Reign FC played its first-ever match at Cheney Stadium on Sunday night, finishing with a 1-1 draw against the Orlando Pride in front of 5,323 fans. Rookie Bethany Balcer scored her first professional goal for Reign FC, just 10 days after becoming the first player from an NAIA school to sign a NWSL contract.
“I was very happy with the performance of the team,” Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “I’m not so happy with the result. Any time you don’t win you can’t be 100 percent happy, but a great change in mentality and in play compared to the first game of the season. I was very proud of the players and the way they stepped in. They played with heart. That’s something that I really like. I can’t pick one moment of the game where I felt someone didn’t give it their all.”
Alanna Kennedy opened the scoring six minutes in for Orlando. Settling under an Emily van Egmond free kick, Kennedy pulled off a bicycle kick to the far side of the net, beating keeper Michelle Betos.
Reign FC responded in the 21st minute, when forward Bethany Balcer—making her first professional start—picked up a ball from midfielder Allie Long inside the 18 and curled it past Ashlyn Harris to the far side net.
“I’m very happy (for Balcer),” Andonovski said. “It’s kind of a Cinderella story. She’s coming from a small NAIA school and fifteen minutes into the game makes a name for herself. She’s a great human being and an unbelievable soccer player. It’s so nice to work with her. She just wants to get better every day and has a great mentality. When she scores goals for us, it’s even greater.”
Reign FC nearly added another goal in the 32nd minute. Shea Groom sprinted forward to pressure a soft back pass to Harris and jumped to block the Orlando keeper’s clearance. As the ball deflected toward the end line, Groom recovered and sprinted after it, but her sliding effort to reach the ball was unable to direct the ball into an open net.
Both sides had opportunities to score in the second half. Reign FC’s Shea Groom put a shot on target in the 59th minute after Long trapped a ball toward the forward with her chest, but Harris jumped up to block the shot. Orlando’s Marta had a chance to chip Betos in the 85th minute, but Betos dove backwards and grabbed the ball out of the air as it sailed toward goal.
The stop was Betos’ only save of the night as Reign FC outshot Orlando 14-13.
Andonovski praised the atmosphere at the stadium, created by the largest home crowd for a Reign match since Reign FC took on Portland on August 26, 2017 with a crowd of 6,041.
“From my own perspective on the sideline, I loved it,” Andonovski said. “Every time they got on their feet, every time they yelled, it was loud. It was really exciting. There were lots of times where I had a smile on my face saying ‘this is good.’ I want to thank the fans for coming out and supporting us. I will promise them that we’re going to put on a good show. They players loved it, they’re just as thankful for the support.
“If we go in with heart and mentality like we did tonight, we’re going to be successful.”