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Seattle Reign FC battle smoke and Chicago Red Stars to scoreless draw

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Reign FC inch a bit closer to clinching a playoff spot.

Reign FC vs. Chicago Red Stars Photo by MikeRussellFoto

Four days after picking up a massive win against Utah Royals FC on the road, Seattle Reign FC were back in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium on Wednesday evening, hosting Chicago Red Stars in a scoreless draw.

There was controversy before kickoff even happened because of the fact that the weather was anything but optimal. Yes it was hot — it is summer, after all — but smoke has also blanketed the Seattle skies for the past few days due to wildfires in Canada and central Washington, and air quality has been terrible.

Over the course of Wednesday afternoon, both teams were monitoring weather forecasts along with the NWSL. Fans and media voiced their concerns about player health and safety, and expressed their concern that the match wasn’t going to be postponed or rescheduled, but doing that would have been easier said than done. Chicago is scheduled to play at Portland Thorns FC Saturday evening as the league’s showcase Game of the Week. There is also the situation where Chicago has a match to make up against Sky Blue FC in September which was originally scheduled for late July. Those parameters would have made it difficult for the league to reschedule the game, or — as some had suggested — consider not playing the match and call it a draw. The latter would have created an unusual precedent with both teams very much thick in the chase to secure a playoff spot. Like last Saturday at Utah, the best possible precautions were implemented for the match, including additional water breaks for each half and oxygen tanks at the ready.

Yes, the match ultimately ended in a scoreless draw, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. While the concern was understandable, the lack of air quality did not affect the play on the field. In their post-game comments, Reign FC midfielders Jess Fishlock and Morgan Andrews both said that air quality wasn’t much a factor as it was last Saturday in Utah.

The visitors were on the front foot for most of the first half as they presented their danger through free kicks and corners. However, Seattle displayed their “steel” (as Megan Rapinoe called it on Saturday) in making critical blocks and clearances when they needed to. Seattle tried to stage counterattacks from Chicago’s set pieces, but nothing really threatened the Red Stars defense and their goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher.

Seattle established control and tempo in the second half and saw more progress into Chicago’s defensive third. To their credit, Chicago didn’t break to Seattle’s increased pressure, though Fishlock said after the match that the visitors were a lot more physical in the second half as Seattle turned up the pressure. It made for a half where the action was end-to-end. Chicago’s most dangerous opportunity ended up being Seattle’s biggest stop of the night, when Red Stars forward Sam Kerr blasted a shot from just outside the six-yard box and goalkeeper Lydia Williams came up big and stuffed it in what surely will be a NWSL Save of the Week nominee.

Seattle nearly had their chance to break the deadlock and perhaps steal the full three points in the 82nd minute when Fishlock collected a cross in the box and fired off a shot that ricocheted off the post and then Naeher, but there would be no fortuitous deflection into the back of the net.

In the eight minutes of stoppage time to close out the match, Seattle’s Adriana Leon saw a chance on goal after Jasmyne Spencer forced a turnover, but her effort went just wide. Fishlock complimented what Leon brings off the bench and said if she had more time training with the team versus having only joined the team two months ago, she likely finds the back of the net and we would have been talking about a remarkable match-winning goal.

And so the regular season trilogy with the Chicago Red Stars ended with two draws and a loss, which is a testament to the quality of talent both teams have on the field. It makes for tense, dramatic affairs where the deciding moment potentially comes very late into the match. Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski said after the match that he felt it was a great battle and if there’s one thing they needed to match Chicago on, it was the physicality and to show they have some fight in them. Or steel, if you will.

“I told them at halftime and the same thing at the end of the game: ‘No one can question your effort. No one can question your mentality. No one can question your heart,’” said Andonovski about his immediate thoughts on the match.

While a win on Wednesday night would have all-but-secured a playoff spot for Seattle, they can still clinch that spot if results around the league go their way this weekend. If Houston Dash draw or lose to Washington Spirit on Friday AND Orlando Pride draw or lose to North Carolina Courage on Saturday, then Seattle Reign FC are in the playoffs.

Next up for Seattle is another weeknight match as they’ll host the Houston Dash on Tuesday, August 21. While he didn’t make any guarantees, Andonovski sounded optimistic that Tuesday’s match could see the return of Elizabeth Addo, Rumi Utsugi, and Megan Rapinoe from the injury report. He was slightly more cautious about the availability of Allie Long, who left the match a few minutes before the full time whistle with what Andonovski said was left knee pain. Long is scheduled to get a scan today and we’ll likely need to wait for Monday’s injury report for any further updates to her status.

Kickoff for Tuesday’s match between Seattle Reign FC and Houston Dash is scheduled for 7:30 PM and will be broadcast on nwslsoccer.com.