In a sane world, the main topic of this writeup would be the two sensational goals scored by Jess Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe to give Seattle the win.
Instead, it all started when the Spirit announcer messed up and announced Hope Solo’s as #2 instead of #1, then quickly corrected himself. Spirit season ticket holders have gotten used to these little goofs, whether it’s introducing Robyn Gayle as Crystal Gayle, getting Ali Krieger’s number wrong, saying Mike Jorden is the head coach, or failing to announce Crystal Dunn at all.
Then early in the game, Seattle owner Bill Predmore was at the Reign bench and refused to leave when asked despite it being explicitly against the NWSL rules for him to be there. Reportedly, he threw away the phone of the poor Spirit volunteer who asked him to leave. (I’d really like to hear about some repercussions for Predmore here, particularly since some of the activity on the field by his players was at about the same level of decorum.)
Meanwhile, on the field 15 minutes in Megan Rapinoe got around right flank defender Whitney Church to send a cross in. Katherine Reynolds was able to head the ball clear at the goalmouth, but it fell right to a wide open Fishlock, who had plenty of time to collect the ball and fire it toward goal from about 25 out. It deflected slightly off a Spirit defender and went into the upper right corner past a leaping Ashlyn Harris.
Ten minutes later Reign forward Merritt Mathias won a fight for the ball in the corner of the box and kicked it out to Megan Rapinoe, who, just as wide open as Fishlock, fired it into the upper left-hand corner past a leaping Harris.
Both goals came off of breakdowns in the Spirit’s right flank, as did an earlier opportunity that was unsuccessful, which gives fuel to those who think Ali Krieger – who was the only Spirit player to even try to challenge Rapinoe – should be playing at right back rather than rookie Whitney Church.
The Spirit got one back in the 37th minute when Matheson was taken down just inside the box. She stepped up to take the penalty and fooled Hope Solo completely, sending her to the left while she sent the ball into the upper right corner where it would have been virtually impossible to save.
The Reign would have the first good chance of the second half when in the 56th minute sub Katrine Veje with her very first touch launched a shot from just inside the box toward the upper right that looked like a certain goal until Harris leaped and tipped it over the bar.
The Spirit’s best chance possibly of the match came in the 64th minute when Dunn sent a cross in toward Franny Ordega, who from six yards out somehow missed the goal entirely.
In the 77th minute, Christine Nairn sent a free kick into the goalmouth, but Megan Oyster headed it high.
The game got chippy late, and the officiating was not up to standards. Dunn got a talking-to early for going for a 50-50 ball. Late in the game, Hayley Raso collided with Solo going for a 50-50 ball in a play that hurt both of them. She got a yellow card for her pains, a bunch of Reign players yelling at her from point-blank range, and according to some fans a punch in the back from one of the same players. Meanwhile, Fishlock wrestled Nairn to the ground at one point and came at Harris with a studs-up slide at another with no concern expressed by the CR.
After the game, our very first interview was with Fishlock. This is a straight transcription of her first words to us:
“We had a job to do when we came here. We’re tired. We just played three games in seven days and it takes a lot out of you. We came here with a job to do. Tactically we did that fine, especially the first half we tactically outdid Washington. And then we started to get tired.
“And I think it got chippy because I have so much respect for Washington Spirit as an organization and I have so much respect for Ashlyn but what they did at the beginning of the game to disrespect Hope Solo and us as an organization and disrespected a goalkeeper that’s won Golden Glove in the World Cup. It’s actually a little bit disgusting. So I think that’s why we had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder because we’re a team. We protect our teammates and it’s just unnecessary to do that to such a, one, high-profile international player, and two, to a team who’s just done history in this league.”
We were looking at each other trying to figure out what the heck she was talking about. Eventually Jen Gordon and Beau Dure realized it was the announcer slip and tried to persuade her it was an honest mistake.
Meanwhile, some online discussions have either concluded she was joking or that Dure – the first to report it – had made it up. Well, it’s on YouTube here – you decide.
Things got saner when we talked with Laura Harvey, who noted that Seattle had taken their foot off the gas last year, and it had cost them. “It wasn’t the Kansas game last year. It was the Washington semifinal. They came to us last year on the front foot, on a high because they’d pushed into the playoffs. And I felt that they were on the front foot, and we weren’t. So we said a long time ago if we get into the playoffs, we are going to try to win every game. If we get into the playoffs in August, we’re going to try and win every game. If we win the Shield, we’re going to try and win every game. When we didn’t start our players toward the end of last season, we lost our rhythm a little bit.”
Harvey also nominated Spirit players for a couple of postseason awards. “Crystal Dunn has been fantastic this year. She is without doubt the MVP. I don’t even think it’s contest. Kim [Little]’s run her close I think but she’s done so well in this period all through the league but I’m a true believer in that if you don’t let her get the ball then she doesn’t do as much.”
“I think Megan Oyster’s Rookie of the Year. I think she’s very underrated. I thought she caused a lot of problems.”
We asked both Matheson and Dunn about facing Seattle twice in a row. “We’re happier with this performance than the last three games,” said Matheson. “Obviously, we beat them last game and put up a good rep this game, so we’re looking forward to the next one.”
“Yeah, it’s a little weird,” said Dunn, “but we’re ready for it, and it’s good to actually play them and play them again in such a short amount of time. We know their style of play, and it’s going to be very fresh in our minds, and I think it’s going to be easier for us to go into the next game with a different feel for it.”
As for what the team needed to do better, Dunn said, “I think we’ve got to tweak a little bit, just winning the second balls. We did a good job of battling for the first ball, but the second balls we weren’t winning, and that’s when we got it shoved back down our throats. It’s not anything we really need to fix. I think it’s an effort thing, and I think today maybe our legs just weren’t there. ”
Head coach Mark Parsons was happy despite the result. “If you remove those two excellent goals – and obviously we had mistakes in those goals – we were really happy with the first half. Our perspective is we haven’t played football for three games. We haven’t gotten into our rhythm and played our game. I think both teams were good on the ball tonight, but they were defensively better.
“We’re traveling to a club that we know, to a team that we know. In the semi we put in an excellent performance. It’s a place we know, and we feel good.”
Most of us thought Krieger looked uncomfortable in the midfield, but he disagreed. “If she’s not looking comfortable, I’d love to see what comfortable looks like. I thought that was her best game. Kim Little wasn’t in the game because Krieger was in there and doing her job.” (Not sure who was supposed to be doing a job on Fishlock and Rapinoe.)
Harris, though, had numerous areas to critique. “I think it’s small details that we stray away from a lot of times, and that’s not leaving one of the best midfielders in the world time on the ball to shoot in and around the 18. Those are just little errors upstairs that we’ve got to switch on and figure out.
“I think we kept the ball well but at the end of the day we’ve got to test goalkeepers, we gotta shoot because we’re not going to score if we just possess. So I think there has to be a better combination of really going at players and attacking and shooting because tonight I don’t think we tested Hope (Solo) enough and I think that’s been the problem the last few weeks.
“We’ve got to be way more compact in the back. We were leaving too big of spaces, too big of gaps, and great teams like Seattle are going to expose us.”
So for the second year in a row the Washington Spirit go out to Seattle to play the Reign in the #1-#4 semifinal, which will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 starting at 9:30 pm EDT. Is a true rivalry – something that’s been lacking in WoProSo since the WUSA folded – starting to form? We’ll see.