The Reign can clinch the No. 2 spot and host a playoff game with a win on Saturday.
As if anticipation to secure a playoff berth wasn’t intense on its own, the Seattle Reign FC wasn’t certain it would play at all Tuesday night until an hour before it was set to face Houston.
Puget Sound Clean Air Agency declared the air at unhealthy levels throughout the day in the region because of smoke from wildfires in California and Canada. But the National Women’s Soccer League opted to continue as planned and implement breaks for the players.
“The dust in the air made it harder to always scream and yell,” Reign goalkeeper Lydia Williams said. “It helped that there were two breaks in each half where we could squirt a water bottle and wipe away whatever was on your face.”
Said Houston coach Vera Pauw: “My concern is for the future. We didn’t need the breaks; the breaks were fake safety … the problem comes later, if there is one.”
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Despite the conditions, Seattle managed to defeat Houston 2-0 to clinch its first playoff berth since 2016. The Reign (11-4-7, 40 points) can clinch second place (and host a playoff game) if it defeats league-leading North Carolina (53 points) on Saturday or Portland (33) and Chicago (31) don’t win their remaining matches.
After multiple missed opportunities to score in the opening half by Jodie Taylor, the forward had back-to-back goals after the break. The first in the 58th minute was off a cross by Theresa Nielsen. Teammate Megan Rapinoe helped follow the play up with an assist that Taylor placed in the back of the net from 25-yards out in the 61st minute.
The Reign returned to the playoffs and climbed to second in NWSL standings with 12 new players, including Taylor, and a new coaching staff.
“We’re ahead of where we want to be, but I’m not going to complain about it,” Reign coach Vlatko Andonovski said.
A smattering of fans, including youth soccer teams, risked the conditions to attend the game. The majority didn’t bother to wear masks.
Playing in Tuesday’s smoky haze was a further reminder of the tragedy occurring in California for Rapinoe. The Redding native has a tattoo of the state on the inside of her right biceps. She shared afterward how the Carr wildfire in particular has destroyed her hometown but not her parents’ home.
Rapinoe launched a fundraiser on Facebook to aid the Shasta Regional Community Foundation, looking to raise $100,000. By game time, 202 people donated a total of $14,079.
“My mom’s co-worker lost her house and my sister’s co-worker, too, people I’ve known for years,” Rapinoe said. “Redding is going to have a very long, arduous cleanup and rebuilding process. If I can be a part of that in any way I can, that’s special to me.”
NOTE: Taylor was named to England’s women’s national team for the Lionesses’ upcoming World Cup qualifying matches. England will play Wales on Aug. 31 and Kazakhstan on Sept. 4. The NWSL playoffs don’t begin until Sept. 16.