For the third match in a row, the Seattle Reign fell behind early. And for the third match in the row they came back to get points. But this time instead of waiting for an injury time equalizer, they overwhelmed opponent Sky Blue FC in the second half turning the game on its head quickly after halftime.
In the first half, Seattle was uncharacteristically sloppy. Despite near-perfect weather, they had a hard time stringing together their usual passing sequences and too often resorted to long crosses from the midfield. Despite that, it was a wide-open first half for both sides. Sky Blue attacked the flanks with speed and the Reign found midfield space that wasn’t afforded them against Kansas City and Western New York.
Sydney Leroux had two early opportunities at the top of the box that couldn’t beat keeper Brittany Cameron. And the Reign were in and around the box plenty of times in the half but couldn’t find a shot or pass to create a real opportunity. At the other end, Sky Blue had the two best chances of the half. First, Monica Ocampo ran behind the Seattle defense on a chipped through-ball and had 40 yards of clear runway between her and the Reign goal. But Hope Solo perfectly timed her rush out and came up with a world-class save to keep the game scoreless. Then in the 42nd minute Sky Blue was able to move the ball across the box and free Katy Freels for a perfect, curling 22 yard shot that beat Solo into the corner, relegating Seattle to an early deficit for the third consecutive game.
But the game turned around quickly in the second half. Four minutes after the restart Bev Goebel freed herself on the left wing with some fancy footwork and delivered a hard cross to Naho Kawasumi, who was standing undisturbed on the penalty spot. She turned and finished easily to tie the match. Then just a minute later Goebel was brought down at the edge of the box for a free kick. Kim Little took the kick and unleashed a devastating shot that Cameron had no chance to save, increasing her league-leading goal total to 9 and giving the Reign the lead.
The insurance goal nearly came in the 73rd, when Lauren Barnes uncorked a 20 yard shot off a corner and hit the post. But it actually came about 30 seconds later on a Reign counter with Sky Blue pushed up for an equalizer. A long ball over the top put both Little and Naho clear behind the defense. Little collected the ball, drew the defenders and keeper, and perfectly timed a lateral pass that let Naho literally — literally — walk the ball into the net. I encourage you to find a replay. She seriously dribbled the goal in.
The return of Naho to the team obviously paid immediate dividends with a brace. It also gave the team some more width and dynamism in the attack. But it’s clear that the team isn’t quite hitting on all cylinders. Megan Rapinoe is still out, of course. But they’ve proven they can be a dominant team even without her. Instead some combination of other teams gameplanning to take Little out of the match, Sydney Leroux still struggling to find ways to influence the game, and some lack of crispness in the passing game is causing the team to struggle to get into matches, especially at the beginning. The long trip to the east coast probably didn’t help in this case, either.
Still, the fact that they still haven’t lost all season despite those ‘struggles’ is an indication of just how much talent the team can field and how well it’s organized. There’s no reason not to expect it to get even better if everyone can stay healthy. Next up the Reign have a home match on the 7th against Chicago, the second place team in the league on the strength of a tremendous defense. The forecast is for perfect weather on Saturday, so if you were going to take in any match this season, a game in the sun against the team in second with a chance to go 11 straight games unbeaten is a pretty good one.
Read more (via Sounder At Heart)