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Little PKs, Leroux beauty strike lift Reign again

Sydney Leroux’s sublime strike accounted for the game-winner and sandwiched a pair of Kim Little penalties in a 3-1 Reign victory over the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday at Memorial Stadium.

The Reign went down a goal for the fourth consecutive match but still managed to extend their unbeaten streak to 11, a record in the young NWSL. The Red Stars, whose goal came from debutant Emily Van Egmond, dropped their second straight game and conceded multiple goals for the first time this season.

The first half was a fascinating display of contrasting styles. The Red Stars unveiled Christen Press and she spent significant time disrupting Hope Solo’s distribution and helped create a few early chances. Seattle gradually gained control of the possession but still struggled to create chances against a sound, Red Stars’ defensive shape.

All four goals were converted in the final half-hour. The Red Stars went ahead in the 63rd minute on a goal that began with a corner kick won by Vanessa DiBernardo. The rookie took the corner, then served in another ball after the original set piece was cleared back along the goal line. The second service glanced off the head of Michelle Wenino and then off Van Egmond’s head and past Hope Solo. It was Van Egmond’s debut match for the Red Stars after playing 297 minutes over six matches for the Reign in 2013.

But the hosts struck back quickly. Two minutes after the Van Egmond goal, Beverly Goebel beat Julie Johnston at the top of the penalty area and Johnson took her down. Little stepped to the spot and scored even though Karina LeBlanc guessed right and got a glove on the shot.

“I’m proud of the effort of the group,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “We did what we wanted to do right up until we scored the first goal. We had the more dangerous chances in the first half and then after that first penalty call, it changed the whole game.”

Three minutes after that, Little worked the ball between two defenders to create space for Leroux, who turned a few yards above the box and took a shot that was fairly close to perfection. It arced high over LeBlanc before dipping under the crossbar at the perfect time. It was Leroux’s second goal of the season.

Any hopes of the Red Stars getting back into it were dashed in the 78th minute after Taryn Hemmings came in too aggressively against Leroux and shouldered her to the ground, resulting in a second penalty. LeBlanc went the same way as she did the first time but Little switched it up to score her second of the night and 11th of the season, which leads the league.

“It’s too much to ask a team to play on Wednesday then turn around and travel to play on Saturday, while your opponent has a week’s rest,” Dames said.

The Reign (9-0-2, 29 pts.) are off until a June 19 trip to Boston. They’ll be happy to have the training time since several internationals will be missing that night. They will also be evaluating Keelin Winters, who took an elbow from Julianne Sitch and came off a few minutes later. They also have a .500 record as a franchise (14-14-5) after a dismal 5-14-3 season in 2013.

The Red Stars (6-4-1, 19 pts.) host Sky Blue next Sunday in a match that will also be absent international players.


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