Hope Returns as Seattle Clinches Playoff Spot

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Seattle Reign FC goalkeeper Hope Solo returned from a knee injury to lead her squad to a 2-1 victory and a playoff spot. The Reign are the first team in the National Women’s Soccer League to clinch a place in the postseason.

Solo has been recovering for the past month from a minor knee injury, but the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Golden Glove winner didn’t show any rust. Hope made two saves on the night, holding down a Houston Dash team that features USA midfielder Carli Lloyd. Unlike the World Cup Final versus Japan, where Lloyd had a hat trick, No. 10 was held scoreless and frustrated by Hope and the Reign defense.

“It’s frustrating,” Lloyd said. “We didn’t really have possession in the final third, so there weren’t many (scoring) opportunities. We need to do a better job of keeping the ball higher up on the field to create chances.”

The Reign keeper and her defense have been hindering attacking players all year sporting a home-unbeaten streak of 21 games. On the other end of the pitch, midfielder Merritt Mathias and Rachel Corsie tallied goals in the 22nd and 59th minute, respectively. Afterward, Mathias talked about the Reign’s incredible run at Moda Pitch at Memorial Stadium.

“We want people to be afraid when they walk into this stadium,” Mathias said. “We do that really well, and it’s something in us that’s like, ‘You’re not going to beat us here.’ The 21 games is an unspoken notion that we’ve got to keep it up.”

The Dash drew first blood in the 15th minute when a Lauren Barnes head clearance found the feet of Kealia Ohai. The Houston midfielder brought the ball down and blasted a shot toward the back post. Hope dove to make the save, but the ball just did sneak past her attempt and inside the post to make it 1-0.

It didn’t take long for the Reign to respond. Megan Rapinoe pushed the ball up the left side past midfield and placed an excellent ball through to Matthias, who beat the Houston goalkeeper and a defender to tie the game 1-1 with a shot on an open net.

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Seattle’s second goal came off a corner kick in the second half. Stephanie Cox lofted a corner to the backside of the box, where it found the head of Corsie. The defender’s header found the top left corner and sailed over the outstretched arm of keeper Erin McLeod, giving the Reign the score it needed to take the victory.

In front of 6,021 fans, the Reign had several strong chances later in the second half, though they weren’t able to convert. While Seattle did come away with a big playoff-clinching victory, head coach Laura Harvey still hoped that her squad could’ve made the final score a bit more comfortable.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t punish them enough in the second half,” Harvey said. “We were the better team. We controlled the game.”

The win bumped the Reign to 10-3-3 on the season, and at 33 points, they hold a five-point lead over the second-place Chicago Red Stars. Up next, the Reign travel to BBVA Compass Stadium to finish their home-and-home series with the Dash on Friday, Aug. 21.

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