Since the 2014 season, the Seattle Reign FC have called Memorial Stadium home and to say the hard, fast, and narrow field plays to their advantage is an understatement. Fortress Memorial, indeed it is, as Seattle has only lost two games at home. Tonight, the North Carolina Courage, defending NWSL Champions, became the third team to claim a victory at Memorial Stadium.
North Carolina's goals came from U.S. international Sam Mewis with the first in the 24th minute — a rocket volley that went middle-right and no goalkeeper on the planet would have been able to save, let alone touch. Mewis said of her first goal post-match, "It felt good when I hit it and I could see the path to the goal. It happened really fast." Mewis praised the build-up from her teammates more than the goal itself, but no one would hold it against her if she took a second or two to admire it when she reviews the film later.
Sam Mewis caught the ball on a volley and blasted it upper right corner to give the visitors the lead in the 24th. pic.twitter.com/vO9bi17iZQ— Ride of theValkyries (@rovalks) August 14, 2017
Seattle were able to get an equalizer in the 40th minute when midfielder Lindsay Elston sent in a cross that found midfielder Rumi Utsugi sliding into the six-yard box for her first goal on the season.
Rumi Utsugi sliding into North Carolina's DMs like and drawing this level in the 40th! pic.twitter.com/Hg7YlfZs9A— Ride of theValkyries (@rovalks) August 14, 2017
With Seattle regaining if not controlling some of the momentum at halftime, most Reign fans would think this was the moment they needed to get another one, finish the deal, and get some redemption from last weekend's loss against the same team.
The second half showed North Carolina's fatigue, having just played 48 hours ago against FC Kansas City on the road, a match that was rescheduled from July due to lightning strikes in the area. However, for Seattle, they lacked that bit of quality needed in the final phase of an attack to get a shot that would test Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland.
The second half also saw far more physicality that referee Karen Abt allowed. If there is a line before cards are issued, she allowed both sides to hang around it, which sure did not go over well with the 4,156 in attendance.
Despite that, North Carolina got a break in the 74th minute when Reign defender Kristen McNabb tried to clear out the ball in the penalty box off a throw-in but didn't have enough on it. The ball fell right into Mewis' lap and despite Haley Kopmeyer appearing to get a touch on it, North Carolina got their second and eventual match-winner.
McNabb's attempt to clear it out fell right in front of Sam Mewis and she's got her brace. pic.twitter.com/3BWR8ApZc3— Ride of theValkyries (@rovalks) August 14, 2017
So yeah, it may come as a shock to some Reign FC fans, but the Reign lost a match at hallowed Memorial Stadium. North Carolina Courage did what only Chicago Red Stars and Sky Blue FC have done since the Reign moved there in 2014, came in and took the full three points.
While the win was the important part, Courage head coach Paul Riley was surprised at the exclusive class they joined. "I didn't know that," said Riley. "Coming into this small field, it's not easy to play and they're very good on this field. They play tight and they move the ball well and it causes a lot of problems and they're a good side. Obviously with Pinoe and Fishlock missing that probably helped us a little bit too on top of that.”
“They're a tough team to play against. Laura's got them, knows how to exactly play here. To win at Seattle, it's the first time as a coach I've won in Seattle I know that much. I didn't realize that it was only three (that have won at Memorial Stadium) the whole time they've been here. They got a great home record and to come in and get three points after the three points in Kansas is unbelievable."
Opposite Riley, Reign FC head coach Laura Harvey said post-match, "I thought we competed well at times. I thought we had the run of play a lot, we had probably more chances we've had against them than in any of the other three games, but disappointed on the goals we conceded. We have to do better. We didn't set up well on the long throw and (the second North Carolina goal) scuffed clearance but the setup on the throw wasn't good. And then our game management at the end of the game wasn't good enough. When you're trying to score a goal, you've gotta get the best opportunity to put a ball in the box and I feel we didn't do that either."
And it was that inability to get a quality cross into the box to test North Carolina's formidable backline — to get an equalizer and at least salvage a point — that the Reign will rue but have to learn from the mistakes quickly. Reign FC are on the road for their next two matches, with a Wednesday evening showdown in Chicago against the Red Stars. It will be another attempt for the Reign to get a win in Chicago, something they have not done. After that it's a Saturday night meeting with Sky Blue FC in Piscataway, New Jersey.
The loss knocks Seattle out of the fourth and final playoff spot, with Orlando Pride now taking that spot with a two point lead (and two games in hand). The loss doesn't end Seattle's chances but it is a major blow and from here on out, victories are a must.