Reign FC enjoyed a historic season defensively in 2018, allowing 19 goals in 24 matches, the fewest in club history. Now, the club hopes to continue its defensive dominance after a historic season.
2018 marked just the second and third time in league history that a club allowed fewer than 20 goals over the regular season, with North Carolina Courage FC setting the record with 17. Reign FC tied the previous record of 19, set by the Portland Thorns in 2016 when the league played only 20 games.
Despite the historic accomplishment, Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski has his sights set on an even better defense in 2019.
“We’re not going to try to replicate that,” Andonovski said Monday. “We’re going to try to get better than that. The bottom line is first the knowledge and understanding of the defensive piece and then the mentality. The biggest difference I think in the group that we had last year was the difference in mentality. They committed to playing defense as a unit. When we’re talking about playing defense, it’s not just the defensive line or the goalkeepers, it’s the whole team.”
Last year was the second time in club history that the club had allowed fewer than a goal per game. Previously, Reign FC allowed just 20 goals in the 2014 season, going 16-6-2 and claiming the NWSL Shield.
Defender Megan Oyster said that the club takes immense pride in frustrating opposing attackers.
“It’s huge,” Oyster said. “That’s what we stand for here in this club: good quality defense. We always start from there. I think we set the standard high from last year, but we obviously want to get better, but I think there’s more to this team and more (to come) from this back line and more from Vlatko. There’s always more. I’m excited to see what this team can do and push that limit.”
Reign FC kept opponents scoreless in 12 matches last year, blowing away the previous club record of eight clean sheets set in 2016 and tying the league record set by North Carolina in 2017.
The defensive mentality travels beyond the club as well. When Lauren Barnes, Steph Catley, Theresa Nielsen and keeper Lydia Williams went to Melbourne City in the Australian W-League in the offseason, the club also conceded the fewest goals in the league.
“We have the Reign mentality when we go there as well,” Barnes said. “Playing with each other more and more, you get comfortable, you know each other in and out. The more time we get to play with each other the better. It definitely translated from our time with the Reign to City. (Rebekah Stott) played here at the Reign too. The whole defensive unit has played at the Reign and at City so it definitely isn’t a coincidence. The principles we have here, we take them along with us over there. We’ve really been trained to defend for our lives.”
Improving on a defense that allowed 0.79 goals per game is a tall order for any club, but with the chemistry of a returning back line and the team’s emphasis on defending at every level, it might just be in reach for Reign FC in 2019.