Reign FC gets a goal from Havana Solaun in the 66th minute to pick up a 1-0 win over Houston, but Seattle remains four points out of first place.
Even in victory, there is a sense of trepidation about this Seattle Reign that wasn’t there before.
The Reign controlled most of Sunday’s 1-0 win over the Houston Dash at Memorial Stadium, Havana Solaun rifling home the match’s only goal in the 66th minute. But there was more relief than swagger at the final whistle. Even with the win, Seattle (3-3-2) is still four points out of its familiar perch atop the NWSL standings.
Yet after two straight first-place finishes followed by championship game disappointments, Reign coach Laura Harvey is framing her team’s early-season inconsistency as necessary growing pains in the club’s pursuit of its first title.
“Let’s be honest: It hasn’t won us a championship,” Harvey said. “If this is what it takes to win the championship, I’ll take it. I’ll take the bad time now. No question. … We need to make sure, with the progression that we make, that we play our best when it matters.”
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The loss of invincibility has been most noticeable at home, where Seattle was unbeaten for two straight years but where it has already lost a pair of games this season.
Houston came in confidently with heads held high, maintaining a steady threat on the break. U.S. national team midfielder Morgan Brian was effective, especially in the opening 45 minutes, picking at the seams of the Reign defense.
Seattle’s attack started to click in the latter stages of the first half, Jess Fishlock dribbling the ball between a defender’s legs and Rachel Corsie blasting a rebound off the left post. The team was coming off a two-week break, looking rejuvenated.
“We are the team that probably has the most expectation around them,” Harvey said. “That can be a hard burden to have on your shoulders. I think, sometimes, you’ve seen that. We wanted to go back to them enjoying the game. It looked like they enjoyed it today.”
The identity of the goal-scorer fit with Harvey’s general theme.
Solaun broke into the starting lineup following last month’s Arsenal friendly, the laxity of an exhibition match allowing the second-year midfielder to play with greater freedom and fewer nerves. Solaun missed her entire rookie year with a foot injury suffered last preseason, and she’s easing into her increased role.
Her goal was a driven, pinpoint strike at the end of a lengthy passing move, and it held up for the remaining 24 minutes. Seattle is no longer invincible, but on Sunday afternoon, it was enough.
“Our job, no matter who we play, no matter what the team sheet looks like, is to have an air of being ridiculously hard to play against,” Harvey said. “I don’t think that being invincible creates that. Just doing the basic things really well will give you an opportunity to win the games.
“When we went on the 16-game unbeaten run (in 2014), we played poorly and won games. And great. But then when it really mattered, we couldn’t do it. (The league title) is that one last thing that this group wants to achieve. That’s what makes them who they are, that challenge.”