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Gordon: Three thoughts from an exciting finale at the Plex

Elli Reedwas burned for two goals in her final match, but they Reign rallied to send her off a winner (Photo Courtesy FC Kansas City)

The Seattle Reign scored in the waning moments of last night’s season finale to defeat the Washington Spirit 3-2. Jess Fishlock scored twice and Larissa Crummer added another in the Reign’s impressive come-from-behind victory. Here are a few thoughts on the final game of the season.

Entertaining Affair

After the Spirit’s less than aesthetically pleasing match against the Boston Breakers last week, suffice it to say not much was expected at the Maryland Soccerplex. Saturday’s affair ended up being decidedly different from the kickoff until final whistle.

As Washington Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra would later say postgame the Spirit’s “movement and our passing was probably as good as it has been all season in the first half.” The home side came out swinging recording its first shot on goal less than 10 minutes into the game. Last week, it took the side until after halftime to accomplish that feat.

From a possession and pass completion perspective, it was one of best halves of soccer the Spirit put in this season. Mallory Pugh recorded her first brace entirely from the run of play, fittingly so as she ran over the Seattle defense several times in the first half.

In the second half, Seattle had its way putting the pressure on the Spirit’s defense which eventually broke. Fishlock’s game-winner in the 90th minute was a bit of palate cleanser after a game last week that was decided by a truly bizarre 10 minute period in the second half.

History Repeats Itself for The Reign

With a lot of concerning news coming out regarding the league including the Reign as of late, it was a bit comforting to see an event happen for which there was historical precedent. It takes time to build a history which has been in scarce supply for women’s leagues in this country. Last night’s game-changing goal by Fishlock in the 90th minute was a fitting end for a player that helped a two-time shielding winning team create a history.

For the second time in as many seasons, the Reign came back from a two-goal deficit to win the season finale and send an “original” off in style.  Last year, the Reign battled back against the Houston Dash to send captain Keelin Winters off into the sunset. This year it was Elli Reed.

After the match, Seattle head coach Laura Harvey remarked that she made the same halftime speech as she did a year ago.

“She deserves this,” Harvey said. “ We had this same thing with Keelin last year where Keelin deserved to end on a good note and we all really pissed off in the Houston game where we weren’t doing that at halftime and I said the same in this halftime…In fairness, the girls showed up in the second half and did her proud and obviously you know getting the winner and Jess (Fishlock) coming over and the rest of the girls coming over to show how much this one’s played in our club’s history.”

Mallory Pugh

It’s worth noting that Pugh delivered on the teenage sensation hype. She faced a bombardment of attention rarely seen in women’s sports. After coming in mid-season with a ton of fanfare, Pugh notched a team-leading 6 goals and was easily the most formidable attacking player on the team. Often in postgame interviews, opposing coaches would note how dangerous she could be and how they needed to better limit her time or opportunities on the ball.

To put the numbers in perspective, Pugh recorded one less goal in three more minutes than the rookie Ashley Hatch, who plays for the North Carolina shield winning side. Six goals is an impressive haul while playing for the wooden spoon winning side.

Living up to hype isn’t an easy thing for young adults to do. This is often overlooked when they deliver. There’s a reason that draft bust is an oft-used phrase in American lexicon. Often players don’t make a successful transition to being professionals despite their talent. Just because expectations were high for Pugh after she decided to forego college, this unfortunate reality shouldn’t be forgotten.

In the final postgame interview of her rookie year, Pugh gave an insightful reflection on her first season in professional club soccer.

“It’s funny because us rookies we talk about oh this is quite a season to go through as a rookie but I look back at it now and they were so many growing opportunities for me. I think starting in May and ending now and I just look back at the type of player and the type of person and I just think I grew a lot with this team.”

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