Seattle Reign FC Host Washington Spirit in 2014 NWSL Semifinal

Seattle Reign FC v Washington Spirit: Sunday, August 24, 2014 – 11:00 pm, Live on ESPN2

The combined 32 points of the Reign (18 points) and the Spirit (14 points) last season would not have been enough to get them into the 2013 playoffs. However, one year on the two teams can each celebrate a remarkable transformation that has seen them join the ranks of the league’s elite.

Seattle’s rise, in particular, has been truly stunning.

The Reign rewrote the record books this season by storming out of the gate to win their first seven matches, an NWSL record that was subsequently tied by FC Kansas City, while establishing a new mark by going unbeaten through their first 16 games before losing to the Chicago Red Stars on July 12.

Seattle then responded to the defeat by reeling off six consecutive games without a loss before suffering just their second setback to defending NWSL Champions Portland Thorns FC in the final game of the regular season.

The pair of losses is the lowest single-season total in the two-year history of the league and joins a long list of records set by Seattle while winning the 2014 NWSL Shield for the best regular-season record. That list includes: most points (54), most wins (16), most goals in season (50), most goals per game (2.08) and fewest goals allowed per game (0.83).

Reign coach and general manager Laura Harvey, the architect of the best regular-season in league history, set about remaking a team that finished seventh last season with a flurry of offseason moves that brought in key contributors such as midfielder Kim Little (16 goals, 7 assists) as well as forwards Nahomi “Naho” Kawasumi (9 goals, 5 assists), Bev Goebel (5 goals, 4 assists) and Sydney Leroux (5 goals).

In all, 39 of Seattle’s 50 goals this season were scored by players not on the roster last year – with Little serving as the poster child for the Reign’s success.

Paired with Seattle’s established stars, such as Jess Fishlock (4 goals, 8 assists), Megan Rapinoe (4 goals), captain Keelin Winters and goalkeeper Hope Solo , Little led the league in goals and game-winning goals and finished the season tied for second in assists – one behind Fishlock.

Little, whose discovery rights were acquired by the Reign in an offseason trade that sent Christine Nairn to Washington, netted 16 goals in her first season in the league to establish a new NWSL single-season scoring record and was named the Army National Guard Player of the Month three times.

Seattle took the season series from the Spirit – with a 2-0-1 record against Washington this year.

However, the Spirit were one of only four road teams to earn a point at Moda Pitch at Memorial Stadium this season with a 1-1 draw August 9 in the most recent meeting between the clubs.

Still, in order to advance to the 2014 NWSL Championship Game, Washington – which was 5-5-2 on the road this season – will need to beat a Seattle team that enjoyed an undefeated (8-0-4) campaign at home.

Coach Mark Parsons’ side became the first team to qualify for the NWSL Playoffs with a negative goal difference (-7), but were the beneficiaries of some stellar play in tight games.

The Spirit went 9-3-5 in games decided by one goal or less this year – with their last nine victories of the season coming by a single goal.

Strong performances from Nairn (6 goals, 2 assists) as well as forward Jodie Taylor (11 goals, 2 assists) and midfielder Diana Matheson (8 goals, 6 assists) were also key for Washington, who finished the regular season tied with the Red Stars on 35 points but made the playoffs by virtue of its head-to-head record (3-0-0) against Chicago – all of which came by one goal.

In addition to the Spirit’s attacking trio, Washington also received important contributions from defender Ali Krieger and the versatile Crystal Dunn, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 NWSL Draft.

The Spirit will be hoping for the return to the lineup of goalkeeper and U.S. international Ashlyn Harris, who missed the last two matches of the regular season with concussion symptoms. Backup Chantel Jones played in her place, but the Spirit have not won this season without Harris in net.

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