the midfield with Jess Fishlock and Allie Long because of Rumi Utsugi’s injury, and she did everything Andonovski asked her to do tonight. When she was replaced by Morgan Andrews in the second half, Andrews sent in some long balls to Rapinoe that just seemed to stop/be caught on a dime and could have set up more damage. Mid-season breaks can hurt as much as help everyone recover from knocks and injuries, but tonight, Seattle Reign FC did not skip a beat.
After the halftime break, the visitors saw a bit more daylight into Seattle’s defensive third, getting more looks on goal. At his post-match press conference, Washington Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said at his halftime talk, “Let’s get back to the way we started the match,” where there were some early chances for them, but none in the first half put any real danger on Seattle’s goalkeeper Lydia Williams. Their most dangerous opportunity came in the 80th minute when a cross into the box wasn’t cleared and Spirit defender Caprice Dydasco ripped it from about 10 yards, but Williams came up huge on it and preserved the eventual shutout.
Seattle’s second goal came nine minutes before that, when Rapinoe and forward Jodie Taylor caught the entire Spirit backline sleeping on a throw-in and they were able to connect with the England international laying in a deft, rainbow chip over Haracic for her seventh goal of the season.
The aforementioned 80th minute save by Williams on Dydasco’s shot would be their best chance to at least get one back as the rest of the match saw Seattle once again dictating the tempo and still relentless on the ball to keep the game in their hands. There was a spell after Taylor’s goal in which even when Washington was on the restart, Seattle seemingly instantaneously would get the ball back and put in another shot. The result was 2-0 to Seattle, but it could have easily been a three- or four-goal onslaught by them.
Their win tonight puts Seattle at 33 points. Historically, teams that get in the mid to high 30s in terms of points punch a ticket to the NWSL Playoffs. While tonight’s win didn’t confirm that for Seattle, the probability sure got higher. Taking their win into context around the rest of the league, Seattle now has a full three points ahead of third-place Orlando Pride, four ahead of Portland Thorns FC, and five ahead of Chicago Red Stars. Who makes it to the NWSL Playoffs and who hosts the other semi-final won’t likely be decided until the final weeks of the regular season, but after Seattle Reign FC’s 19th match played, they sure are in a good position.
It’s the final month of the regular season and there is no room for error for Seattle and the other playoff hopefuls. Seattle Reign FC’s next match sees them back on the road, to conclude their regular season trilogy against Utah Royals FC. Seattle needs to keep and add to their lead if they want to host the other NWSL Semifinal, Utah needs to win to keep their season alive. The match is scheduled for Saturday, August 11 with a 12:30 PM PDT kickoff –- that’s right, Seattle Reign FC are back on the national TV spotlight as the NWSL Game of the Week.