Against the Boston Breakers, the Reign came out with a fire and a focus that was lacking in their last home match against Sky Blue. But for 55 minutes it didn’t matter, as Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher had a lights out game in net.
For more than a half the Reign tried everything to beat her and the Breakers defense. They tried long shots, they tried long crosses, they tried low crosses, they tried dribbling the ball into the net. They even had two pretty compelling shouts for penalties as Leroux and then Little were held back in the box. But they couldn’t get anything across the line. In fact, it was Boston who struck first. In the 19th minute, Courtney Jones launched a curling rocket that beat Hope Solo top the top corner for a 1-0 lead very much against the run of play. That marked this as the 7th game of the last 9 in which the opponent scored the first goal. On the one hand, that’s a tendency that’s going to burn you eventually. On the other, it means the Reign are well practiced in coming back from deficits.
At half they’d forced 5 saves from Naeher but hadn’t found the equalizer. But eventually the pressure paid off. In the 55th, Bev Goebel sent a high arcing cross in from the sideline and it fell to Naho at the far post. Despite staring down Naeher, who’d been perfect all game and looked in good position, the Japanese international fired a rocket at the far post for the equalizer.
The chances didn’t stop flowing for Seattle and a little more luck and crispness could have led to a goal any number of times, but it took a bit of a mess to actually get the lead. In the 77th Naho beat the defense to a high ball and cut it back for Leroux, who crossed to Little right on the penalty spot. A Boston defender slid in to try to cut it out while Naeher charged out and I think the defender knocked it in for an own goal with Little right behind her. The official stats have Little with the goal, and since that adds to her league leading total I’m not really going to argue.
Unfortunately, the lead was brief. Within 30 seconds of the restart, substitute Katie Schoepfer was allowed to turn with the ball at the top of the box and she rolled a hard shot past Solo on what would end up being Boston’s only shot of the entire second half.
Two goals against the run of play could be deflating, but Seattle kept at it. In the 83rd, the tireless Jess Fishlock hounded the ball off a Boston defender to create a dangerous turnover deep in their end. She found the streaking Kawasumi, who deftly curled it around Naeher to retake the lead, which Seattle comfortably held to the final whistle.
This was a strange game, with so many things going against Seattle — including the news just before the match that Megan Rapinoe was going to be held out due to an injury concern. The indication at this point is that it’s not the foot that held her out for half the season, but we’ll have to wait for details.
But the heartening thing is that Seattle were clearly dominant, even without Rapinoe. Boston’s two goals against the run kept the game exciting, but the Reign had 20 good chances in the match. And if they keep doing that, they’ll be in good position to keep the undefeated streak alive for a lot longer and make a strong showing in the playoffs.
The win gives them 42 points and keeps them 9 ahead of Kansas City, who also won today. Those two teams are really pulling away from the pack now, as the Reign’s lead over third place Western New York is nineteen points. Thanks to the dominance of the Reign and — to a lesser extent — FCKC, no team in the league other than those two has a winning record. So a playoff spot, while not mathematically secured, is effectively guaranteed. The focus now is on keeping focus despite that. They have an undefeated streak to keep alive to provide motivation in every game, and the lure of home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
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