After spending a majority of her first playoff match getting roughed up and blanketed by visiting Washington, Seattle Reign FC midfielder Megan Rapinoe hardly expected to be running unscathed with the ball and the goal clearly in sight.
But there she was, easily scoring the go-ahead goal in the 82nd minute at Memorial Stadium as the Reign won 2-1 in the National Women’s Soccer League semifinals.
“I was surprised there wasn’t a foul called,” said Rapinoe of winning the ball against her defender. “I was like, ‘OK’ took a few touches and put my head down.”
The championship match will feature the top two teams in the league in top-seeded Seattle and FC Kansas City. The match will be Sunday at noon Starfire in Tukwila and televised on ESPN2.
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“To make the strides we’ve made in such a short amount of time is phenomenal,” said Reign FC coach Laura Harvey, whose club was last in the league last season. “We’re that close now to getting something that could be really special. But at the moment, relief is probably the best description of my feelings. That was one we just needed to get through.”
To open the scoring, Washington Spirit midfielder Veronica Perez hit a booming shot that landed in the left corner in the 66th minute.
Seattle had a penalty kick opportunity in the 70th minute. Kim Little’s first attempt was waved off after Seattle jumped the line. Little booted her second try to her left to even the score in the 72nd minute.
Washington had its own penalty kick in the 78th minute. Reign FC goalie Hope Solo dived to her right to deflect the shot. The crowd of 4,540 roared and chanted her name.
“The shots they had on goal, Hope had to come up big for,” Harvey said of Solo, who had 10 saves. “And credit to (goalkeeper coach) Ben (Dravgavon) because he did a lot of background on penalty kicks — where they’d go and what they’d do. He told Hope the side that (Diana) Matheson would go.
“It’s those little bits of detail that push you on to the next level. I’m just really happy that everyone came up big tonight.”
The match started just as Harvey predicted — with two teams mirroring each other in playing styles. Both teams had strong attacks in the first half. Solo had five saves.
Seattle couldn’t finish on its quick passing between teammates. It had five on-target shots, but the ball grazed the front of the goal, sailed high and was well defended when midfielder Keelin Winters appeared to have a head-on shot in the 44th minute.
Washington goalie Ashlyn Harris had seven saves in the first half to assure no scoring before the break.
Rapinoe, Sydney Leroux and Solo returned after leaving to compete with the U.S. Women’s National Team in a friendly against Switzerland in North Carolina on Wednesday.
The U.S. won 4-1 with Leroux assisting Rapinoe on a goal to open scoring in the match.
Before the match Sunday, Seattle was honored for winning the NWSL Shield. It locked down the regular-season title after defeating the Houston Dash 4-1 on July 30. The squad not only set a league record for total victories, but also set a record for most points scored in a season, passing the mark of last year by 16 points.
“Coming into this year, we knew we had something special,” Rapinoe said. “People have been waiting for the other shoe to drop but the quality on this team just doesn’t let up from top to bottom.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.