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Reign, Spirit streaks continue in FOX debut

The Reign are 4-0-2 since Megan Rapinoe came into the side. (Photo copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer.)

A return to the site of their only victory of the season was not enough to stop the Washington Spirit’s skid which extended to nine matches without a victory in a 2-1 loss away to Seattle Reign FC in the first televised NWSL contest.  Jessica McDonald’s first half brace paced the Reign who packed a season-high 3,855 into Starfire Stadium only to see their team fall behind on an early penalty.  The Reign are now unbeaten in six, a streak that coincides with the arrival of Megan Rapinoe, and they gained two points on the six teams in front of them, all of whom drew on the weekend.

The Spirit caught an early break when Keelin Winters leaped in front of Conny Pohlers to deny service and had the ball go off her hand for a penalty kick.  Diana Matheson took her fourth turn of the season at the spot and calmly slotted it to Hope Solo’s left as the Reign keeper moved right.  It was Matheon’s sixth goal of the season, representing 55 percent of the Spirit team total.

The goal gave the Spirit the lead for the first time since they beat the Reign 4-2 on May 16, and it was part of a strong start to the match.  But the Reign began to find their footing midway through the opening half and drew level right at the 30-minute mark.  Taking advantage of one of the Spirit’s bugaboos—the inability to clear the ball, Christine Nairn collected it at the high left corner of the penalty area and dribbled central.  Instead of stepping into a shot or pass Nairn side-heeled it between two Spirit defenders and found McDonald, who poked it to the far post for her second goal in three games.

Less than four minutes later the Reign struck again.  Winters collected the ball in midfield and sprung Elli Reed on an overlapping run down the right side.  Reed then put a cross into the box where McDonald got her head on it before goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris could punch it away.  McDonald became the first Seattle player to score twice in a game.

“I heard the keeper call ‘keeper’ and I was always taught to challenge the keeper no matter what,” McDonald told FOX Soccer’s Heather Mitts after the match.  “So I just went up for it and didn’t really expect to head it and I did and it went in.”

There were no goals in the second half but there was an injury to the Spirit’s Ali Krieger.  She and Kaylyn Kyle knocked heads when Kyle went to put her head on a rebound but got more of Krieger’s noggin than anything else.  Both players went down but Krieger got the worst of it and looked shaky walking off, not to return to the match.  Mitts reported that Krieger was getting concussion tests on the bench.

The head-to-head clash immediately followed the closest call of the second half.  Kyle was following up on Nairn’s floating ball that took a deflection and glanced off the crossbar coming down.

The Reign (4-9-3, 15 pts.) moved within nine points of the fourth-place Flash but have just seven games to play and two other teams in their way.  The Spirit (1-10-4, 7 pts.) are mathematically eliminated from a top two position and are a huge longshot to make the playoff.  Both teams play on the road Saturday.  The Spirit are in Chicago while the Reign pay a visit to FC Kansas City.

Talking Points

— McDonald has three goals and an assist in three matches since the Reign picked her up on waivers from the Red Stars.  She has been on the scoresheet in all three games.

— The Spirit are 0-3-1 under Mark Parsons.  They have not scored in the run of play since May 16, a dubious streak of 813 minutes.

— Renae Cuellar is playing farther from goal as a Reign player than she did in Kansas City, where she was used as more of a target player in a 4-5-1 layout.

— Credit to FOX for a solid broadcast, particularly Steve Cangialosi, who came armed with a ton of knowledge about both teams and the NWSL in general.

— These are the last two teams in NWSL to collect a shutout.

Here are highlights of all three goals, in the order they were scored:

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