Kim Little’s hat trick paced Seattle Reign FC to a 3-0 victory over the Houston Dash on Friday night at soggy BBVA Compass Stadium. The result pushed the Reign to the brink of repeating as Shield winners while the Dash playoff hopes could be officially extinguished by the close of play on Saturday.
The nationally broadcast match was delayed about an hour due to heavy storms that rolled through Houston. When play finally kicked off it was a challenge to play the ball on the ground as the ball often stalled out well short of its target. The Dash also lined up a new right back, Jen LaPonte, thanks to Ella Masar being suspended for yellow card accumulation.
Ever the enterprising bunch, the Reign found the opening goal of the match in the 42nd minute by bypassing the midfield as well as the waterlogged pitch. It was moments after Jessica McDonald thought she had given the Dash the lead only to look up and see the offside flag. On the goal-scoring play, Hope Solo played the ball short where Lauren Barnes’ first touch to it was a long ball up the left flank. Little beat Ellie Brush around the corner, took two touches, and beat Erin McLeod with a firm strike.
The Dash were forced to sub Morgan Brian out at halftime. The rookie midfielder was on the injury report with back pain and came out of halftime without her cleats. She was replaced by Melissa Henderson. There were chances for both sides as the second half progressed. For the Reign, Jessica Fishlock hit the crossbar early and was later denied by a spectacular save from McLeod. Henderson was put behind the defense by Carli Lloyd, but was whistled offside as her shot trickled wide.
Little put it away in the 73rd minute. Starting far away from goal she dribbled up to some Dash defenders and took matters into her own hands. The reigning league MVP found a seam between Dash players and her shot took an awkward bounce to elude McLeod and make it 2-0. The Dash hardly had any answers after that. But Little was not done yet.
In the 90th minute, Little found herself dribbling into the left side of the Dash penalty area. The first thing that happened upon receiving the ball from Elli Reed was that Rachael Axon lost her footing. She then juked Toni Pressley while expertly shielding Camila away from the play. The next touch took a sliding Megan Klingenberg out of the play and simultaneously forced Allysha Chapman into a mistake. Still on the ball but now on the right side at the top of the six, Little had McLeod in desperation mode and the finish was the most routine part of the play.
The hat trick was the second in Reign history. Megan Rapinoe scored three against the Flash on opening day this season.
Now winners of five in a row, the Reign (11-3-3, 36 pts.) can wrap up their second straight Shield if they beat the Breakers on Wednesday night back in Seattle. If the Red Stars lose or draw against the Flash on Sunday, the Reign will secure a home semifinal.
The Dash (5-8-5, 20 pts.) dropped their fourth straight and have not won since Lloyd’s golazo beat FC Kansas City late on July 29. They are technically alive to make the playoffs but must win their last two matches and and hope Kansas City lose all three of theirs. Even that would not be a guarantee for the Dash. Next up is a home match against the Breakers on Sunday, August 30.
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