Reign FC battled their way to a playoff spot with a 2-0 win over rivals Portland Thorns FC on Sunday, September 29. In a match that was equal parts chippy and choppy, the club won thanks to the same resilience that it has relied on throughout the season.
“It’s not a secret,” Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “Everyone knows what the season has looked like for Reign FC. It was a battle. Every game was a battle. Every training was a battle. We always said that there were so many small question marks: ‘who’s going to play? Who’s not going to play? How long are they going to play?’ I’m so proud of this group. I can’t even tell you how proud I am of the way that they were handling the whole situation. They way that they were going through all the adversity, all the changes, all the obstacles they had to overcome. Not just obstacles, but getting better through the process and being able to perform the way they did today. The way they did against Utah. The way they did coming back against Washington. I think all of that is a byproduct of the whole season. Of the relentlessness, of the resilience, of the mental toughness. I’m extremely proud of the girls.”
The two clubs had difficulty finding their teammates. Both clubs completed fewer than 64 percent of their passes. Nor could either side establish an advantage in possession, with Reign FC controlling the ball for 50.8 percent of the match.
Reign FC midfielder Allie Long said that the match was won with guts, rather than finesse.
“These are the games that I live for, personally,” Long said. “It was going to come down to who won the 50-50 balls and who got on the second balls that was going to determine the flow of the game. I think that’s where we dominated. I thought that we had the flow of the game because we won most of the 50-50s. No one in our midfield is going to shy away from a tackle. That’s how they are too. It’s just about heart and who wants it more.”
If Reign FC wanted it more, it showed in their battles for the ball. The club outdueled Portland 66-57 and outtackled them 16-9 to take control in the middle of the pitch. The physical match saw 20 fouls called by referee Matt Franz, who issued five yellow cards during the contest.
Wanting it more may be the theme of Reign FC’s 2019 season. After suffering six season-ending injuries and having as many as 11 players unavailable at times, the club clawed its way to its fourth trip to the NWSL playoffs.
“It has been really impressive,” Reign FC forward Megan Rapinoe said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize. We looked at this team photo they did the other day, it’s like a scroll. How many people are there? To have not only that amount injuries and people gone for the World Cup, but to have that many people come through and perform being thrown in, whether they’re here for a little bit or they played a lot of minutes, it’s a huge credit to the club and the coaching staff, in particular. To be able to prepare everyone and have a very clear mission and goal. To be able to get everyone on the same page. It would have really been easy for this thing to go totally off the rails. The team has done a tremendous job. Super professional. Everyone shows up every day really focused no matter who it is or how many minutes they’re playing or even how long they’re here. To be honest, I think it’s extremely impressive with the amount of people that we’ve had to fill in.”
Reign FC leads the NWSL in lineup turnover, having used a league-high 24 different outfield players in their starting 11. The club has also had a league-high 27 different outfield players make at least one appearance this season. Reign FC is one of just two clubs to named three different starting goalkeepers over the course of the year.
Between the rotating door for players and the timing of injuries suffered by the club, the club might have folded under the pressure of the season. Thanks to their resilience and the support of the crowd at Cheney Stadium—where the club went 6-3-3 and took 21 of its 34 points—they persevered and will have a chance to play for the NWSL Championship.