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After preseason, Reign already used to road trips

Seattle Reign FC players pose for a pregame photo in Japan, a trip that may have been exactly what they needed to prepare for a long road trip to start the NWSL season.

For a brand-new program participating in the highest level of women’s professional soccer in the United States, Seattle Reign FC must have found their schedule just a little bit daunting. They were set to play their first three games on the road in an inaugural season that also featured four games each against Portland Thorns FC and FC Kansas City.

So the Reign went to Japan. Instead of playing preseason games in the US, Seattle traveled halfway across the world for a three-match stint against some of Japan’s best teams. The Reign lost to two-time league champion INAC Kobe Leonessa but rebounded to win their final two contests in dominating fashion. In turn, the fledgling program gained confidence that it could succeed in the National Women’s Soccer League.

“We played against three professional clubs out there, which was really good for us,” said forward Liz Bogus. “(INAC) was very good. It’s early to say, but I think it’ll be very comparable to what we see in this league.”

On April 14, the injury-riddled Seattle side took the field against the Chicago Red Stars, a tough opening test on the road. Seattle wasn’t fielding any of the US National Team players allocated to them in February — with Hope Solo hurt, Megan Rapinoe in France, playing for Lyon, and Amy Rodriguez pregnant — and was missing two of its dangerous attackers, Tiffany Cameron and Lindsay Taylor. Still, as the lights shut off on the windy Sunday night in Lisle, Ill., the scoreboard glowed red with the final score — a 1-1 tie.

The Reign’s goal came on a quick attack following a Red Star goal kick when Christine Nairn headed Bogus’ cross from 20 yards out into the net. A recent Penn State graduate, Nairn’s preseason experience in Japan helped her acclimate to the faster, more physical professional game.

“If you take more than one or two touches you’re going to get hit,” Nairn said.

[MORE: Nairn scores as Reign draw Red Stars 1-1 in opener]

So she didn’t. The rookie’s diving header silenced the Chicago crowd, and she leapt skyward with a fist-pump as the Reign players mobbed Nairn in celebration of her first goal with the program.

After the opening tally, Seattle’s back line fought valiantly to preserve the lead. The Red Stars equalized on a quick attacking combination, but the Reign’s defense did just enough to help them earn a tough point on the road. And although coach Laura Harvey was disappointed that her side couldn’t hold on for a win, she was pleased at how her team performed in a difficult environment.

“Today was about coming out as a team, a new club, a new franchise,” Harvey said. “A point seems a pretty good result at this stage.”

[MORE: Seattle Reign FC’s trip to Japan indicative of global ambition]

Before playing its first home game, Seattle still travels to Portland on Sunday and Kansas City on April 26. Harvey hopes that the road trips will help the team create an identity for itself. After all, playing on the road is just what they’re used to.

“We knew that the first three games of the season were going to be difficult because every single one is a road trip away,” Harvey said. “Part of our preseason preparation was going to Japan, so we know a lot about doing that already. I actually think it could be a blessing for us.”

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