Missing 12 players due to injury, Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski elected to make a formation change going in to the Saturday’s match against the North Carolina Courage. The move stymied the Courage, but was unable to prevent them from eventually finding the game-winning goal in the 82nd minute of a 1-0 loss on the road.
“I wouldn’t say we were playing for a draw, but we were playing not to get scored on and take advantage of the opportunities that we had,” Andonovski said. “I felt like we created enough to maybe sneak one in, but at the end they were the ones that capitalized on their chance.”
Reign FC rolled out in a 5-4-1, dropping Celia Jiménez Delgado into the back line as a third centerback and playing with a midfield box in a move designed to deny North Carolina its usual rhythm in areas where it is strongest.
“Two days out, we decided to change the formation and change the system and the flow of the run of play to a 5-4-1,” Andonovski said. “It’s something we’ve never done before. In two days, with a couple of meetings and film sessions, we were able to execute it pretty well. We knew that coming in with the team that we have that we were going to have to give up something to North Carolina. It seemed like it worked out to a certain extent.”
The goal came from NC Courage forward Lynn Williams, who converted a low cross from NC Courage defender Crystal Dunn late in the match to score her seventh goal of the season. The play was started by a incisive through ball from NC Courage forward Jessica McDonald to Dunn, finding a gap in Reign FC’s defense.
“We shut down and lost focus for one moment,” Reign FC midfielder Allie Long said. “They’re a great team that’s going to punish you when you turn off for a second. As a team, we need to be better and need to be focused every minute of the game.”
North Carolina outshot Reign FC 26-9, including a 7-1 advantage in shots on goal. Reign FC’s defense blocked eight shots, but Reign FC goalkeeper Casey Murphy earned Player of the Match honors after making six saves.
Murphy is fourth in the league for both goals-against average (1.08) and saves (47) among keepers with at least 5 appearances.
Andonovski said that the quality of the league is great for the young keeper, who will spend the international break with the U.S. U-23s at the Nordic Tournament in England.
“Casey is a good goalkeeper with lots of potential,” Andonovski said. “There is a lot of talent there. This season is a great opportunity to grow into the league. Coming from France, she had games like this maybe twice a season. Here, she has games like this almost on a weekly basis.”
The club is now on a 14-day break before facing the Orlando Pride at home on September 7. Long hopes that the time off will give players a chance to rest up and recover in preparation for the final six matches of the regular season.
“I think it gives us an extra week and a half to get numbers back healthy,” Long said. “I think we’ll see players getting back after this break. We just have to treat every single game like it’s a playoff match.”