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Seattle Reign defense falls apart in loss to Sky Blue

Sam Kerr scores 4 second-half goals en route to a 5-4 Sky Blue win.

Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

It was a tale of two halves on Saturday evening, and Seattle Reign FC unfortunately came out on the wrong end of this story — falling 5-4 on the road to Sky Blue FC thanks to the second-half heroics of Sam Kerr.

Sky Blue entered the match just days after losing their head coach Christy Holly, who stepped down unexpectedly, and captain Christie Pearce, who took the rest of the season off to recover from nagging injuries.

Reign FC head coach Laura Harvey opted to rest a few starters this match, given that the team just played on Wednesday and has a tough match next weekend against Portland. Centerbacks Lauren Barnes and Rachel Corsie both started on the bench, which meant a young Seattle backline of Carson Pickett, Kristen McNabb, Rebekah Stott, and Merritt Mathias was left with the task of keeping Kerr at bay.

They did just that in the first 45 minutes, but ... well, we’ll talk about that second half shortly.

The first half was dominated by Seattle, both in the quality of chances and the number of goals. Katie Johnson started the scoring early in the 3rd minute. Christine Nairn got a ball out wide on the right, cut it back into the box on the ground to an on-rushing Rumi Utsugi. Her one-time shot deflected off of Johnson and into the back of the net. Sky Blue’s defense didn’t push up quick enough, keeping the rookie forward onside.

The second goal came in the 18th minute, when Seattle won a corner kick. Naho Kawasumi’s ball fell kindly to the far post after goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan got a glove on it, and Jess Fishlock made a deep run to get there right in time. She leaped into the air and pushed the ball into the goal with her stomach. Literal ab goals.

The final goal of the first half came in stoppage time, and this time it was Kawasumi getting around Sheridan. Nairn’s cross was just over the heads of Johnson and Sky Blue’s Mandy Freeman, and it whipped all the way to the far post. Naho slid and managed to push the ball near post and in.

Sky Blue had a few decent chances in the first half, all coming through Kerr. For the most part, however, the New Jersey side struggled to connect passes through the midfield and get the Australian forward in dangerous positions.

The second half started much differently, with Sky Blue pressing early. They were rewarded with a goal — scored by none other than Sam Kerr — when the Reign defense was unable to clear the ball and it fell right to Kerr’s feet. She tapped a rolling ball into the far left post.

After that goal, which put the game at 3-1, the game became a lot more wide open. That played into Sky Blue’s favor, as Reign FC looked like the more tired team and has a much harder time playing that wide-open style in a much larger field than Memorial Stadium. Kerr took advantage of this when she got a long ball over the top in the 68th minute. She went one-on-one against Pickett, who to her credit didn’t get beat, but Kerr still managed to get a shot off that was low and driven to the far post.

Kerr’s hattrick came just three minutes later in the 71st minute. She was 1-on-3 against Seattle’s defense, who dropped off just before the 18-yard-box to ensure they didn’t get beat. In response, Kerr stopped her run and fired a perfect shot from distance that Kopmeyer had no chance of stopping.

Things began to look up for Reign FC in the 85th minute, when substitute Kiersten Dallstream scored her first-ever NWSL goal. Rumi Utsugi got a lovely through-ball in the box, but her shot was blocked by Sheridan. It fell right to Dallstream, who took a touch to settle the ball, then sent it calmly into the net with her right foot — before Sheridan could recover.

Lauren Barnes came in later in the second half to settle the Reign defense, but it wasn’t enough to help the team walk away with three points — let alone one. Substitute Maya Hayes equalized in the 91st minute, heading in a cross. Kerr nearly got her fourth goal in the 93rd minute, when Sky Blue won a penalty kick off a handball in the box. Luckily, her penalty went off the crossbar. But Kerr wasn’t done yet, and she found the game winner with just seconds to spare, heading in Taylor Lytle’s cross.

Credit to Kerr. When she takes over a game, she’s virtually unstoppable. But Reign FC had all the advantage in this match, and completely fell asleep on defense. Seattle walked away with a 5-4 loss and fell to fifth behind Orlando. Kerr, on the other hand, jumped in front of Rapine as the NWSL leading goal-scorer. She now has 15 goals on the season and became the first NWSL player to earn two hattricks in a season.

Reign FC now returns home to face the Portland Thorns. Beating their rivals isn’t just for bragging rights. Seattle has to get points if they want to stay in the playoff picture. To do that, they’re going to need to be much tighter on defense.