It was first place versus second place at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon as Seattle Reign FC hosted the North Carolina Courage. Eleven points stood between Seattle and North Carolina coming into the match, and the visitors widened the gap with a 4-1 demolition of Seattle.
(sigh) Where to begin?
Right from kickoff it was action-packed — seven minutes into the match, a handball in the box was called on Reign FC defender Steph Catley. North Carolina’s Lynn Williams stepped up for the penalty, but took a very casual approach to it, which made it easy for Reign FC goalkeeper Lydia Williams to contain it in an early momentum-swinger.
Early on, North Carolina’s lightning-fast attacking band looked to dictate the tempo of the match, but a double-save by Williams in the 15th minute was rewarded soon thereafter when defender Megan Oyster pounced on a second chance opportunity from a Megan Rapinoe free kick.
On a free kick, @mPinoe goes for straight for the goal that North Carolina's Katelyn Rowland punches out but on the rebound, @MeganOyster smashes it in to make it 1-0 Seattle! #SEAvNC pic.twitter.com/vloWgFmddu— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) June 23, 2018
Ten minutes later, the visitors would equalize when Lynn Williams beat Catley in the air to connect her head on a Jaelene Hinkle cross into the box.
North Carolina would pull ahead for good late in the first half, when Crystal Dunn buried a shot from inside Seattle’s 18-yard box. The goal came about when there was some by confusion from Seattle that a ball cleared out closer to midfield and in front of Seattle’s bench wasn’t brought back into play in that spot; instead, North Carolina’s Jess McDonald threw a new ball into the box further up field, and a dump off pass by Williams to Dunn was all the U.S. international needed to claim the second goal.
“At the end of the day, we can’t switch off. That’s a lack of focus and concentration,” said Seattle Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski post-game about the circumstances leading to that goal.
Seattle nearly got an equalizer right at the start of the second half when Megan Rapinoe sent a wonderful cross into the box that found the head of Beverly Yanez, but it was too high, and from that point on, the game was all North Carolina Courage.
After being traded to North Carolina in the off-season, Merritt Mathias made her return to Memorial Stadium in grand fashion with a sledgehammer of a strike from about 19 yards out to make it 3-1 to the visitors.
It’ll be fascinating to see which fanbase steps up when it comes to this week’s Goal of the Week nominees — there will be strong competition between Mathias’ goal and Alanna Kennedy’s goal to help lead Orlando Pride to victory against the Washington Spirit.
Crystal Dunn would claim her brace in the 70th minute to put an emphatic seal on North Carolina’s grand day at Memorial Stadium.
The Courage are exactly who we thought they were, which is a very good team. Yes, Seattle Reign FC looked really bad for long stretches on Saturday afternoon, but it’s because North Carolina is that damn good. The are sitting comfortably at the top of the league table and are the runaway favorites to secure the NWSL Shield, and the talent they have can—and has—made good opponents look really bad. Seattle had a promising start, but North Carolina responded with supreme authority and Memorial Stadium was their house on Saturday afternoon. Whenever Seattle had the ball and progressed enough to probe beyond midfield, North Carolina was there to smother and break up the passing lanes.
Vlatko Andonovski didn’t hesitate to concede the Courage were the better side in his post-match comments, and in the immediate aftermath of being on the receiving end of such a brutal loss, you might wonder what does a head coach say to the team?
“I said everyone should look at their own game because I thought today we lost individual battles,” explained Andonovski. “If you look at 1-v-1 battles all over the field, they were better than us. They won significantly more battles. If you look at the goals, the first goal comes from an individual battle in the box. That’s the first thing everyone has to look at, but before anything else, I said I have to look at the game plan. Did I come up with the right game plan? Did I prepare the team right? Did I do the things I was supposed to do and did I come up with the proper lineup? It’s not only on the players on the field, it’s my fault first and foremost.”
It could be a good thing that Seattle has such a quick turnaround before their next match. A mid-week road trip to Salt Lake City will see them play against Utah Royals FC for the first time. The jerseys and players might have changed, but it will be a familiar matchup of Vlatko Andonvoski versus Laura Harvey. If Seattle is to rebound from such an ugly loss, it’s going to start with preparation from the head coach.
The mid-week match between Seattle Reign FC at Utah Royals FC is scheduled for Wednesday, June 27 with a 7 PM kickoff, and will be broadcast on go90.