The Seattle Reign walked on the Moda Pitch at Memorial Stadium as the defending NWSL Shield holders to open with 2015 season with the objective of being one game better than last season. When they walked off after ninety minutes of play, they did so as 5-1 victors over the visiting Western New York, courtesy of a full team effort keynoted by Megan Rapinoe’s first NWSL hat-trick.
The match started tentatively, with both teams struggling to control the ball through the neutral third, but unable to sustain possession, with the first real chance coming in the 14th minute with a Kim Little strike which was taken cleanly by Sabrina d’Angelo.
The intensity would continue to buzz around the Reign attack, with runs at the Flash defense coming down both flanks, and occasionally down the middle. In the 37th, Bev Yanez was fouled in the penalty area, leaving the deadly Kim Little over the ball for the penalty kick. Little would put the ball to d’Angelo’s right, but also wide of the post.
The half would close without further scoring, with the Flash not having generated much offense directed toward Hope Solo, but not having yielded another. Jordan Angeli came on for Western New York in midfield at the half, and helped clear a Seattle flurry out of harm’s way in the 47th minute, leading to a counterattack which generated a scoring chance for the flash and Reign defender Kendall Fletcher slow to rise off the turf. Fletcher would leave briefly after the collision for attention from the medical staff, before returning in the 53rd minute, just in time to celebrate with her teammates as Beverly Yanez took a pass from Kim Little following a run at the middle of the Flash defense and slotted it into the twine to give the Reign the 2-0 cushion.
The visitors from Rochester weren’t prepared to pack it in yet, though, and came storming back to generate good pressure in the middle of the frame, culminating in a 68th minute goal by Jordan Angeli, who converted a cross from her fellow midfielder Samantha Mewis past Solo to trim the gap to 2:1 in favor of the Reign.
With the Reign attack finding success with Merritt Mathias on the right flank, Rapinoe made a nice diagonal run into the box from her position on the left wing, out-jumped her marker in getting to Mathias’ cross, and headed the ball home to restore the two-goal margin.
Mathias, who had struggled with cramping, gave way to Amber Brooks, recently acquired in the deal which sent Sydney Leroux to the Flash, and the newcomer lost no time getting involved in the action, finding Jess Fishlock loose at the top of the 6-yard area. D’Angelo blocked Fishlock’s drive, but the rebound went straight to Rapinoe, who headed it into the net for her second marker in three minutes.
Scottish international and defending NWSL Player of the Year and Golden Boot laureate Kim Little would give way in the 78th minute, yielding to Danielle Foxhoven as Laura Harvey continued using her substitutes to send more speed at the tiring legs of the Flash defenders. Aside from the penalty miss, Little had a solid game in the attacking midfield, registering the assist on Yanez’ goal, but seemed troubled as the match wore on by an abrasion suffered on a hard foul in the 57th which saw Angeli booked for the hard foul.
With the tally at 4-1, and the Western New York defenders tiring, the Reign attack showed some new creativity. Foxhoven found left back Stephanie Cox free after a surprising run from deep in her end, with d’Angelo forced to scramble to cover the ball. In the ensuing stoppage, Seattle made their final substitution, bringing on Kiersten Dallstream for Yanez.
With time winding down, the ledger had yet to be closed, and Rapinoe completed her hat trick with a spectacular give-and-go with Fishlock, leaving referee Christina Unkel momentarily confused as to which of the platinum blondes had tallied- at first walking toward Fishlock, who joyously pointed toward Rapinoe.
Next Saturday, the Reign travel to the outskirts of Chicago, to take on the Red Stars before closing out the month of April with a reprise of last year’s final in a midweek battle with FC Kansas City. They return home the following Saturday for another revisit of last season’s playoffs, hosting the Washington Spirit who they ousted 2:1 in last year’s penultimate match.