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Reign Rev Up In 5-0 Domination of Pilots

Sixteen Pilots simultaneously took the field in a particularly friendly friendly that saw the regular season champs boss around the college that produced so much of their squad.

In their first preseason match, the Seattle Reign began with a lot of false starts and missed connections, but by the end they had warmed into a thorough outclassing of a young Portland Pilots team. Nearly the entire match was played in the Pilots' end, with Portland earning few offensive possessions and no shots, while the Reign accumulated 27 shots, 5 goals, and a number of close chances. Much of that domination was the doing of defensive midfielders Keelin Winters and Mariah Nogueira, who physically and technically overpowered any Portland attempt to move the ball into the Seattle end.

The traveling roster for the Reign included only four of the 27 of trialists who started camp with the team — Mele French, Caroline Stanley, and the Reign's two draft picks — Havana Solaun and Kendall Romine. We predicted weeks ago that the most likely trialists to stick with the team would be a keeper to play behind Hope Solo and Haley Kopmeyer and French, an experienced attacker who dominated the W League for years and last season was the league MVP before her team Pali Blues folded. And that's how it looks so far.

The starting lineup was as close to a first team lineup as you'd expect with the Reign's three US internationals and Jess Fishlock away. In front of Kopmeyer in goal was the familiar back line of Elli Reed, Kendall Fletcher, Lauren Barnes, and Stephanie Cox (notably leaving new international Rachel Corsie on the bench). The midfield band included Winters and Nogueira in defensive midfield and reigning league MVP Kim Little in front. And the attacking band was made up of Merritt Mathias on the right, Dani Foxhoven in the middle, and Amanda Frisbie on the left.

That put five ex-Pilots in the starting lineup to face the current Pilots, and for a while it looked like only Pilots would score in the game. The first goal came in the 9th minute, when a Kim Little corner was mishandled by the Pilot keeper and a hovering Winters thumped it into an open net. Then the game settled into Seattle domination of possession without much end result as the team was disjointed in the attack, with a lot of failed attempts at intricate passing in and around the box.

That ended in the 38th minute when a cutting in Mathias found Foxhoven at the top of the box, and the ex-Pilot and ex-Thorn turned and curled a shot around the keeper for goal number two. Then just before half Little finally got some time on the ball and pulled a trademark mazy dribble through the box (which included a Portland defender falling over) before powering a shot past a helpless keeper. The team went into half with a 3-0 lead and significantly improved passing success.

At half Corsie replaced Barnes and the entire frontline was swapped out, as Bev Yanez, Kirsten Dallstream, and Solaun became the new attacking group. The team picked up right where they left off and in the 48th an overlapping Cox finished off a Little assist to put the team up 4-0. And the scoring finished in the 52nd when Yanez chipped a ball to put Little on goal and the scoring machine from Aberdeen dribbled round the keeper (as she does) to make it 5-0.

At that point more significant subbing happened, with French and Michelle Cruz (another ex-Pilot) coming in and Little moving to Winters' holding midfield spot and later Romine and Stanley coming in. The team would continue to create chances and generally outclass Portland but wouldn't find the net again.

All in all it was an overwhelming display over a young college team that the Shield holders should be overwhelming. If they can get the passes connected more reliably and earlier as the preseason rolls on, they'll be in deadly form when the season opens against the Flash on the 12th. The team's next game is against the UW at Memorial stadium at 7pm on Friday.

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