Win in Houston Helps Reign Clinch Home Pitch

Thanks to a decisive shutout victory over the Houston Dash on Friday, and a little help in the standings on Sunday, Hope Solo and the Seattle Reign FC will be at home as they look to earn a berth in the National Women’s Soccer League championship match.

No. 1 made two saves to help the Reign nab a 3-0 victory over the Dash at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, and when the Chicago Red Stars played to a 0-0 draw with the Western New York Flash, the Reign secured home-pitch advantage for the semifinal round of the NWSL playoffs.

Sitting at 11-3-3, Reign FC holds a seven-point lead over the Red Stars (7-3-8), and with just three matches left on the regular season schedule, the Seattle women have all-but sewn up their second straight NWSL Shield, given to the regular-season champion.

Last year, the Reign captured the top seed and beat the Washington Spirit in the first round of the four-team playoff, but they fell 2-1 in the championship match to FC Kansas City.

The Reign beat the Dash 2-1 on Aug. 12 to become the first team to clinch a playoff berth for the 2015 season, and they picked up right where they left off after an eight-day break.

Once again, Hope and the Seattle defense were tremendous, keeping star United States Women’s National team midfielder Carli Lloyd off the scoreboard. While Lloyd’s entire Dash team was held scoreless, they did have a few chances in the early going after kickoff was delayed an hour by thunderstorms.

Lloyd set up Jessica McDonald on a shot in the eighth minute, but the midfielder sent it high over Hope’s net. Eight minutes later, defender Meghan Klingenberg placed a ball in to McDonald, but Hope parried her header wide of the frame.

Just one minute later, midfielder Andressa sent a ball into the box, where it was played between midfielder Morgan Brian and forward Kealia Ohai. However, Hope was there to make a spectacular diving save to her right, snatching the ball safely in her gloves. Houston tallied 14 shots, but just two were on frame, and both of those were saved by No. 1.

While Hope and her defense stonewalled the Dash, Reign FC midfielder Kim Little went to work. With goals in the 42nd, 74th, and 90th minutes, the Scotland native dazzled the Houston crowd.

For the first goal, defender Lauren Barnes sent a long ball to Little. She outran the Dash back line to send her side into halftime with a 1-0 lead. In the 74th minute, the 2014 NWSL MVP picked up the ball 25 yards out and took advantage of the time and space that the Dash defenders were giving her. Driving forward, Little made it 2-0.

Hope sent the ball into play just before the beginning of the 90th minute, and her Reign teammates played the ball up the left side and eventually in the box to Little, who completed her hat trick with a fantastic showing of class, technique, and skill on the ball. The Seattle midfielder danced through the Dash defense and put the exclamation point on a comfortable win.

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Seattle can clinch its second straight regular-season crown on Wednesday when they host the Boston Breakers on Moda Pitch at Memorial Stadium.

The match with the Breakers pits Hope against her fellow USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, Boston’s No. 1 in net.

It’s also the second to last home match of the regular season for the Reign, who close their home slate when they host Sky Blue FC on Saturday, Aug. 29. If Seattle can tally two points in their final three matches, they’ll take the No. 1 seed and the NWSL shield. So a win in either home match, or a tie in each of the next two, would suffice. But the Reign clearly want more.

Reign FC has not lost a match since July 18 at Washington, and they’ve won six of their last seven games, including the most recent five in a row. Washington is the only team still capable of catching Seattle for the shield. The Spirit (8-5-4) have three games remaining and trail the Reign by eight points.  The two teams will meet in the regular-season finale on Sept. 5.

But that meeting could merely be a formality if Seattle takes care of business on Wednesday.

The match against Boston is slated to begin at 7 p.m. PT. Watch live on the Seattle Reign FC YouTube Channel.

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