It wasn’t supposed to end that way.
The Seattle Reign was supposed to be the one whooping it up on the field, not trudging off dejectedly, in stunned disbelief.
The Reign, after all, had made the National Women’s Soccer League its own personal playground this year. Laden with world-class talent, the Reign had lost just twice all year heading into Sunday’s title match against FC Kansas City at Starfire Sports Complex.
Logic and form said this was going to be the club’s valedictory, the triumphant culmination of a stunning one-year turnaround. But logic and form are often an overmatched combination on the field.
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And so it was that the Reign, 16-2 with six draws and a plus-30 goal differential in the regular season, got a feel for how the 2001 Mariners felt when their 116-win season ended in the frustration of an ALCS loss to the New York Yankees.
“It’s just pure disappointment right now,’’ said NWSL Most Valuable Player Kim Little, the league’s leading scorer but held without a goal by Kansas City.
“We do remember the games, but at the end of the day, those 25 (the regular season plus a semifinal playoff win over the Washington Spirit) don’t really count for much,’’ added midfielder Jessica Fishlock. “It’s these games that matter.”
With four members of the U.S. Women’s national team on its side, the Reign was pursuing perfection. Seattle went 16 games, and nearly three months, before suffering its first loss.
“Even when we tied games this year, it wasn’t good enough for us,’’ said forward Megan Rapinoe.
Which is why Sunday’s result hurt so much. Which is why Seattle coach Laura Harvey knew that a mammoth opportunity had slipped away. With the World Cup being contested next year, and the Olympics in 2016, the next two years for the NWSL will be truncated and inevitably disjointed.
“I think the hard thing for us now is how to make this team better,’’ Harvey said. “To be honest, I’m not sure how you do that. That’s the thing we have to try to overcome. I think next year will be a very tough year with the schedule, the World Cup, so I don’t think it will look anything like this year.”
Harvey added quietly, “No one will have a season like we had. It won’t happen again.”
Kansas City is a talent-laden team as well, including four national team members of its own. While Seattle dominated possession throughout most of the game, making eight shots on goal to KC’s three, it struggled to convert before Rapinoe pushed across its lone goal in the 87th minute.
By that time, the game’s Most Valuable Player, Lauren Holiday, had twice fed Amy Rodriguez for shots past Seattle goalkeeper Hope Solo — much to the audible pleasure of her husband in the stands, NBA player Jrue Holiday, brother of former Husky basketball star Justin Holiday.
Lauren Holiday and A-Rod — yes, that’s what they call her — are friends since age 16 and housemates, in addition to playing together on Team USA. They possess that sixth sense only long-time teammates have — “a chemistry built through the years,” in the words of Kansas City defender Becky Sauerbrunn.
To Harvey, it was clear what made the difference in this game compared to the three previous meetings with KC — a Seattle win and two draws.
“That’s why,’’ she said, gesturing over to Rodriguez, conducting an interview nearby. “She’s standing right next to me. She’s an exceptional talent, and when you give her time on the ball, she’ll absolutely destroy you. And that’s what we did. We gave her time on the ball twice.
“This lady next to me just has that killer instinct and can score and create goals off opportunities that no one else can.”
Rodriguez was actually supposed to be a member of the Reign last year, but became pregnant about a month after the allocation and sat out the season. Seattle traded her to FC Kansas City for Kristie Mewis during the offseason. (Mewis was later traded to Boston as part of the deal that brought U.S. National star Sydney Leroux to Seattle).
“I wasn’t able to play for Seattle, which I was a little bummed out about,’’ Rodriguez said. “I had family here, and I wanted to play here. I was very excited to come back and play for them, and then I got the phone call I was traded. I was kind of taken off guard, but it’s worked out for me. It worked out for them, too. They’ve got an exceptional squad.”
Seattle was indeed exceptional in 2014. But the hollow ending will take awhile for the Reign to get over.