The Seattle Reign FC returned to league play Sunday, hosting Houston Dash at Memorial Stadium. Under a scenic clear skies and bright sun, 4,682 were witness to - at last - the arrival of Havana Solaun.
Solaun was Seattle's 2015 2nd round pick, though she would not see the field that season after a pre-season match against the University of Washington in which she suffered a broken ankle. Fast forward to the 2016 season, which saw her surprisingly being called up to the US U-23 team. Reign fans were looking forward to seeing what she had now that she was healthy. Prior to today, she made appearances coming off the bench with a first full 90 start coming in the friendly with Arsenal Ladies. It was that outing that impressed Laura Harvey enough to give her the start tonight against Houston. The game's lone goal from her in the 66th minute validated the start.
Harvey had nothing but praise for Solaun after the match. "Havana's had a crazy 18 months. She's still in a rookie season for us, we have to give her that because of how bad the injury was. I mean just that she came back, was phenomenal. That's how bad her injury was. The kid has been through so much, and the Arsenal game was a turning point for Havana. She went out there, no pressure, not a must-win game and I think she showed her quality."
Before the Reign and the rest of the league took last week off, fans had wondered why Solaun hadn't been given a start to see what she has. Certainly with the up and down run in which the Seattle Reign FC did not look like the Seattle Reign FC we recognize, a case could have been made. It was nice to see that based off the work she put in the Arsenal Ladies friendly, she was rewarded with the start. And one shot from distance (set up by Beverly Yanez) later, Solaun gets Seattle the full 3 points and the team back in the win column.
"I just had so much space around me, the entire team was like, 'SHOOT!' so I just let it go," Solaun said after the match about her goal. You'd think claiming your first professional goal would be reason to celebrate but Solaun said after chuckling about the lack of celebration, "I've never been much of a celebrator after goals. Even in college, it just wasn't my thing. I guess I'm just kind of shy about it."
Don't let it fool you though, Solaun along with everyone on the team was happy to get this win. I don't know if anyone on the team would say word for word that there was a sense of urgency to win this one, but going into tonight's match both sides needed to start picking up wins. The departure of international players bound for the Olympics is right around the corner and while the league will take a break during that time, also right around the corner is the push for playoffs. The inconsistent run Seattle started the season with could have been a concern if tonight's match ended in say a scoreless draw, but the week off gave everyone time to step away from the game for a bit, have a breather and hit something of a soft reset. And maybe this is the start of Seattle getting on that ascendancy now, and they will peak when it matters the most: the playoffs and hopefully the NWSL Championship. Maybe Seattle had to start this season stumbling off the blocks to make up for the last two years' sense of invincibility to get that final prize that's eluded them.
"I will take us going through a rough patch for us to come through the other side, for us to win the championship," said Harvey.
While there is still a lot of the NWSL season to play through and qualify for the playoffs, it could very well be this honest reflection that is going to motivate the Seattle Reign FC the rest of the way.
Reign FC hit the road next week, traveling to Piscataway, New Jersey to take on Sky Blue FC on Sunday, June 19. Kick-off is scheduled for 3 PM on the NWSL YouTube channel.
One thing to note and undoubtedly as important as getting the result from tonight's match. Before kick-off, players & coaches from both sides gathered around the midfield circle and held a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando this morning.
For some going to a sporting event is a source of comfort and the NWSL community would not be spared from the pain of the horror a lot of us woke up to. Hopefully just being at Memorial Stadium and eventually seeing the Reign get back in the win column provided that comfort for fans as well as players.