This time, Seattle Reign FC wants its storybook season to have a happy ending.
The Reign wants to beat the team that denied them the National Women’s Soccer League crown a year ago, and they want to do it at the home of their fiercest rival.
For the second season, Seattle goes into the final as the No 1 seed after compiling the best record in the regular season. But in the 2014 final, they lost the championship match to FC Kansas City. And only then did they realize how much it stung not to have closed the deal.
On Thursday, they have another chance — once again against Kansas City. Now they say they want to remember that sting and put it to good use.
“Until that final whistle in the final, I don’t think any of us appreciated how disappointed we would be by not winning the final,” coach Laura Harvey said Wednesday. “And I think that’s meant the mindset is different this year: more focused, more driven, wanting to make sure that when it comes to the game that we put everything out there to make sure that we win. If that gives us that extra little bit of edge (Thursday), then I think we’ll look back on it and say that that bit of experience from last season has done us well.”
The idea that it is Kansas City once more standing in the way seems fitting, Seattle forward Megan Rapinoe said. Even beyond the rematch and chance for revenge, this pairs the reigning league champion against the two-time regular-season champs.
“Our two teams have shown that we’re the best two teams,” Rapinoe said after the Reign’s semifinal win. “I thought the same last year as well. In terms of quality and who should be there, I think that’s good. In terms of the atmosphere and the rivalry, it’s fun. I think it will be an intense match.”
But while the opponents are the same, the site is different.
Over its first two seasons, the NWSL allowed the higher-seeded finalist to host. Last year, that was the Reign and Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.
This season, the NWSL switched to a predetermined championship site, in this case Providence Park, home of the Reign’s archrival — the Portland Thorns.
That’s a nice reward for the NWSL’s top attendance market. And the local fans have responded by gobbling up more than 12,000 tickets, Thorns owner Merritt Paulson tweeted Wednesday.
However, it removed the reward of home field advantage. And while the Reign didn’t have to travel far, Harvey was skeptical that many supporters would follow them down Interstate-5.
“I think being midweek could be tough for some of the fans,” she said. “I’m hearing a lot of our fans are trying to make the game, which is great. But I think for the majority of the fans, which will be Portland fans, I can’t imagine that they would necessarily want a Seattle win — which we’re OK with. That’s fine.”
Reign players also were torn. As competitors, they naturally wish this match could be settled at Memorial Stadium, where they are unbeaten over their last 23 matches, including 9-0-2 this season.
However, as pioneers growing a young professional women’s league, they understand that a big crowd at a soccer-specific stadium will provide a more impressive setting for the national TV audience.
“Obviously you never want to have to travel, and we earned that,” Rapinoe said. “But I do think that it’s reasonable in a lot of ways. Hopefully a lot of people show up. It will be a great venue. Obviously they’ve proven throughout all the years in this league that they bring fans. It’s a good atmosphere, and it’s a fun atmosphere. And I think it will be good in terms of bigger picture — showcase for the league — I think it will be a better place. But I think this is a good place to play as well. It’s unfortunate that we have to travel, but it’s not too far for us.”
THURSDAY: Seattle Reign vs. FC Kansas City, 6:30 p.m., Providence Park, Portland, Fox Sports 1
SEATTLE REIGN (13-3-4; 43 POINTS) VS. FC KANSAS CITY (9-6-5; 32 POINTS)
6:30 p.m. Thursday, Providence Park, Portland.
TV: Fox Sports 1.
Head to head: Kansas City leads 5-2-2. The teams split two meetings this season, each winning by one goal at home. FCKC beat Seattle in the 2014 final, 2-1, at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.
Notes: Seattle finished with the best record in the league for the second consecutive season. Kansas City finished third in the regular season. … Seattle advanced with a 3-0 win over fourth-seeded Washington in the semifinal. FCKC also took a 3-0 win over second-seeded Chicago. … The teams combined to place six player on the NWSL Best XI team: Seattle midfielders Jessica Fishlock and Kim Little, forward Beverly Yanez, and defender Lauren Barnes; and Kansas City defenders Amy LePeilbet and Becky Sauerbrunn. … Little led the Reign with 10 goals; Amy Rodriguez led the Blues with six. … This is the first season that the NWSL final is being played at a neutral site. More than 12,000 tickets have been reported sold. … The referee is Ekaterina Koroleva.
Quote: “We always wish them well. Any time you can bring a title to the city, I think this city is a great sports town and is very deserving of it. So we certainly wish the Reign well.” — Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid.