Hope Earns Shutout As Reign Win Preseason Opener

The Seattle Reign began a stretch of three exhibition games in seven days in Portland on Sunday night as they took on the host Thorns, and in her first NWSL action since late last year, Hope Solo was up to the challenge.

No. 1 kept the net covered and the sheet clean as the Reign began their preseason slate with a 2-0 win. After a scoreless first half between the two rival teams, Havana Solaun and Jess Fishlock logged second half goals to send Seattle to the exhibition victory.

The win was the Reign’s third straight over the rival Thorns, dating back through last season. Afterward, Portland defender Meghan Klingenberg, one of Hope’s USWNT teammates, called Seattle the best team in the league coming out of last season. Thorns coach Mark Parsons also complimented Seattle, and noted that the Reign were a big test for his squad.

“It was a great opportunity today to play a good team,” Parsons said. “It’s painful to lose to Seattle. I’m not going to hide that. That’s been with me for three years and it’s been with this club for three years…a great thing about playing this team is that they press, which means if you’re not good on the ball, you get punished.”

In the early going, it was Portland on the attack. In the 10th minute, a pass from another USWNT teammate Lindsay Horan sprung Portland’s Christine Sinclair into the box with the ball and Sinclair sent a cross through the box that left Hope scrambling to her right, but Seattle defender Elli Reed got to the ball before Portland’s Dagny Brynjarsdottir could put it on net, clearing it to safety.

A few minutes later, Hope made her lone save of the night when she punched away a beautifully curled ball from Klingenberg toward the back post where Brynjarsdottir was waiting. No. 1 went full extension to dive to her left and knock the ball away from the net.

The Thorns then saw their best chance to get one board go by the wayside in the 26th minute.

Klingenberg hustled to save a through ball that was headed out of bounds. She kept it in at the endline, shook a defender to get inside the eight-year box and then curled the ball toward the middle of the net, sending Hope again to her left. The ball was headed away from her to the right by Sinclair, who sent it high in the air. It originally appeared ticketed to wind up above the net, but the bizarre arc of the ball actually sent it careening down off the crossbar, coming mere inches from finding the back of the net. It then bounced to the middle of the box, but fortunately the carom confused even Portland’s players and there was no one in range to fire the rebound, allowing Seattle to clear it.

One more chance to break the scoreless tie came for Portland in the 44th minute, when a free kick from another USWNT veteran Tobin Heath curled into the center of the box, where a Seattle player got her head on the ball, but accidentally sent it bouncing toward the net. Fortunately the ball went wide of the net with Hope waiting at the post to keep it scoreless.

The Reign too had some chances in the first half, but strong play from the Thorns defense and keeper Michelle Betos kept the score knotted at 0-0 after the first 45.

Fishlock

The second half saw Seattle’s experience win out over the youthful Portland squad. But first came one more scare from the Thorns side. In the 52nd minute, a tremendous individual effort by Heath got the ball into dangerous territory for the Reign and after a well choreographed back tap play between Heath and Sinclair got the USWNT veteran the ball back, she sent Brynjarsdottir bounding into the box with the ball and chance to fire on Hope’s net. However, her strike flew high and wide of the net to Hope’s left, ending the threat.

As the half went on, Seattle started to dominate possession before finally breaking through in the 75th minute. The icebreaker came seemingly out of nowhere after Fishlock sent the ball across the field to Kim Little near midfield. Little settled the ball down then chipped it into the box, where it found Havana Solaun, who had just entered the game mere minutes earlier. Solaun made a nice play to settle the ball down and evade a defender, then pushed a shot with her right foot on a low line toward the left post, where it squirted past a diving Betos to put the Reign on the board.

It was the first goal as a member of the Reign for Solaun, Seattle’s pick in the 2015 NWSL Draft out of the University of Florida. Solaun missed the entire 2015 regular season after suffering a broken ankle in last year’s preseason finale against the University of Washington.

The goal added some confidence to the Seattle attack and they kept coming for the rest of the contest. After a few missed opportunities, they cashed their second final goal of the game in the 77th minutes. This one came off a corner kick from Lauren Barnes, which Fishlock rose up to flick toward the left post, past Betos to make it 2-0. The Reign held tight from there to come away with an exhibition win to kick off what they hope will be a championship season.

NEXT UP

The Reign remain in Portland for two more games this week, Wednesday against the Houston Dash and Saturday against the Oregon State University women’s team. However Hope will miss both of those contests, as well as Seattle’s final exhibition contest on April 9 back in Seattle against her alma mater the University of Washington.

That’s because after Sunday’s game, Hope headed off to another training camp with the United States Women’s National Team as they prepare to play two friendlies with Colombia early next month. Those two games will be played on Wednesday, April 6 at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Conn. and Sunday, April 10 at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa.

The Reign open their 2016 regular season slate a week later on Sunday, April 17 at home inside Seattle’s Memorial Stadium. Hope is expected to be back with the team and in net for the opener, which begins at 4 p.m. PT.

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