The NWSL Shield winning Seattle Reign FC closed the regular season in style on Saturday night, with a win that will allow them to carry some major momentum into the postseason.
Hope Solo logged two saves and the Reign notched a 2-1 road victory over the Washington Spirit at Maryland SoccerPlex to finish the regular season on a seven-match unbeaten streak. The win sends the Reign into the postseason as the hottest team in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Afterward Hope said that coach Laura Harvey put an emphasis on a strong finish for the Reign this season, which would put them in a much better position than they were for the start of the playoffs last season. Last year, the Reign went just 1-1-2 in their last four games and eventually lost in the championship match to FC Kansas City. This time around, they went 6-0-1 over their final seven games, dating back to mid-July.
“[Coach] said it best,” Hope said. “We won the league or the Shield a little bit too early [last season]. We kind of lost our momentum a little bit, we made a lot of subs, we had a lot of players get playing time closer to playoffs, and I think it suits us better to have to win these games.”
Hope stopped two of Washington’s three shots on goal Saturday and the Reign defense continued its strong play in from of her, limiting her to 10 total shots on goal. No. 1 along with defenders Rachel Corsie, Kendall Fletcher, Lauren Barnes, Stephanie Cox and Eli Reed stonewalled the Spirit for the first 25 minutes of the match. This gave Reign FC the ability to attack U.S. national team defender Ali Krieger, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and the rest of the opposition.
In the 15th minute, Reign forward Megan Rapinoe received the ball at midfield and played it inside to midfielder Kim Little who distributed it back to Rapinoe on the left flank. Reed and forward Merritt Mathias were making runs into the box. Rapinoe drove the ball to the end line before floating a ball into the six-yard box. Spirit defender Katherine Reynolds cleared the ball with a header that fell to Reign FC midfielder Jessica Fishlock about 20 yards out. Fishlock took one touch and volleyed it home for the early advantage.
Ten minutes later, Seattle doubled its lead. Reign FC switched the field, playing it to space in front of Rapinoe on the left side. She played the ball to Mathias, who attempted to shield the ball from Spirit defenders. Krieger deflected it away from Mathias, bouncing right back to Rapinoe, who ripped a shot into the upper 90 of the right side of Harris’ net.
Washington only had three shots on frame, but their lone tally occurred in the 36th minute. Defender Crystal Dunn—who was recently awarded the NWSL Golden Boot—played the ball to midfielder Angela Salem, who passed into space down the left flank for midfielder Diana Matheson. Matheson cut inside the box before she was fouled by Barnes. The referee pointed to the spot and Matheson chipped it into the upper right portion of Solo’s net for the goal.
Reign FC still took a 2-1 lead into halftime and played lockdown defense in the second half while No. 1 shut the door on the Spirit. She finished a flawless second half despite a late incident on a free ball. Hope leaped to corral a cross in the closing minutes of the game, but a Washington player arrived late, causing a hard collision that sent No. 1 to the turf. Hope still managed to finish the game and preserve the win, Seattle’s seventh in their last eight matches.
After the game, Hope commented on the group’s strong play all season long and their desire to finish what they started in March of this year. With last season’s title match loss to Kansas City in the back of their minds, No. 1 and her teammates are focused on succeeding where they couldn’t a year ago.
“We know what it feels like to be the best team in the league last year. I truly believe that overall we were the best team last year, but then to walk away without winning the final didn’t sit well with any of us,” Hope explained. “For the main group of players to be back, knowing what it felt like last year, it does feel different, it feels like we have some unfinished business. And, it feels like we’re not going to be happy with only winning the shield, we have to go all the way this year.”
The Reign FC will begin that journey next Sunday on Moda Pitch at Memorial Stadium in Seattle, when they open the playoffs with a rematch against the same Washington Spirit squad that they defeated Saturday night in D.C.
The victor of that game will cement a spot in the NWSL final against the winner of the match between the Chicago Red Stars and FC Kansas City, which will be played Sunday morning (10:30 a.m. PT) on FOX Sports 1.
The Reign and Spirit then play in the nightcap, beginning at 6:30 p.m. PT, and that game can also be seen on Fox Sports 1.