Reign Drop Season Opener At Home

In a season-opening match on Sunday that saw two of the NWSL’s most talented clubs battle up and down the pitch all afternoon, every additional ounce of effort was necessary. So when Hope Solo made a brilliant penalty kick save late in the first half, Seattle Reign head coach Laura Harvey hoped the phenomenal play would be the spark her team needed.

But even that wasn’t enough to keep the team’s Memorial Stadium win streak marching on.

The save was one of four made by Hope against the Sky Blue FC squad Seattle faced in their home opener on Sunday, in front of nearly 4,000 fans. The PK stop helped keep the Reign within just one goal long enough for them to secure an equalizer early in the second half. However, Sky Blue took advantage of their other openings and broke the tie 15 minutes later on the way to a 2-1 upset, which snapped Seattle’s 23-match home win streak and handed Reign FC their first ever defeat at Memorial Stadium.

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“We never really got going,” Harvey said. “I had hoped Hope’s penalty save would help galvanize us a little bit, and if that doesn’t, I don’t know what can…The run here has been amazing, but I’m actually glad its over. I hate losing, but it’s done now and we don’t have to talk about it anymore.”

Seattle had their own opportunities, but the team’s offense wasn’t playing with its usual lethal tenacity, and the Reign couldn’t capitalize consistently to start the 2016 campaign.

After a few solid early opportunities for Seattle went for naught, it was Sky Blue that broke through a third of the way into the first half, facilitated by a play from Kelley O’Hara, Hope’s United States Women’s National Team teammate. In the 15th minute, with the Reign defense on their heels, O’Hara sent a pinpoint cross to Natasha Kai in the box. Hope retreated to protect the far post, but Kai knocked the ball back across the net and just past No. 1’s outstretched arm to give the visiting club a 1-0 lead.

“We didn’t play well enough to win the game,” Harvey said. “I just don’t think we did the things we usually do and normally do very well. We were sloppy in possession. I thought we were easy to play through and around, which just isn’t us.”

O’Hara was the catalyst for Sky Blue all afternoon in Seattle. Later in the first half, she pressured the Reign defense and earned a penalty. A goal would’ve given the visitors a commanding two-nil lead, but Hope was there to keep her team alive. Sarah Killion sent a laser beam to Hope’s right, but the Golden Glove winner dove and deflected the attempt.

The Reign netted the equalizer just eight minutes into the second half. The team’s top offensive playmaker, Kim Little, started play down the right side, then sent the ball toward Jessica Fishlock in the box. Fishlock gathered the ball and lofted it across the frame to the far post. Waiting there was Merritt Mathias, who sent a header home to knot the game at one.

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The Seattle offense had a few opportunities later in the second half, but in their first time out this season, the Reign just couldn’t put another one away. And where the Reign couldn’t capitalize, Sky Blue did. In the 67th minute, Taylor Lytle found free space and sent a cross into the post. Kelly Conheeney collected it and used a back heel to knock in the game winner.

“I don’t think we deserved to get anything out of the game today,” Harvey said. “That’s hard to say because when you come in — home opener, and you’ve waited so long — and you don’t perform, it’s difficult to swallow. But that’s how I thought it went.”

The Reign are back in action next Sunday for a meeting with the Boston Breakers in Allston, Mass. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. PT.

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