Finally the season is here! Seattle Reign FC opened the 2017 season, hosting Sky Blue FC, and traded penalty kick goals to a 1-1 draw. The penalties were converted by Megan Rapinoe for Seattle and Sarah Killion for Sky Blue.
The first half, Sky Blue had all the chances on Seattle. They should have punished Seattle but the shots didn't have final bit of bite and/or luck that tend to beat keepers. Also Haley Kopmeyer was on point with her saves and corral of the ball. It was reminiscent of the game she had a couple of years ago when she was on loan at Brisbane Roar against Melbourne City in a playoff semi-final. The Melbourne City play by play crew at the time were in awe of Kopmeyer basically standing on her head, making save after save. Kopmeyer's performance tonight was very much in vein as Sky Blue FC head coach Christy Holly praised her efforts tonight.
"Kopmeyer came up with an absolute tremendous save in the dying minutes, which full credit to her," said Holly. The visiting coach saw more quality in play than he figured there would be in the season opener and thought it made for a good show.
Seattle did have chances in the first half and started the second half more aggressive. In the 56th minute the deadlock was broken when Megan Rapinoe won a penalty after getting clipped by Sky Blue defender Erica Skroski as the two were vying for the ball. Rapinoe took the penalty which she said post-match was both by design as to who is the designated penalty taker and confirmation to Harvey that she was fine with taking it after being clipped.
Six minutes later, Sky Blue found themselves in a penalty-taking situation as Reign defender Merritt Mathias took down Sky Blue forward Kelley O'Hara in the box as she was waiting for a ball into the box. Sarah Killion converted the penalty despite Kopmeyer correctly guessing on the location. Post-match, Kopmeyer expressed frustration at not being able to corral Killion's penalty despite getting a hand on it.
Attempts by both sides in the final minutes drew audible ooohs from the 3,521 in attendance, but the 1-1 scoreline is how the season opener for both teams would go into the record books.
However, if you ask the Reign, they're happy to take the point but they know there's work to be done.
"I thought we robbed Sky Blue," said Laura Harvey at the start of her post-match conference. "I think the positive for us that we didn't lose the game. Which is a big positive. Last year we would have lost that game for sure."
Harvey went on to talk about that as long as Seattle shows grit and determination and if a little bit of luck falls their way, then they can build on it and play the level of quality that matches their reputation.
One of the positives in Seattle's performance was being able to hold the line and defend when Sky Blue was getting second or third chance shots after a rebound from a set piece or direct attack. Part of that defense was from rookie Kristen McNabb who was lauded by her teammates and Harvey.
Harvey said of McNabb's debut, "I haven't checked Twiter, but I'm sure I got destroyed for starting a fourth round draft pick at center back, but she's been excellent in pre-season. Nothing phases her and I think you saw that tonight. She's up against players much quicker than her, but she's a very good footballer."
Co-captain Jess Fishlock said of McNabb, "Ah she's brilliant. For that being her first game in this league, playing on the right side, with a left foot, I thought she was absolutely fantastic. No other words to say."
As we often tend to jump to a definitive conclusion that the season-opening match will tell us how a team will play the rest of the way, it is very much a feeling out process. You can only train so much (or in the case of the NWSL's unusually short pre-season, so little) that until you put it out there in a live game, you just won't know how it's going to work. With the Seattle Reign FC, looking to redeem themselves after last year's disappointing campaign, the question of can Seattle return to the form that made them a sledgehammer for two years surely wasn't answered after tonight. It wasn't exacerbated either to something of a red alert status. It is going to be a work in progress.
Harvey said that with the very short pre-season, not everyone has had a full slate of training, especially as a cohesive unit. While we predicted that the midfield most likely will be Nairn, Fishlock, Utsugi, Harvey said as a group, they haven't had much time together because of injuries or national team commitments. Of course that will be taken care of over time, but it's one of the challenges this 2017 Seattle Reign FC squad has.
At the end of the day, Seattle got a result. It wasn't a signature Seattle Reign FC performance, but it wasn't a disaster. There are things to improve but there were things to be proud of and at the end of the night, they got a result. Getting a result was something Harvey stressed, saying, "You gotta get results now, and you gotta be perfect then (in September & October)."
The Seattle Reign FC stay at Memorial Stadium next weekend as they host the Houston Dash on Saturday, April 22 with a 7 PM kickoff.