The opening NWSL regular season match for the Washington Spirit (0-1-0) and the Seattle Reign FC (1-0-0) went well for Seattle as they topped the Spirit 2-1 in Seattle this past Saturday in front of 3,561 fans.
While the Spirit dominated the possession of the ball for the entire match, they could not hold off the Reign from scoring twice in the first half. The first goal was on a free kick by Seattle Reign forward Megan Rapinoe. When Allie Long was fouled in the final third of the third of the field, Rapinoe took the kick. She bent the ball over a wall of Spirit players and into the high left corner of the net. The ball passed just out of reach of the Spirit keeper Aubrey Bledsoe who launched herself with no hope of a gentle landing at the incoming ball. Reign 1, Spirit 0.
Rapinoe’s free kick showed why she is a leading striker, globally, in the world of women’s professional soccer. Throughout the first half, Rapinoe made space for herself often leaving her unmarked by the Spirit defense. The Reign took full advantage of that oversight and fed Rapinoe the ball often. In the 35th minute Rumi Utsugi laid a ball off to Rapinoe who fed it to English international forward Jody Taylor. Taylor’s light foot on the shot to goal had enough pace to not be sufficiently deflected by Bledsoe’s dive to stop it. The Reign scored again, marking two goals on the sheet and Spirit holding tight at 0.
The Spirit just could not hold off the Reign’s attack speed in the first half. Fortifying the attacks of Taylor and Rapinoe, the Reign’s midfield, led by U.S. international Allie Long, showed indomitable strength and aggression in the first half. By comparison, the Spirit looked passive. Seattle had Washington on their heels the whole of the first half. At halftime, the Reign was ahead 2-0.
At the opening of the second half, head coach Jim Gabarra substituted Tori Huster with Joanna Lohman, the first time Lohman has played since her season-ending injury in last year’s opening match in the National Women’s Soccer League. In the 65th minute, Lohman tallied the Spirit’s first goal of the season. A pass from Argentine international forward Estefania Banini to Lohman set Lohman up for a quick shot through the rare slot in the Reign defense to find the back of the net, narrowing the Reign’s lead 2-1.
For the Spirit, the second half did not look like the first half at all, as they took control of the match. Their conditioning and stubbornness started wearing on the Reign. While the first half looked like a never-ending attack by the Reign, the second half was the opposite, as the Spirit went on an unrelenting attack. Reign goalie Michelle Betos was put to task keeping the Spirit offense at bay.
While pairing Banini and U.S. international forward Mallory Pugh up front proved to be a great plan from the Spirit coaching staff, the two are still learning to work with one another. However, the more they play together and pick up the synchronized magic of championship teamwork, the more they will be trouble for every NWSL team. More than a moment of that magic was seen in the match against Seattle.
Washington Spirit’s next match will be March 31 at home against the Orlando Pride. The match will be on Maureen Hendricks Field at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds at 3:30 p.m. Lifetime channel will air the match live as the NWSL game of the week. Reserved seating is nearly sold out.