The visiting North Carolina Courage defeat the Reign 4-1 to solidify its status as the top team in the league.
Despite getting out to an early lead, the Seattle Reign FC could not overcome a dominant attack from the visiting, first-place North Carolina Courage FC, which scored four unanswered goals to hand the Reign its third loss of the year.
The 4-1 result in what was arguably the Reign’s (5-3-4, 19 points) most important game of the regular season solidifies the Courage’s (10-1-3) status as the top team in the league with 33 points. The Orlando Pride took over the Reign’s spot at second place in the standings.
“North Carolina today was a better team than us. They deserved to win,” Reign coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “I’m not happy with the performance, absolutely not happy with the result.”
Said Reign defender Megan Oyster: “We knew North Carolina was going to come out really hard and put a lot of pressure on. I just don’t think we handled that pressure very well.”
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Things looked promising for the Reign in the first 25 minutes. After Reign defender Stephanie Catley got called for a handball inside the penalty area, goalkeeper Lydia Williams had a massive save on the ensuing Courage penalty kick in the eighth minute to maintain the scoreless tie.
Then, the Reign — which hadn’t scored in its previous two matches — struck first. In the 18th minute, Megan Rapinoe delivered the ball in front of the goal off a set piece. Oyster collected the Courage keeper’s deflection and sent the ball to the upper left corner, recording her first goal of the season and giving the Reign an early advantage.
It even looked as if the Reign were going up 2-0 shortly after, but Allie Long’s goal was called off after she was found offsides.
But then the Courage’s attack, which has been lethal all season, started to find the back of the net — not once, not twice, but four times.
“In the last game against the Washington Spirit, they sat back so we were used to having a bit more time on the ball. To go from that to 100 percent pressure all the time, always being on a one-on-one battle with somebody, it’s tough and it’s not something we were prepared for today,” Oyster said.
The disappointing defensive performance was unusual for the Seattle squad, which was undefeated at home and hadn’t allowed more than two goals in a match.
Meanwhile, the Courage, rebounding from its first loss of the season last week, was prepared to take full advantage and return to its usual dominance in visiting stadiums. Including Saturday’s result, the Courage has scored an NWSL-high 21 goals in seven road games.
The equalizer came in the 27th minute, when Jaelene Hinkle found Lynn Williams on a cross and Williams headed the ball toward the opposite post and past the Reign keeper. Six minutes later, the Courage clinched the lead with Crystal Dunn’s first goal of her brace, a rocket from just inside the box that slipped past Lydia William’s right side.
Before the game, Seattle had been the only team remaining in the NWSL that had not allowed a goal in the first 45 minutes of any match this season.
“(Before the first Courage goal) I thought we were playing a decent game,” Andonovski said. “One thing we thought would be their biggest weapon would be penetrating on the side, and crossing the ball in the box. That’s what hurt us in the end.”
The Courage outshot the Reign 16-4 in the first 45 minutes, and Williams recorded five saves in the first half alone. She ended the match with a season-high 10 saves.
Though the Reign only faced a 2-1 deficit at half, the potential for a comeback began to slip away early after halftime, the dagger being North Carolina’s Merritt Mathias’ stunning curving shot from well outside the box to put the Courage up by two goals.
Despite putting together more scoring opportunities in the second half, the Reign fell short in its attempt to erase the deficit, and Dunn added to the challenge by giving the Courage its final goal in the 70th minute.
“I said that everyone should look at their own game,” Andonovski said. “I thought that today we lost individual battles. If you look at one-on-one battles all over the field, they were better than us.”
With Saturday’s loss, the Reign remains winless against the North Carolina club, which has bested Seattle in their five matchups since the Courage first entered the league in 2017.
Saturday’s game also marked the first of three games the Reign will play in a week: The team heads east for a midweek matchup against the fourth-place Utah Royals (4-2-5, 17 points) before returning home to host the rival Portland Thorns (4-4-4, 16 points) on Saturday at 7 p.m.