Hope Solo and the Seattle Reign FC came up just short of the title at the end of the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League season. But this Thursday, they have a shot at revenge and a happy ending to the 2015 campaign.
The Reign take on FC Kansas City in the NWSL Championship match on Thursday night in Portland, a rematch of last year’s NWSL title tilt, which was won, 2-1, by the Kansas City squad. The Reign won the Shield, the league’s regular season championship, on the way to that match last year and have done so again this season, leaving them with one last obstacle to overcome in their quest for a championship. No. 1 is anxious for the rematch, and another shot at glory.
“For the final, it’s going to be a rematch of last year’s final and great players on each side. Amy Rodriguez kind of has my number,” Hope said. “She’s a great goal scorer, one of the best in the world at scoring goals.”
Rodriguez, a teammate of Hope’s on the United States Women’s National Team, indeed got the better of their meeting in the 2014 final. The Kansas City forward tallied both goals for her team, while another National Team member, midfielder Lauren Holiday, assisted on both scores in the 2-1 win for FCKC over Reign FC.
Two more USWNT members, defender Becky Sauerbrunn and midfielder Heather O’Reilly, help fill out a stacked Kansas City roster. Holiday and Rodriguez lead the way offensively, though. Holiday was the 2014 postseason MVP and Rodriguez adds great pace to the KC attack, shown by her six goals in 11 NWSL appearances in 2015.
With two players she has an extensive history both with and against, Hope knows the Reign are in for a serious challenge.
“Amy is very difficult to read, so it’ll be fun to play against her and obviously Lauren Holiday—all their players are great,” Hope said. “And all our players are great, so it should be a final off all finals for all the fans. I’m excited. I love competitive matches.”
The current scene mirrors that of last season. The Reign finished both the 2014 and 2015 with the best record in the NWSL, and they moved past the Washington Spirit in the semifinal with ease. Last year, Seattle fell to Kansas City in the final, but now the Reign FC is poised to make amends for that defeat.
Seattle and Kansas City have split two regular-season matches this year. Rodriguez beat Hope for a score in a 1-0 KC win in Seattle’s third contest of the season. The Reign then exacted revenge on June 27, posting a 2-1 win on Moda Pitch at Memorial Stadium behind goals from Kim Little and Beverly Yanez.
Little, Yanez and Jessica Fishlock led the way for the Reign throughout the season, particularly while Hope and Megan Rapinoe were out of lineup competing in the World Cup. Little finished the season with the most combined goals and assists in the NWSL with 17 (10 goals, 7 assists). As always, Fishlock will be an X-Factor for Seattle against Kansas City.
Little and the offense will need to be on top of their game against Sauerbrunn and the Kansas City defense. FCKC has ranked in the Top 3 in goals conceded in each of the past three years. The KC ladies gave up the fewest goals in 2015 with 20, while Seattle was second with 21.
Even while Hope was out of the lineup, leading the USWNT this season, the Seattle back line was strong. Backup keeper Hayley Kopmeyer also filled in admirably. She went 7-1-3, allowing just one goal per game.
Hope returned in an Aug. 12 win over the Houston Dash, and the Reign have been clipping ever since.
Following No. 1’s return, they’ve been 5-0-1 with a 13-4 scoring advantage, most recently blanking the Washington Spirit 3-0 in the NWSL semifinal. Reign FC and their star goalkeeper have been talking for months about having another shot at the NWSL title. Individually, Hope has been working hard for this moment, and she’s glad it has finally arrived.
“I’m excited. I really am,” Hope said ahead of the final. “Coming back from the World Cup, I was nursing my knee injury, and mentally you kind of come down from the World Cup. I was so intense during the World Cup, I took a couple of games off while I was nursing my knee, but you can only do that for so long until, as a competitive athlete, you want to keep competing again. I’m at that point now where I’m excited. I’m excited to bring my game to another level again.”
Seattle’s chance to reach that next level comes on Thursday night.
Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. PT from Portland’s Providence Park. The match will air on FOX Sports 1.