Fresh off their dominating 3-1 win over Houston Dash on Saturday, Seattle Reign FC were back on the field for some Wednesday night soccer as they hosted Utah Royals FC. In a close, defensive battle, Seattle came out on top with a 1-0 win.
The match marked the anticipated, perhaps emotional return of Laura Harvey to Memorial Stadium — this time as the opposition. When her name was announced by the Memorial Stadium PA, to no one’s surprise, she got a round of applause from the home crowd.
As expected with the short turnaround between matches, Seattle had some rotation to their starting eleven, most notably forward Adriana Leon making her first start for Seattle and the return of midfielder Jess Fishlock after missing the last five matches with a right quad strain.
“I feel like I’ve been away for an eternity, and it was only like four weeks, but it feels like it was a really long time. It was great being out there, really enjoyed it. Obviously loved it was at home, but I think what was so pleasing for me today was we were really good at the stuff in football you don’t really want to do,” Fishlock said post-match.
The first half saw Seattle with far more runs into Utah’s defensive third compared to their inaugural encounter two weeks ago in Sandy, Utah. The visitors had their chances too as they looked to take advantage of the Seattle sun slowly setting but still well within Reign FC goalkeeper Lydia Williams’ vision, but neither side could find the back of the net in the first 45.
The first half also saw its fair share of physical play from both sides, with Utah picking up two yellow cards (Rachel Corsie and Sam Johnson) and Seattle’s Allie Long receiving one. Utah’s Gunny Jónsdóttir would pick up a yellow in the second half on an evening that clearly frustrated both sides in terms of the officiating, though all protestations were left on the field. It was the hard challenges, fighting for 50/50 balls, that Fishlock alluded to in her opening post-match comments about the things in the game you don’t really want to do.
The second half saw Utah increase the pressure, and they should have seized on an open net due to a miscue from Williams, but Utah’s Amy Rodriguez wasn’t able to capitalize on it. Despite the visitors starting the second half with a bit of spark, it was Seattle that would strike first when a back-post roaming Megan Rapinoe connected on a Steph Catley corner, and her header went across the mouth of goal and into the side netting in the 54th minute.
It may have looked unusual to Reign FC fans to see Megan Rapinoe standing back post, as she usually takes corner kicks for Seattle, but head coach Vlatko Andonovski said it was a little something (dare we say, trickery) that they worked on at training.
Immediately after the goal, Rapinoe made a beeline straight to Andonovski to celebrate, which caught him and everyone else by surprise, but he appreciated being able to celebrate the goal with them.
“There was a little bit of doubt from some of the players, and when it worked, I guess they just wanted to celebrate with me and pay me the respect. I appreciated it and I was so proud of them,” Andonovski said about the set piece goal and celebration.
“That stuff, obviously was from the training ground. I feel like you work on that all the time and it hardly ever comes off. Someone messes it up, the ball’s off, or something happens, but yeah Vlatko drew up a pretty good play, so gotta give him the assist on that,” said Rapinoe post-match about goal. She admitted she was one of the players that had doubts about it working but it did and she was emphatic in giving Catley praise for delivering a fantastic ball into the box for her to connect on.
It was the only goal on the night as when Utah Royals FC were chasing to get the equalizer, Seattle’s composed defense did the job, much like a couple weeks ago.
The win keeps Seattle Reign FC at second place on the league table and with results around the league, they now have a four-point lead on third place Orlando Pride with a game in hand. Next up for Seattle is a Saturday night trip to Bridgeview, Illinois, where they’ll take on the Chicago Red Stars. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 PM PST and will be broadcast on go90.