Reign FC returned home from Texas with a hard-fought point after Sunday’s match against the Houston Dash. Despite giving up a goal in the opening 10 minutes and losing two key starters to injury in the first half, Reign FC battled back and managed a second-half goal against a dynamic Houston side.
Still, Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski knows his side has more to give.
“I felt like it was a performance that, collectively, was not good enough,” Andonovski said. “We didn’t look like ourselves. Credit to Houston for their performance, I think part of the reason we didn’t look as good as we wanted was because of how well they did. That said, I was very proud of the resilience of our team coming out in the second half and fighting all the way until the last second to get a point on a tough road trip.”
The major obstacle for Reign FC came in distribution. The normally sure-footed club connected on 64.4 percent of its passes, down from a 71.6 percent average in 2018. Missed connections in the passing game led to the opening goal for the hosts. Theresa Nielsen failed to gauge the pressure from Houston’s Nichelle Prince as a back pass came her way, leading to a turnover that the Canadian forward converted from inside the 18 for the Dash’s first goal of the season.
A major component of the disjunction came from absences of Megan Rapinoe, Stephanie Catley and Bev Yanez due to injury. With a shortage of available midfielders, forward Shea Groom was dropped a line back into the 10 role.
Groom should have had a chance to lean on crafty winger Jasmyne Spencer to alleviate the Dash’s midfield pressure with quick outlet passes, but Spencer had to be stretchered off just 20 minutes in after clashing with Christine Nairn. The back line was also deprived the steady presence of Megan Oyster—who played the full 90 minutes in all 21 of her starts last season—after the centerback also subbed off due to injury in the 38th minute.
“Obviously, when you have an injury, it’s unfortunate,” Andonovski said. “You don’t want it to happen at any point in the match. To have two injuries that early was devastating, especially with the injuries we already had from players coming back from national team duty. It didn’t make our job any easier, but to overcome all the adversity and come out with a point, I think it makes the result even bigger for us.”
Long provided the necessary mettle for the Reign midfield while they navigated the confusion. The midfielder finished with nine recoveries, a tackle and an interception in 90 minutes of work that jammed the Dash’s attempts to play quickly in transition.
Darian Jenkins, who eventually provided the equalizer in the 58th minute, also alleviated pressure through her offensive play. Antagonizing Houston right back Taylor Comeau with her speed and agility on the ball, Jenkins forced the Dash to cheat more to her side of the field every time the ball went her way.
The hard-fought match ended in a dramatic fashion, with forward Jodie Taylor earning a penalty after Jane Campbell took her town in the box.
“Jodie was key to creating the first goal with her ball to Darian, and her relentless pressure in the last minutes of the match put us in a position to grab all three points,” said Andonovski. “Campbell did well to make the save, but I must applaud Jodie and the entire squad for the work that gave us the chance to win the match under difficult circumstances. We may not have been rewarded in this instance, but similar efforts in the future will lead to the outcomes we are seeking.”
“There are many things I was very happy with, but again I’m just glad that the first game is out of the way,” Andonovski said. “It was a road game, so I’m glad we got a point. It could be a lot worse for us. Our first game on the road, that we got a point with all the players that we were missing, I think at the end it will be huge for us.”