Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Seattle Reign FC traveled to Houston and returned home with a win, their seventh victory in seven matches against the Dash. But to leave it at that would be a disservice to the 3-2 come-from-behind effort that concluded Seattle’s 2016 season.
While the Reign continued its dominance over the Dash, the squad showed something even more important tonight: a fighting spirit. It came too late for a playoff push, but was a picture perfect way to send off the retiring captain, Keelin Winters.
While Seattle entered the match with one of the best defensive records in the NWSL, giving up just 19 goals in 19 games, the backline looked uncharacteristically out of sorts in the first half. As a result, the Reign went down 2-0 after some defensive blunders and a great Kealia Ohai goal. It could have been 3-0 if Haley Kopmeyer didn’t make three stops in succession.
Seattle came out in the second half looking tired—it was 75 degrees with 93 percent humidity, after all, and Jess Fishlock had just played two games for Wales before flying directly to Houston. But a Manon Melis goal in the 60th minute added some life into the squad. Melis had been close on a few attempts earlier in the match, and a great run put her one-on-one with goalkeeper Lydia Williams. A one-touch chip was all she needed, and she made the finish look easy. It was Melis’ team-leading seventh goal.
A teardrop finish by Manon Melis and Reign are on the board. pic.twitter.com/i1FrhRSSHi— Ride of theValkyries (@rovalks) September 26, 2016
Rookie Carson Pickett came on in the 72nd minute and the team switched to a three-person backline of Lauren Barnes, Kendall Fletcher, and Jess Fishlock. Yes, Fishlock. At right back. Pickett provided some much-needed energy, and Seattle equalized in the 76th minute after Kim Little calmly collected the ball in the six-yard box and nutmegged Williams.
It was Pickett’s speed, brilliant hesitation, and strong cross in the 81st minute that put Seattle up 3-2, a lead they would hold for the rest of the match. Her cross from the left found Bev Yanez, who snuck in front of a Dash centerback and flicked it in.
Seattle didn’t make the playoffs in a year where it certainly should have. There were a lot of “what if” questions throughout the year. But the second half saw the Reign we’ve come to know and love—a team with so much fight.
Losing Keelin Winters—the glue and heart of the team—is going to be a big hole to fill. But as every player showed today, the Reign should never be written off.
Here’s to an amazing 2017.