The wait is finally over. After an offseason that saw a change of head coach and players coming in and going out at a volume not seen since the transition from the inaugural 2013 season to 2014, the 2018 Seattle Reign FC made their debut, defeating the Washington Spirit 2-1.
In front of 3,561 fans on a chilly March evening (the calendar says we’re in spring, right?), we got to see what Reign FC can look like on the field in head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s vision — which on Saturday night felt like a major deviation from the possession-based, build out of the back style that Andonovski’s predecessor Laura Harvey created.
Instead, the first half felt like a relentless attack from Reign FC — pushing the ball up the field as quickly as possible. Seattle opened the scoring in the seventh minute with a free kick by forward Megan Rapinoe after a foul on Allie Long by Washington’s Ashley Hatch. In what seems to be her preferred choice when the ball is placed on the left side of the pitch, Rapinoe went upper left and put on the pace and curve that is signature of Megan Rapinoe.
Her shot whipped past Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe to get Seattle on the score sheet early in the game and in the season. “I actually thought it was a little far out but it was kind of in-between that space that can’t really serve it in there, so I just tried (it),” chuckled Rapinoe post-match about her sure-to-be Goal of the Week nominee, if not likely winner.
That goal was so nice, let’s look at it from another angle.
It was that early goal that dictated the pace of the first half for Seattle. Dominant ball control seemed to come at-will for Seattle, highlighted by Rapinoe, who moved about like she was a real-life video game and exquisite distribution from right back Theresa Nielsen and, something fans may not have expected, left back Rumi Utsugi.
If Seattle did not have the ball in the first half, it was few and far between, as the midfield trio of Jess Fishlock, Allie Long, and Bev Yanez were relentless in their pursuit. It paid off in the 35th minute when Utsugi intercepted a ball, fed Rapinoe, who then sent a wonderful through ball to English international Jodie Taylor — and with a deft touch that, despite Bledsoe getting a hand on, Taylor’s shot slowly trickled into the back of the net for Seattle’s second goal.
“I thought it was going in, I thought I got enough on it, but she (Bledsoe) got her hand to it and ooh is it going in, but yeah I’m happy it crossed the line,” Taylor said post-match of her goal.
For coach Vlatko Andonovski, he was happy to get that first win under his belt, and while the first half for Seattle was strong and we saw a glimpse of what they can do under him, it tapered off in the second half. But the Reign FC coach credits the players for hanging tough to hold on to the win. Andonovski said it was around the 60th minute where Seattle’s intensity dropped off, and it wasn’t so much that Washington changed up their tactics, but more first match of the season jitters and having a very short pre-season where his full squad couldn’t train together. Australian internationals Stephanie Catley and Lydia Williams have yet to report to the team due to Asian Cup/World Cup Qualifiers.
Washington Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra’s thoughts on the match complemented what Andonovski said. Gabarra attributed Seattle’s dominant first half to his team looking “passive,” but they picked up in the intensity in the second half and were getting more shots on goal and forcing Reign goalkeeper Michelle Betos to make some important saves. Midfielder Joanna Lohman entered the match to start the second half and capped off the road to recovery from a torn ACL in last season’s opener with a goal in the 68th minute. Lohman said post-match that pushing higher up forced Seattle to make more turnovers, and her goal gave them the belief they could get an equalizer and take a point on the road.
And there certainly were spells where Washington had Seattle on their heels and it felt that it could happen. Credit to the Reign, though, for being able to hold on and keep Washington to just one goal. The first half was the glimpse of what the 2018 Seattle Reign FC can be, and the second half showed the effects of a team that has yet had every player in training and gelling together. That will come in due time, and if it’s clicking in all aspects, then we’re in for a treat.
So what’s next for Seattle? Well, there’s a FIFA international break which will see the team’s internationals off for World Cup Qualifiers and friendlies. Their next league match won’t be until Sunday, April 15 when they hit the road to New Jersey. Andonovski said he’ll use the time as basically a pre-season extension to continue to get everyone caught up to speed with training and everyone working as a unit.