Washington Spirit (8-6-6) at Seattle Reign FC (13-3-4)
Sunday, 9:30 p.m. EDT; Memorial Stadium (FOX Sports 1 and Foxsportsgo.com)
Season series: Reign won, 2-1-0
All-Time series: Reign lead, 5-3-1 (plus 1-0-0 in playoffs)
At Memorial Stadium: Reign lead, 2-0-1
Spirit playoff history: 2014 semifinal (l. Reign)
Reign playoff history: 2014 finalist (d. Spirit; l. Kansas City)
One way the Spirit will win: Play the ball direct to Crystal Dunn. The Reign did a reasonable job of keeping Dunn quiet in the regular season finale eight days before this one. And the Reign midfield is difficult to break down on the dribble. Dunn has more pace than any of the Reign defenders and the best bet—at least from time to time—might be to bypass the mids and try to play Dunn into space with long balls. That tactic will also help keep the Reign’s potent counterattack at bay.
One way Reign will win: Merritt Mathias will be the player charged with keeping the Spirit from finding Dunn. The theory will be that Dunn cannot beat them if she cannot find the ball. If Mathias can successfully shut off service to Dunn, the Reign will then want to focus on giving the ball to their wonderful midfielder, Kim Little. No player in the league yields such positive results each time she touches the ball than Little. The more she has the ball, and the less Dunn has it, the more the balance of power swings Settle’s way.
Memorable meeting – Reign 2, Spirit 1; August 24, 2014
Few gave the Spirit much of a chance to trouble the Reign in last year’s semifinal on the same pitch as this one will be contested. But in what Reign coach Laura Harvey has called one of the best women’s matches she has seen, the Spirit gave the Shield winners everything they could handle. Their hard work paid off when Veronica Perez put the underdogs ahead in the 65th minute. The teams later traded penalties—Kim Little converted to equalize in the 72th but Diana Matheson’s bid to give the Spirit the lead six minutes later was denied by Hope Solo. With the match still tied, the Reign got the go-ahead tally in the 82nd when Megan Rapinoe stripped Toni Pressley and went in alone on Ashlyn Harris. After surviving a late flurry, the Reign held on to advance to the final, where they were knocked off by FC Kansas City.
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