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Washington Spirit fall 2-0 to Seattle Reign

With a Spirit loss and a Thorns win, the Spirit will need to wait until the last week to clinch NWSL Shield

Jane Gershovich (ISI Photos)

The Washington Spirit fell 2-0 to the Seattle Reign at Memorial Stadium on Sunday night, leaving the Spirit to wait until the last week of the season to determine whether or not the team will win its first-ever NWSL Shield. Beverly Yanez and Keelin Winters scored for Seattle, who needed a win to remain in the chase for the final playoff spot.

Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra rested some starters against the Reign earlier this week and elected to do the same last night while the Reign played a full-strength team since Seattle needed a win to avoid elimination. Gabarra rested Crystal Dunn and Cheyna Williams up top and tried defender Alyssa Kleiner at left forward. Christine Nairn and Diana Matheson rested as well even though Matheson didn’t start on Wednesday either. On the backline, Gabarra rested Megan Oyster in favor of Whitney Church, a move he has tried a few times this season.

The Spirit sat back initially and played conservatively while weathering nearly constant Reign attacks. Minutes into the game, Megan Rapinoe played a dangerous cross to Manon Melis but Wys was well-positioned for an easy save. 10 minutes later, Rapinoe played Melis again and while Wys couldn’t corral it, Melis was unable to convert the rebound. Rapinoe was making her first start for the Reign after an ACL tear last December and the Reign’s offense largely went through the USWNT star, giving Caprice Dydasco a lot of work early on. Ali Krieger managed a shot in the 17th minute but the Reign largely controlled the game.

In the 25th minute, Melis played a cross to Beverly Yanez whose slashing runs into the box posed a consistent and strong threat to the Spirit. The Reign’s attempt was unsuccessful, but they figured things out soon thereafter. Seattle shuffled up top, with Melis moving to the right flank and Rapinoe going over to the left side. After Jess Fishlock played a long ball from near midfield to Rapinoe, Rapinoe crossed it to Yanez -now playing up front - who converted it near the right post in the 27th minute.

Reign left back Rumi Utsugi got forward throughout the game and often posed a threat for the Spirit on the weak side. At the half hour mark, Utsugi managed to convert a rebound but was called offside and the goal disallowed. In the final minutes of the half, Lohman had the ball feet away from the goal line and tried to get it through a scramble of Reign players but the Reign’s defense held up and Seattle closed the first half with a 1-0 lead.

At halftime, Christine Nairn replaced Line Sigvardsen Jensen which helped create more opportunities going forward and let the Spirit play less conservatively.

The Reign continued to threaten the Spirit during the second half and the Spirit conceded a dangerous free kick in the 60th minute. Wys made a routine save on LIttle’s free kick to keep the score 1-0.

Williams replaced Kleiner up top in the 67th minute and helped the Spirit be more of an offensive threat. Ten minutes later, Matheson replaced Joanna Lohman in the midfield.

Last night was the final home match for Reign captain and defensive midfielder Keelin Winters. The 27-year-old is retiring after the season after four years with the Reign, and she went out in style. Winters scored a memorable goal in the 78th minute after a cross from Nahomi Kawasumi. Winters’ sixth goal elicited a huge celebration from the Reign bench and closed out the win for the Reign.

The Spirit switched to a 3-4-3 with Matheson and Nairn in the center which generated more opportunities for the Spirit in the final minutes. Estelle Johnson had two great chances late, as her header hit the crossbar before she took a low shot through traffic that forced a goal-line clearance from Carson Pickett in an 89th-minute scramble.

With a Portland Thorns win and a Spirit loss, the Spirit need a win against Chicago or a Thorns loss/draw in order to win the NWSL Shield. The NWSL will take a break for international matches next week, with the Spirit closing out the regular season with a road game in Chicago on September 24.