For about a second, Megan Rapinoe was all alone.
Saluting the crowd with her left arm raised, she only had a few seconds before she was mobbed by the rest of her teammates.
Making her return to the OL Reign lineup and already with an assist and a goal to her name, the star winger simply needed to convert from the penalty spot for a second time against NJ/NY Gotham FC goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, the reigning NWSL Golden Glove winner, to give her team the win.
“I just try to do the same thing every time,” she said. “Just try to keep to my routine, I mean obviously there’s pressure on if I miss we’re not going to score (any more) goals in this game, so just trying to do the same thing every time and just do my routine.”
After going to Sheridan’s right the first time, Rapinoe coolly slotted home to the Gotham goalkeeper’s left, with 90 minutes on the clock, to secure the Reign’s 3-2 comeback, the first win since the appointment of coach Laura Harvey.
It also helps the Reign jump into third place in the NWSL with 22 points, just one point ahead of Gotham FC in fourth.
“That’s why she is who she is,” Harvey said. “In the biggest moments, she scores the goals that matter.”
Rapinoe was the difference Saturday night, as the winger’s brace dragged the Reign to victory, the team’s fourth win in its past five games, though none were quite as dramatic as Saturday night’s.
Despite welcoming back four of its players from the Olympics — Angelina, Quinn, Rose Lavelle and Rapinoe, with the latter two making the starting lineup — the Reign still wasn’t at full strength.
Star French forward Eugenie Le Sommer, who exited early in the Reign’s 2-0 loss to Kansas City during the past weekend, was ruled out due to concussion protocol. German midfielder Dzenifer Marozsan also missed out on the start after picking up a knock in the K.C. game as well, though she was fit enough to make the bench.
The biggest loss may have been defender Sam Hiatt. The Kirkland native, who’d developed a good partnership with Alana Cook in the heart of the defense, didn’t even make the bench. Left back Lauren Barnes slid over to center back and Kristen McNabb got the start.
The Reign’s new defense got off to an uncomfortable start. Nine minutes into the game, Gotham right back Elizabeth Eddy lofted a cross toward Carli Lloyd in the Reign penalty box. Barnes and McNabb went for the ball, colliding and allowing Lloyd to flick the header on for Onumonu, alone at the back post. She volleyed the ball into the roof of the net to make it 1-0.
Onumonu fired home to complete her brace just seven minutes later off a quick counter started by a Sheridan long ball. Despite taking 13 shots against Gotham’s three, the Reign was held scoreless in the first 45 minutes.
“There was some good stuff in there,” Rapinoe said. “A lot of it was just to be a little more aggressive, be more organized at the back, make sure we get our press right, and just kind of keep getting after them. We felt like it was right there.”
The Reign finally gained some momentum in the second half. In the 57th minute, McNabb atoned for her mistake, heading in a Rapinoe corner to halve the deficit, 2-1. It was the first goal the Reign scored with Harvey at the helm, coming after 147 scoreless minutes, and the second goal of McNabb’s career, coming four years after her first.
“We drew it up that way,” Harvey said. “But we had loads of opportunities to do that in the first half and we didn’t, so I think we can be a threat on set pieces. When you have (Rapinoe) delivering it, it’s a threat.”
The Reign continued to press, and Rapinoe’s first penalty goal was won by winger Sofia Huerta, who spun Gotham defender Allie Long near the edge of the box before going down in the 76th minute. Rapinoe equalized from the spot, before Rapinoe herself was brought down by Gotham’s Gina Lewandowski in the 89th minute, setting the scene for her second goal of the game.
“Every game I’ve been in with this league, there’s always been drama,” Harvey said. “When we were at this club before, drama always follows me around, so hold onto your hats, this is only the beginning. As long as it turns into three points every week, I’m good with it.”
The Reign is part of a doubleheader at Lumen Field on Aug. 29 as it faces the Portland Thorns at 4 p.m. The Sounders follow against the Portland Timbers at 7:30 p.m.