Seattle went into Maryland on Saturday with an 8 game undefeated streak, but left wondering what they could have done to stop Crystal Dunn. The league Golden Boot leader looked unmarkable for stretches of the match and was a big reason that the undefeated streak didn't make it to 9.
In what is likely the last game before the league is transformed once again by the US national team players returning to play, Seattle fielded a nearly first-choice lineup. Kendall Fletcher missed the match with a concussion suffered in the Reign's last match and was replaced at right back by Elli Reed. And new signing Katrine Veje made her first start for the team after coming on as a sub last week.
Unfortunately, power issues prevented the stream from starting on time so only those inside the Maryland SoccerPlex know exactly what happened in the first 15 minutes. And there were a lot of witnesses there. The Spirit drew a record crowd for the venue, in another sign that the post-World Cup bump is having a significant impact on the league.
The game was back and forth with both teams creating good chances, but it was scoreless at the half. That ended quickly when just into the second half the Spirit scored on a quick ball up the flank for a low cross finished by Amanda Da Costa.
Generally that's the cue for the Reign to pick up their game and mount a comeback, but it wasn't going to be that kind of night. In the 69th, Dunn single-handedly settled a ball, dribbled around the flank of the defense, and buried a shot to extend the lead to 2. Then the Spirit picked up the nail in the coffin in the 84th when Stephanie Cox was called for a penalty for bringing down Dunn in the box. Christine Nairn finished it and that was the final scoreline.
It was the first time Seattle had lost by more than one goal in nearly two years. The last was an August, 2013 match against Chicago in the bad old days of pre-Kim Little Reign. That's an incredibly long time to go without going into injury time of a match thinking they at least had a shot of pulling level.
Despite the final scoreline, it was nowhere near the Reign's worst performance of the season — an 'honor' that has to go to their 1-1 draw in New York a few weeks ago. Given the Reign's dominant play over the past couple of years it's easy to forget how tough road games on the East coast are, in any league. Fortunately Seattle just has one trip to Boston and one more to Maryland and that's it for the Eastern time zone.
First they have a quickfire double-header with the Portland Thorns — first away on Wednesday and then back for a rematch in Seattle on Sunday. For the Thorns, this will be a critical stretch to try to get back into the playoff hunt, as if playing their rivals wasn't motivation enough. But Seattle should have Rapinoe back (and possible Solo, depending on the status of her shoulder injury). And plenty of motivation to get another undefeated streak started.