In their first matchup since an early season loss in Kansas City, Seattle left no doubt that at this stage of the season they are a class above the defending champions. The final score of 2-1 is very deceiving. From the first minute Seattle battered the Kansas City 18-yard box with deft runs and passes and only slightly errant shooting and the solid play of goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart kept the match from turning into a blowout.
Seattle set the tone early with a run of three consecutive corners in the third minute, when the Blues seemed just about to drown under the pressure. But they held those chances at bay and Barnhart continued to hold them at bay through the first half. Twice Jess Fishlock sent close range shots just over the bar, and late in the half she sent a third missile in from long range and Barnhart made a diving save to deflect it out for a corner. Kim Little relentlessly made the endline for cutbacks that were barely blocked or a yard away from an attacking boot.
And yet -- somehow -- we went to half at 0-0. To the more skittish it was starting to feel like one of those games where the team dominates the run of play, the keeper has a career match, the opponent steals a goal on a counter, and you stagger out of the stadium wondering how fate could be so cruel. Certainly the first two ingredients were there.
The first part of the second half was much the same. Bullock (nee Nogueira) had an open shot from outside the box that was saved. Little once again made the endline and chipped it back to leave Barnhart for dead but nobody could connect.
Then in the 62nd minute our agony was finally ended. A long free kick from midfield dropped into the box where Bev Yanez and a defender slid in to make a play. The ball died under her and somehow in the scramble she poked it under an onrushing Barnhart for the goal that the Reign had more than earned.
The second goal came almost immediately after, when a poor pass in the Kansas City defense freed Danielle Foxhoven to send a precise cross to Little, who after a full day of being denied by Barnhart made absolutely no mistake in cannoning her shot into the net. Had Barnhart tried to save that one I'm not sure she'd still be with us.
With the two goal lead Seattle settled into comfortable possession and KC looked like absolutely no threat to make a comeback. That is, until the first minute of stoppage time when out of nowhere, with Seattle perhaps getting drowsy, they carved up the Reign's right defense and Shea Groom cut the ball across the top of the box for an open shot she curled around Haley Kopmeyer to cut the lead to one. Then Seattle perked back up and strongly held possession to close out the match.
The win puts Seattle at the top of the standings for the first time this year. It will be a short stay if Chicago wins their match tomorrow, but it's still an accomplishment for a team that struggled out of the gate coming off of a Shield-winning season. With those struggles now seemingly behind them and with depth to spare and Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, and Katrine Veje joining the team in short order they look well positioned to continue contending in the second half of the season.
Next up the team has a doubleheader against Western New York, first away on Friday and then at home on the 11th. That will bookend the midpoint of the season and officially kick off the post-World Cup phase of the 2015 season.