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NWSL: Early lead not enough for Seattle Reign as Washington Spirit win 4-2

By Liviu Bird

TUKWILA, Wash. — Seattle Reign FC found some much-needed offense against the Washington Spirit on Thursday, doubling their 2013 goal-scoring tally. However, it wouldn’t be enough to keep the Spirit from earning their first win of the year, by a 4-2 score.

Seattle got on the scoreboard quickly after some strong early pressure. In the sixth minute, Lindsay Taylor chested down a cross from Kristina Larsen just outside the penalty area and side-volleyed a shot into the far post. It was Seattle’s second lead of the season and its first since opening day.

“When I hit it, I knew it was going towards the goal and had a good chance to go in, so it felt pretty good,” Taylor said of her first professional goal.

The Reign got forward on multiple counter attacks and through the wings as the half wore on. The Larsen-Taylor combination almost paid off again in the 28th minute, as Larsen won possession in the midfield and sprung Taylor toward goal, but she shot comfortably wide of Ashlyn Harris’ left post.

Two minutes later, Taylor was nearly in again, but Domenica Hodak brought her down on the edge of the penalty area. Christine Nairn curled in a free kick that Harris saved, and Teresa Noyola sent a volley over the crossbar from eight yards out on the ensuing corner kick.

“At the end of the game, that’s the time that you look back and … really wish [we] could have put that one away,” Taylor said. “We had two or three chances in the first half where we could have put it away.”

Seattle came to rue their missed chances to extend the lead.

Spirit defender Robyn Gayle sent a long ball from the back in the 35th minute that found Diana Matheson streaking in from the right side. She settled and fired home from close range for her fourth goal of the season, tying her for the league lead with the Boston Breakers’ Sydney Leroux.

Five minutes later, Washington took the lead. Michelle Betos saved Lori Lindsey’s free kick and sprang to her feet to save Ali Krieger’s first rebound attempt, but the Seattle defense was slow to come to their goalkeeper’s aid. Krieger tapped in the third shot in the sequence, reversing the early deficit just before halftime.

“We concede stupid goals. We just let teams back into games, and we keep doing it,” Reign head coach Laura Harvey said. “Ultimately, you let a team score four goals against you, you’re not going to win a game.”

Just as they did in the first half, the Reign came out strong in the second. Noyola tied the game on a close-range header one minute after play resumed, crossed in by Christine Nairn on the right side.

But, again, the momentum would not last. Spirit forward Tiffany McCarty received a pass with her back to goal in the 56th minute from Lindsey. She outmuscled center back Emily Zurrer, creating enough separation to turn and squeeze a shot in at the far post.

“When we started both halves, we kept the ball well, and we moved it, and we put them under pressure,” Harvey said. “Then, we take our foot off the pedal and give the ball away, and then you have to keep defending and you automatically go onto the back foot. We’ve got to somehow change that.”

For the rest of the game, Washington looked more likely to score, keeping the ball in Seattle’s half for the majority of the time. The Spirit sealed the result when Lindsey whipped in another free kick, this one from the left flank, and Victoria Huster got her head above Betos’ outstretched arms to flick it in.

Seattle conceded four goals against Washington, moving past the Chicago Red Stars to the bottom of the league with 12 against. The Reign are still searching for their first victory, riding a five-game losing streak.

“We’ve got to keep the good standard we had on the attacking side, and we’ve just got to stop conceding silly goals,” Harvey said.

The Reign (0-5-1) have a chance to begin reversing that trend on Sunday, when they host Sky Blue FC (9 p.m. ET, broadcast live on NWSL’s YouTube channel). Washington (1-2-3) travel three hours south to play first-place Portland Thorns FC at Jeld-Wen Field (5 p.m. ET, broadcast live on NWSL’s YouTube channel).

NOTES:

• Reign defender Kate Deines went off with a right ankle injury in the 17th minute after stepping on a foot while defending a corner kick. Her injury adds on to the lengthy list of player absences for Seattle, which includes U.S. national teamers Hope Solo (wrist), Keelin Winters (ankle), Megan Rapinoe (under contract with Lyon) and Amy Rodriguez (pregnant), as well as defender Elli Reed (ankle).

U.S. women’s national team head coach Tom Sermanni was at Starfire for Thursday’s match and said Solo will likely resume full training by the end of the month.

• The official attendance of 1,011 at Starfire Stadium on Thursday was the second-lowest of the season in the league. The only match with a lower number was Sky Blue FC vs. Chicago Red Stars on May 8, which drew 688 fans.

“I think we knew that a Thursday night was always going to be tough,” said Harvey, who is also the team’s general manager. “We sort of pre-empted that tonight would be around 1,000, so we’re not surprised by that.”

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