Washington Spirit at Seattle Reign
Where: Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
When: 10 p.m. Sunday.
Records: Spirit 12-3-3, 39 points; Reign 6-6-6, 24 points.
Live stream: NWSL’s YouTube channel.
RACE TO THE TOP: The Spirit has accomplished its first two missions – earning a playoff berth and securing home-field advantage in the semifinals. Now the club will attempt to lock up first place and the NWSL Shield, awarded to the best National Women’s Soccer League team in the regular season. Seattle won the previous two shields before losing each of the championship matches to Kansas City. Washington is four points ahead of Portland with two games left. A Spirit victory would end the race. So would a draw, if the Thorns lose or tie at home against the third-place Western New York Flash. Losses by both teams would also do the trick. If Portland remains alive, the teams would have to wait two weeks to settle matters as the NWSL will break for international matches next weekend. Regardless of the first-place outcome, the Spirit will host a playoff game for the first time in its four-season history, Sept. 30 or Oct. 1 at Maryland SoccerPlex.
RAPINOE REDUX: Emotions are sure to run high at Memorial Stadium after the Spirit defeated the Reign, 2-1, on Wednesday. Seattle was upset at Washington owner Bill Lynch for playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the players were on the field, thwarting Megan Rapinoe’s plans to kneel during the anthem. The U.S. national team star said she is planning to resume her protest after following NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lead last weekend. Seattle’s most popular player is almost certain to have the support of Reign fans. The anthem issue will only further motivate the Reign, which began the weekend on the brink of being eliminated from playoff contention. Besides a victory, Seattle needs Chicago to lose to Kansas City earlier Sunday.
DUNN THAT: In 2015, Crystal Dunn was the NWSL’s leading scorer with 15 goals and won the MVP award, but this season it took her 12 games to post her first goal. It came Wednesday as Dunn both broke out of her rut and broke a scoreless deadlock with a spectacular goal from distance. Spirit Coach Jim Gabarra hopes that performance will get her going before the playoffs. “She had some other chances and looked really dangerous,” he said. “It’s good she got the first one.” Dunn leads the team in assists with five.
SPIRIT INJURIES: Dunn did not start Wednesday, but when rookie Cali Farquharson injured her left knee in the opening moments, the Olympian entered the match. Farquharson (16 appearances, eight starts) will miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury. She is joined on the sideline by Argentine attacker Estefania Banini, the Spirit’s leading scorer with five goals, who is recovering from knee surgery performed 2 ½ weeks ago. Gabarra is hopeful she’ll return for the playoffs. Canadian Olympic defender Shelina Zadorsky (sprained ankle) is listed as questionable.