Reign FC (2-1-4, 10 points) will face the Washington Spirit (5-1-1, 16 points) for the second time this season, concluding a four-match homestand. The Sprit played Reign FC to a scoreless draw on May 4, despite Reign FC recording nine shots on goal.
“Washington being top of the table is no accident,” Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “They’ve been playing some very good soccer and we will need to be at the top of our game to finish off these matches at home on a positive note.”
Last Match: 1-1 D vs. Houston Dash
Reign FC jumped out to a first-half lead thanks to a goal from rookie Bethany Balcer, but was forced to use two substitutes in the first half due to injury in a 1-1 draw on June 2. Former Reign FC midfielder Christine Nairn waited until the match’s final minute to tally an equalizer on a bouncing long-range shot that curled past a diving Casey Murphy.
“I think we played as hard as we could,” Andonovski said. “I thought we started well and dictated the pace of the game for the majority of the game. When we have to make (substitutions) early in the game, it changes the way we played. Different personnel, different habits, different strengths and weaknesses. That was tough for us. At the end, I’m still happy with the performance, but we have to close it out all the way”
Banishing the Spirit
Reign FC has a history of facing the Washington Spirit in the postseason. Reign FC took down Washington in both the 2014 and 2015 NWSL playoff semifinal. Of the players who were with Reign FC at the time, six are still with the club (Jess Fishlock, Steph Cox, Lauren Barnes, Bev Yanez, Kiersten Dallstream and Megan Rapinoe), while just one player remains on the Spirit from the 2015 playoff series (Tori Huster).
Balcer Making an Early Case for Rookie of the Year
Rookie forward Bethany Balcer bagged her third goal of the season against Houston. Balcer leads the team in scoring and is on pace for 10 goals, a mark that compares favorably to previous rookies of the year, like Imani Dorsey’s four-goal, one assist campaign that earned her the honor in 2018.
“I think she’s doing incredible,” Andonovski said. “She’s fitting in well. She’s done a tremendous job for us scoring these three goals, but we don’t focus no her scoring ten goals or more, we focus on her scoring the next one. Once she scores the next one, then we’ll focus on the one after that. We’ll take it one step at a time with her development. Obviously, there are things she can do better, but it’s something that we just have to work on together.”
Fishlock Fitting Back In
Reign FC midfielder Jess Fishlock hasn’t missed a stride in her return to the club after her loan spell with Olympique Lyonnais, playing the full 90 minutes in both of her first two matches back.
The bigger adjustment for the Wales international has been getting into a rhythm with the new players like Darian Jenkins, Bethany Balcer and Shea Groom, all of whom were brought in while she was away.
“I think that was the biggest thing for me,” Fishlock said. “I had two days with a completely new front three and midfield, too. That was tough. It would be difficult for anybody, but what I think I really enjoyed about it is that they’re so different from the players I was used to before; Jodie, Rumi, Allie, Steph and Megan, all these players. They’re just different, but I enjoy it. I enjoy that they’re different. I enjoy what they bring. I enjoyed the North Carolina win with the girls knowing that it’s only going to get better. We’re only going to understand each other more. Obviously, when I walked out into that game, I was like ‘I have to really focus right now because I have different surroundings around me,’ but I was really excited and really happy with what the girls do. I’m excited for when we can put everybody together.”
Club Focusing on Clamping Down on Early, Late Concessions
Reign FC has struggled to keep opponents from finding the back of the net at the bookends of their matches in 2019. The club has allowed four goals in the first 15 minutes of play, up from just one last season. Similarly, the club has let in three goals in the final quarter-hour through seven matches, compared to four total in all of 2018.
Centerback and captain Lauren Barnes said the back line is focusing on closing down matches in the late minutes.
“I think as a club we take defensive principles very seriously,” Barnes said. “As a member of the back line, I take a lot of pride in that. I think it’s a mentality thing. I think we were starting slow, so we need to make sure we were plugged in. Vice versa, the last 15 we just need to focus on being tactical and finishing strong.”
Andonovski meanwhile, noted that while the club has stopped allowing early goals (all four came in the club’s first five matches), he does not necessarily feel that the late allowances are a result of his team switching off.
“Early on in the season, we were conceding early goals,” Andonovski said. “We tightened that up and then we conceded twice toward the end of the game. One was on a restart and the other was a great shot from distance. I think the players threw their bodies on the line and blocked one or two before the ball went in. There is nothing obvious that we can figure out that is happening or mental breakdown, it’s just part of the game.”
“For us, personally, I think it’s not the goals we’re conceding, it’s the opportunities that we create that we have to score is the bigger problem. We create far too many opportunities. We could put the game away a lot sooner instead of waiting for the 90th minute.”
Six Reign FC players will be unavailable for Saturday’s match:
Michelle Betos (ruptured achilles)
Taylor Smith (torn ACL)
Jasmyne Spencer (torn ACL)
Scout Watson (concussion)
Darian Jenkins (hamstring)
Kristen McNabb (calf)
Additionally, one player is questionable for Reign FC:
Shea Groom (calf)
How To Watch
Tickets for Saturday’s match can be purchased at Ticketmaster, via phone at 855-REIGN-FC, or at the Cheney Stadium Box Office.
Fans in the U.S. unable to attend the match in person can watch the game on their phone, computer or streaming device on Yahoo! Sports, while fans outside of the U.S. can watch the match live on NWSLsoccer.com.