Reign FC received a major boost in its win over the North Carolina Courage on May 27. Jess Fishlock, three days after returning from a loan to Olympique Lyonnais, played the full 90 minutes in Reign FC’s first-ever win over North Carolina.
Freshly returned from a treble with Lyon that included a UEFA Women’s Champions League victory on May 18, Fishlock was battling fatigue and nine-hour time change. Still, Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski wasn’t bashful about asking the midfielder to play the whole match.
“When you have the luxury to have a player like Jess Fishlock on the team, I don’t think you want to take her off,” Andonovski said. “I would probably keep Jess on the field with one leg if I had to. You saw what she can do there. You saw her confidence. With this young team that is something we were missing and her understanding of the game and popping in the pockets created more attack and greater opportunities.”
Fishlock roamed all over the pitch for Reign FC, getting involved along both touchlines and dropping back deep when the Courage put the club under pressure in the match’s final minutes. The midfielder took four shots—two of which were blocked—as she helped find gaps in North Carolina’s defense.
For Fishlock, playing with an entirely new trio of teammates in front of her wasn’t an issue.
“I’ve been with the girls for 36 hours, so I have in front of me a new front three,” Fishlock said. “There’s Bethany (Balcer), Darian (Jenkins), and Shea (Groom) and that’s none of anybody I played with last season at all. We come in and we have a connection right away, just off the cuff. The first half showed that. Just imagine what we can get up to with a couple training sessions together, some video work and working together on and off the field.”
“That’s something to be super excited about. I’ve watched a few of our games and I felt that, I don’t know why, but I felt that the three of them were a little bit more confident and a little bit more free and a little bit more assertive in their decision making. They were a little bit more dangerous today. It’s great to see that and it’s great to work with that. I’m excited to work with that front three and whoever else is there but definitely I think that the four of us can cause some trouble in this World Cup break.”
The growing connections worked to Reign FC’s benefit. Fishlock completed 25 of 36 passes. It was Fishlock’s back pass to Kristen McNabb that led to Bethany Balcer’s goal in the 13th minute
Fishlock was involved defensively, too. The midfielder made nine recoveries, three clearances and had one interception for the club, including a volleyed clearance after a Merritt Mathias shot struck the crossbar in the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time.
Still, the midfielder passed the praise to goalkeeper Casey Murphy, who made her first appearance of the season less than two weeks after joining the club due to Michelle Betos’ season-ending injury.
“For that to be her first game, I just can’t wait to see what she’s like after that,” Fishlock said. “She’s so confident. It’s so nice to have her come out and take the crosses. She really nullified North Carolina’s play because she can come out and deal with crosses and pick up those ball. I think her distribution was great. I think she was exceptional. I know I got Player of the Match, but I’d happily pass that on to her.”
Murphy finished with four saves and a foul drawn in her debut. The former French Division 1 Féminine Keeper of the Year made four saves in her club debut.
Andonovski said that Monday’s performance would help give his side momentum as the club prepared for the World Cup break missing eight key players.
“It’s almost like it’s a new season,” Andonovski said. “Almost like the season starts for every team. But for us one thing I want to mention is that this is the team that actually played the previous five games with the exception of Jess not being here. Even though we lost the national team players, we actually didn’t lose any player that played for us. (Stephanie) Catley maybe played 45 minutes but you look at the other players: Rumi (Utsugi) barely played, (Megan Rapinoe) didn’t play, Lydia (Williams) didn’t play as much as Michelle. For us it’s almost like we just continued building from where we stopped. There was not too big of turmoil in terms of personnel change. In fact I think maybe we even got slightly better because of Jess’s arrival.”
Reign FC plays the Houston Dash at home on Sunday, June 2 at 1:00 p.m. PT. Tickets are available here, or by calling the Reign FC ticket office at (855) REIGN-FC.