Sometimes, history repeats itself. Other times, it follows the same script, but the ending becomes more painful. On Sunday evening, the Washington Spirit were defeated 2-1 by the Seattle Reign in the NWSL semi-finals. In a match strikingly similar to the one the teams played on August 9th, the Spirit took a lead, only to have the first place Reign come back in devastating fashion.
For the first 70 minutes of the match, the Spirit looked poised to “end the Reign.” It started early in the first half when Kerstin Garefrekes got a wide open look and ripped a shot, which was saved by Hope Solo. The rebound came out to Jodie Taylor, whose shot was also saved. The Spirit would maintain that pressure throughout the contest. Seattle was able to match that tempo. They challenged Ashlyn Harris with 7 shots in the first half. Both keepers were excellent, and the first half ended 0-0.
The second half would be a continuation, with the pressure mounting. In the 61st minute, manager Mark Parsons subbed Veronica Perez in for Yael Averbuch. The move proved fruitful almost immediately. Diana Matheson cut back a pass from the end line to midfielder Veronica Perez, who took one touch before burying a shot past goalkeeper Hope Solo to give the Spirit a 1-0 lead. With less than 30 minutes to go, the Spirit were well positioned to advance to the championship. Then, the Reign showed why they are undefeated at home.
Just six minutes later, forward Sydney Leroux generated a chance inside the box. While defending the play, Spirit defender Toni Pressley was whistled for a handball. Stepping to the line to take the penalty was NWSL Golden Boot winner Kim Little. She confidently buried it past Harris. The whistle from the ref indicated a player stepped into the box before the kick was taken, giving the Spirit another chance. Regardless, Little sent the penalty past Harris to even the score at 1-1.
In the 78th minute, the Reign were called for a handball in the box, giving the Spirit an opportunity to retake the lead. Diana Matheson took the penalty, but her shot was saved by Solo. With the Reign’s converted penalty, followed shortly by a saved penalty, Seattle firmly took control of the match.
In the 82nd minute, they broke through to take the lead. After stripping Pressley on the backline, Megan Rapinoe dribbled into the box, then fired a brilliant shot past Harris to give the Reign a decisive 2-1 lead. Rapinoe had been active all day, creating innumerable chances.
The victory brings the Reign to the NWSL Championship match against FC Kansas City. The defeat marks the end of the season for the Spirit. The sting of losing a game this grueling, being so close to the championship is always tough. Yet, to make the playoffs one year removed from a last place finish is a tremendous accomplishment. It was a season filled with excitement and triumph for the Spirit.