Last season, Seattle Reign FC and the Washington Spirit were playoff spectators.
They not only watched, but they watched from a great distance, having finished the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season as the bottom two teams.
One season later, both are preparing for their playoff debuts, as the Reign and Spirit will meet at 8 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Stadium in a match televised on ESPN2. The winner will go on to the league championship game on Aug. 31.
“From last year to this year the additions that (Washington coach Mark Parsons) made and the additions that we made have obviously meant that we flipped our seasons around a little bit,” Reign coach Laura Harvey said.
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More than a little bit. The Spirit climbed from last in the eight-team league to fourth, while Seattle jumped from seventh to first — establishing several league records along the way.
After finishing 5-14-3 in 2013 and scoring the second-fewest goals, Seattle climbed to the top of the table. The Reign’s 54 points, 16 wins, 50 goals, 20 goals allowed and plus-30 goal differential all are league records. Seattle went 8-0-4 at home and 2-0-1 against Washington.
“(It was due to) the hard work we did off the field during the offseason, from keeping sure that we kept the players we wanted who saw the same vision as we did — the likes of Keelin (Winters) and Lauren Barnes and Elli Reed and etc., who went through it all last year with us and felt the hurt,” Harvey said. “I think it was important that we invested back into them — that was a huge element of it.”
Winters remembers that hurt.
“Last season was a rough season,” she said. “I had personally never been on a losing team before. … We came into this season really wanting to turn things around from the previous season. At the beginning of the season we set ourselves some goals, and one of them was to win the league.”
The Reign did that by supplementing the returning players with new talent, especially offensive threats from across two oceans.
Harvey reached to Scotland to produce Kim Little, who won the NWSL Golden Boot with 16 goals; and to Japan for forward Nahomi Kawasumi, who provided nine.
“It’s been a huge factor as to why our season has turned round,” Harvey said. “Last season we had the mentality of trying to be hard to beat and we were, we just couldn’t score a goal. Whereas this year we’ve matched that hard-to-beat mentality with the ability to turn a game around even from losing positions because we’ve got attacking talent to do something in a split second, which can win you a game.”
Washington didn’t leap as high, but started even lower.
In 2013, Washington was the league’s worst team by several measures. The Spirit recorded the fewest points and the fewest wins and scored the fewest goals. This season, they climbed to 10-9-5, just good enough for the league’s final playoff position. One of those nine losses came in their final game, and it took their playoff fate out of their own hands. However, the Spirit survived when Chicago played to a 3-3 draw with Western New York later in the day.
“I was driving home with my wife and daughter (listening) to the Chicago game, and it was happiness and relief when that full-time whistle went,” Parsons said. “… And then I continued to tell myself about some of the unbelievable and great successes that we’ve had this season and how we had earned it there.”