Reign FC took all three points at home on Saturday for the first time in 2019, with a 2-1 win over Sky Blue FC. One the eve of World Cup departures, the club managed to get performances from some of its top international players to help secure its first-ever victory at Cheney Stadium.
Steph Catley made her first appearance of the season, having missed the first four matches while recovering from a calf strain. The Australian played 45 minutes, helping stretch Sky Blue’s back line and swinging in crosses to create scoring opportunities.
Catley was relieved to see the pitch again.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Catley said. “This rehab in particular has been a difficult one. Missing these games for Reign and with the World Cup so close, it’s been really tough, but I felt really good and 45 minutes was my max today, but I would have loved to play more. It was amazing to be out there and I’m so proud we got the three points as well."
In particular, the left back showed a strong connection with forward Darian Jenkins, helping to pressure Sky Blue right back Paige Monaghan in the first half.
“It definitely felt natural,” Catley said of her partnership with Jenkins. “I’ve been training with Darian for this week, at least. We figured out some movements and made sure that we kind of learned each other throughout the week. I am used to playing with (Megan Rapinoe), but it was nice to get out there with Darian and learn her movements. I think we had some success down that side when I was out there.”
Catley’s partnership with Jenkins won’t have a chance to develop further in the near future; she, along with seven other Reign FC players, have left the squad for the World Cup and will not return until after the end of the group stage on June 20, at the earliest. With all eight players playing for nations ranked in the top 15 in the world, some players may be gone significantly longer should they progress to the knockout rounds.
Those players include Catley, goalkeeper Lydia Williams (Australia), defender Celia Jimenez Delgado (Spain), midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight (Australia), midfielder Rumi Utsugi (Japan), midfielder Allie Long (United States), forward Megan Rapinoe (United States) and forward Jodie Taylor (England).
Taylor’s absence will be particularly felt by Reign FC. The forward, who led the team with nine goals last season, opened her 2019 scoring account after bagging the game-winning goal in the 78th minute. The strike was Taylor’s first for the club since she put in a brace against the Houston Dash on August 22, 2018.
For Taylor, the conversion lifted a weight off her shoulders.
"When you’re not scoring goals, the pressure keeps mounting,” Taylor said. “Shot after shot and then you’re just a bit tense, in general. It was nice to see the ball go in. Got a win and hopefully the team carries it on now since a few of us are going to be leaving for the World Cup. I think everyone is happy with where we’re at and how we can keep moving forward.”
With players leaving for the World Cup, Reign FC can count on contributions from its roster depth. Midfielder Morgan Andrews completed 26 of 44 passes in the midfield and made 10 recoveries in her second start of the season.
Andrews said she benefitted from her midfield partnership with Bev Yanez in the win.
"I think the partnership is building well,” Andrews said. “We have a long way to go like any other partnership on the field. But Bev is one of the best teammates and players. I wouldn’t want to be next to anyone else. She’s a really good communicator, really good on the ball. It’s easy to play with her. It’s easy to make her look good and she definitely makes me look good. It’s a good partnership."
Andrews made one other major contribution for Reign FC, stepping in goal for Michelle Betos after the keeper went down with an injury in stoppage time after head coach Vlatko Andonovski had used his three substitutions.
“First time ever (that I’ve had to do that),” Andonovski said. “While everything was happening, on the side we had Morgan and she was our first choice. We asked her if she’s ever played goalkeeper and when we said that, her eyes lit up. She went: ‘Oh, I can do this.’ Her confidence went up. I think she wants to be the goalkeeper for 90 minutes next game. That’s how confident she looked. It was exciting.”
Reign FC now begins preparations for its first match of the season against defending NWSL champions North Carolina Courage. The club will face the courage at Cheney Stadium on Monday, May 27 at 4:00 p.m. PT.