After consecutive road losses, the Reign came home to Memorial looking to recover the form they showed in their 5-1 season opening victory. And while they took a while to get in sync, once they did they were their familiar dominating selves, despite the losses of Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe to national team duty.
The match opened with a lot of Reign possession but not much to show for it. The Spirit held the center and forced the build-up to the flanks, from where Seattle's crosses weren't precise enough. A number of crosses went over the endline and others fell short. That dynamic held until the 36th minute, when from seemingly nothing Merritt Mathias dribbled hard around a defender into the box and sent a low, bullet cross to the box where Bev Yanez was waiting to redirect it into the roof of the net for the lead.
Sydney who? pic.twitter.com/V05FTNsuj5— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) May 3, 2015
After assisting the first goal, Mathias scored the next. Just after halftime Kim Little used some fancy footwork to clear space on the wing for a perfect cross to the far post. Mathias beat her defender to the ball and bundled it in before keeper Kelsey Wys could react.
Game seemingly in hand, the Reign's defensive vulnerabilities were revealed again. In the 63rd minute the defense over-committed to (the admittedly dangerous) Crystal Dunn at the top of the box, leaving Joanna Lohman free to run by Elli Reed onto Dunn's ball at the penalty spot and finish around Haley Kopmeyer to cut the lead in half.
The Spirit continued to be the more dangerous team and an equalizer seemed increasingly likely. Then in the 75th minute Jess Fishlock collected a ball at the halfway line, dished it to Little, and started sprinting to the Spirit box. Her run was rewarded when Little delivered a through ball into the space in front of her and Fishlock slide tackled the ball under an onrushing Wys for the 3-1 lead.
The goal seemed to crush the Spirit's spirits and they offered little resistance for the final 15 minutes.
The win pushes Seattle back into the top half of the standings, tied for third behind Portland and Chicago. And with the national team players now away, they can begin to take advantage of teams less equipped to deal with those absences. Next up is Sky Blue on the road next weekend, and they'll be without Kelly O'Hara and Christie Rampone.
The news is not all great for the Reign, however. Fishlock was down for a long time in the 23rd minute with a sore ankle after landing funny going for a header. And though she came back on (to eventually score that late goal), she was subbed out in the 79th minute and after the game was on crutches. The only consolation if the Reign's Welsh corazón misses time is that the team is incredibly deep at midfield, with Mariah Nogueira and Amber Brooks both starting-quality players waiting on the bench.