Since the end of the 2014 season, Seattle Reign FC fans had been wondering, asking, wishing if Japanese international Nahomi Kawasumi was coming back. Certainly the team would welcome her return and it was just a matter of seeing what her status was with her Japanese club INAC Kobe and the Japanese national team. So we fast forward to last month and within 24 hours of the rumor circulating, it was official. Nahomi Kawasumi was coming back and on Saturday, July 2, 2016, Naho returned in style.
Her goals in the 15th and 62nd minute were all Seattle needed to get the win over Boston Breakers to move up to 5th in the league table.
Here's Naho's first goal in the 15th minute.
And here's Naho's second in the 62nd.
Certainly Naho's brace make her an easy candidate for NWSL Player of the Week when you factor in she reported to the team mid-week and yet the eye test would suggest she didn't look to miss a beat. Going into the match you certainly hoped Naho would be influential given Reign were without Carson Pickett and Merritt Mathias as both were suspended for Saturday's match. And yet those hopes turned into basically the Nahomi Kawasumi Show.
There was a also a change between the posts as Haley Kopmeyer was in goal with Hope Solo at national team camp as the US prepares for the Rio Olympics. If there's one thing that's been well established in NWSL is Kopmeyer's status of "backup goalkeeper" is in name only. She can start for just about any team in this league, yet she is here in Seattle and tonight was barely tested. Save for a well struck and certainly dangerous free kick in the 9th minute from Boston's Eunice Beckmann that forced a diving save, all other balls in the box, Kopmeyer collected them cool, calm, and collected. Her clean sheet on Saturday made it a fifth consecutive clean sheet for Seattle, a new NWSL record. Though Kopmeyer conceded that in the first half with the setting sun in her eyes, distribution on throws and goal kicks was a bit of a challenge. "Try and find the blue blob and hit them," Kopmeyer said. Asked about Naho's return in style, Kopmeyer said, "If she did that on jet lag, what is going to do when she's not?"
The praise of Naho was the theme of the night.
"She's smart. There's just no other way to describe Naho, apart from she's smart. When you are that smart, it just looks easy," said Jess Fishlock. It's the anything and everything Naho did that brought back some fun for everyone on the field wearing a Reign shirt. Fishlock said the transitions of everyone at midfield and including when Beverly Yanez and Naho would drop back to the area went a lot smoother. It was a performance everyone on the team was proud of and in sitting in the post-match presser and listening to Fishlock, Kopmeyer, and coach Laura Harvey that upbeat was back.
"We dominated the game from start to finish," Harvey said post-match. She continued that Naho just made everyone better on the field.
And maybe that's what Seattle lacked that caused the up and down start. The news of Naho's return got everyone excited and perhaps it was just the returning presence of an impact player of Naho's caliber is what was needed. Naho's impact surely will be seen on stat sheets, but there is a balance in her personality lifted Seattle tonight.
"I'm very happy I scored the goals but more important than that, (the win) is important for the team. I am most happy for that," Naho said post-match via her translator. Happiness is a universal language as you can see in the celebrations after Naho's goals.
Happiness was the theme of the night for the 4,356 in attendance. Look at the celebrations on Naho's goals and yeah, this team is happy. Anyone who follows the NWSL has something of a near-expectation that this is where Seattle starts their run. Everyone in the league is losing a key international or two (or lots if you're the Portland Thorns) because of the Olympics, whereas Seattle just loses Hope Solo & Megan Rapinoe. We don't need to go over the impact they bring to the Reign, but this team is loaded with impact players that are the envy of a lot of teams. If Seattle is to make their run and climb up the league table, the time is now and the genesis of it could very well be the night Nahomi Kawasumi returned to Seattle.
Of note and surely looked scary as it happened, Melis collided with Breakers keeper Jami Kranich in the 68th minute. Post-match Harvey said Melis was going to be fine albeit sore for the next few days but there was no serious concern for an injury.
Seattle Reign FC's next match is a road trip to Rochester to take on the Western New York Flash. Fellow Japanese international Rumi Utsugi will be joining the team for the match. The match will be broadcasted on YouTube on Saturday, July 9 at 4 PM PDT.