Aggression was turned to joy for Seattle in the 54th minute when forward Megan Rapinoe placed a header in the net siding for the game’s only goal in the 1-0 win over Utah at Memorial Stadium.
A testy Utah team took the soccer field against Seattle on Wednesday night.
But Reign FC players insisted the physical exchanges were more about needing wins in regard to playoff hopes than any true animosity between the teams. And it was Seattle that turned the aggression to joy with a 1-0 win at Memorial Stadium.
Forward Megan Rapinoe scored the goal by placing a header in the net siding in the 54th minute. Defender Stephanie Catley set up the play with a cross after a corner kick.
Rapinoe raced across the field and leaped into the arms of Seattle coach Vlatko Andonovski as part of her celebration.
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“I was totally surprised by it,” Andonovski said of the gesture. “In terms of the (play) and how we wanted to execute it, there was a little bit of doubt from some of the players. When it worked, I guess they wanted to celebrate with me.”
Rapinoe was quick to acknowledge she was a nonbeliever.
“You work on those plays all the time and it hardly ever comes off,” Rapinoe said. “But Vlatko drew up a pretty good play. … Credit to Steph, she played the perfect ball.”
A physical game was expected considering the background between the teams. The Royals are now led by former Reign FC coach Laura Harvey. She departed in November, taking over the Royals after a thwarted attempt to increase her role with U.S. Soccer.
Utah relocated from Kansas City where Andonovski coached, but he didn’t have his contract renewed last fall.
The emotions showed early with three yellow cards issued in the opening half. Utah (5-5-6) defender Samantha Johnson was the first to get awarded a yellow card, followed by teammate Rachel Corsie and Seattle (8-3-5) midfielder Allie Long.
“It is emotional, you can’t deny that,” said Seattle midfielder Jess Fishlock of playing her former coach.
“But the game was very important for both teams,” said Fishlock, who returned after missing the past five games with a quad injury. “For us, we know that if we have a good week, we put ourselves in a good place.”
It seemed the only pleasantries were during team introductions when Harvey received loud cheers from the 3,191 in attendance. She was named the club’s inaugural coach in 2012 and finished with a regular-season record of 51-33-26.
Harvey led the Reign FC to consecutive NWSL Shields and NWSL Championship matches. She’s the only NWSL head coach to win Coach of the Year multiple times.
She and her team left without speaking with the media.
“One of the reasons I ended up here is because Laura recommended me,” Andonovski said. “We have mutual respect for each other, but it made no difference in terms of this game. We wanted to get (the win).”