Reign FC reached the midpoint of the season on a sweltering Saturday evening in Cary, North Carolina. Beset with injuries, the club’s eight-match unbeaten streak ended in a 2-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage as the victors jumped into the league’s top spot.
For the third time in 12 matches, Reign FC was forced to make two substitutions in the first half due to injury. Unlike the first two occasions, head coach Vlatko Andonovski was forced to make his final change before the start of the second half.
Still, Andonovski was quick to credit last year’s champions about the outcome.
“First and foremost, North Carolina was a better opponent,” Andonovski said. “They were the better team on the night. I don’t want to take anything away from them. At the same time, the injuries that happened in the first half didn’t make our job any easier. The situation is one we’ve been in a few times this season. We’ve managed to get results from it before, but this time the difference in quality was so big that we couldn’t overcome that with hard work and battling.”
Andonovski put Maegan Kelly in for Shea Groom in the 41st minute, then put Addison Steiner on for Bev Yanez three minutes into stoppage time after Yanez went down following a blow to the head.
Coming back from the locker room, Andonovski also put on Kristen McNabb for Celia Jiménez Delgado before referee Tori Penso blew the whistle to begin the second half.
For a team that already had 10 players unavailable due to injury (including six players on the Season-Ending Injury list), the disruption was too much to overcome. A second-half goal from Debinha was enough to put the result out of question, causing Reign FC to settle into third place.
Still, Andonovski was optimistic after a stretch of four straight road fixtures saw the club take nine points.
“Where we are after all of these games, I don’t think we’re happy, but we’re satisfied with it,” Andonovski said. “Especially getting nine out of 12 possible points at Chicago, Utah, Portland and North Carolina. It’s incredible. Now, this last game was not the performance that we’ll look back and say we’re happy with, but one good things that comes out of games like this is that you get a learning opportunity. North Carolina exposed a lot of our weaknesses and mistakes, so now we get to take two weeks to recover and work on our shortcomings to hopefully get better.”
The club wasted no time in bolstering its roster Monday morning, adding Canadian international Rebecca Quinn and Schuyler DeBree. Even as they added keeper Lydia Williams to the 45-day Disabled List, they acquired former USC standout Sammy Jo Prudhomme in a trade with the Washington Spirit.
Considered alongside the impending return of midfielder Allie Long, forwards Jodie Taylor and Megan Rapinoe from the Women’s World Cup, Andonovski feels his team, despite the adversity it has faced, is poised to plunge into the second half of the season.
“All the new players are good signings, but they’re also coming at a crucial time,” Andonovski said. “When you have so many injuries, getting quality players like the ones that we’ve signed is something that will make the job a little bit easier. Now, we have a short timeframe in terms of how we can get them ready, but we’ll have a slightly longer week with a few extra sessions to hopefully get them used to their new environment.”