With Reign FC holding a 3-0 lead over Orlando Pride in the first 23 minutes on September 7, referee Karen Abt halted play and ordered the two teams back to their locker rooms. The two teams couldn’t resume play for nearly two hours.
Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski was a little surprised at the stoppage. After all, the lightning strikes that had blinked in and out along the ridgeline to the east of Cheney Stadium were behind his technical area, while he was solely focused on the fast start that saw his team jump in front just three minutes in to the match.
“It was pretty obvious that we were very motivated,” Andonovski said. “We were ready. We were just intense from the first whistle. I think that five minutes in, you could tell who’s game it was going to be.”
Still, when a power surge caused the stadium lights, which made the long trip to Tacoma from the legendary Seals Stadium all the way back in 1960, to blink out, it was still light enough to see and play for several minutes before Abt halted play.
For Andonovski, who nearly 18 years playing and coaching in Kansas City, Missouri, the stoppage was familiar in theme, if not in length.
“When we got in the locker room and they showed me the that the delay could be almost two hours, it was a little surprising,” Andonovski said. “But it brought a lot of old memories back.”
In the minutes after the players cleared the pitch, the skies darkened. Stadium personnel, fearing the damage repeated surges could do to the field lights, kept them powered off until the players were ready to retake the field. Close lightning strikes rattled the stadium as rain pelted down, causing fans to take shelter on Cheney Stadium’s covered concourses.
NWSL rules state that at least 30 minutes must elapse between the last lightning strike within close proximity of a stadium before players may retake the field. Over the next hour and a half, an occasional strike would roll back the clock.
The wait was on.
Inside Reign FC’s locker room, however, there was much to consider. The rigors of professional soccer require adherence to rhythm and deviations can reduce performance or increase the chance of injury.
Players’ activity levels were monitored and maintained through stretching, biking and other exercises. Food was another consideration in the long delay.
“It’s hard to manage, because you don’t know what kind of time you’re working with,” Andonovski said. “From a physical standpoint, we did everything we needed to do in terms of stretching and staying warm, but the nutrition is another big part. The players have to manage nutrition properly to make sure that they’re ready to perform at certain times. We had to adjust their nutrition.”
The stop also, however, provided a unique chance for in-game film evaluation.
“For the coaches, we had enough time to cut down the video from the first 22 minutes and then pull up some coaching points. It would have been harder to manage if it happens on the road, but we were fortunate that we could do that at our home field.”
Some had the opportunity to take the delay a little easier than others.
“I was just b******g about how I’ve never seen a strike of lightning here in my seven years here as a resident in Seattle and all of a sudden we have strike after strike,” Reign FC forward Megan Rapinoe said. “That was crazy. We just chilled and kept it pretty low. We knew right off the bat that it was going to be a little while. I think that’s better ,when you’re not having to check every 15 or 30 minutes. We were just kicking it, probably on Instagram a bit too much. I didn’t really warm up because I knew I was going to go in in the second half, anyways. I just stayed chilling.”
At around 9:20, the teams were cleared to return to the field and begin warming up as the stadium lights flicked back on.
For Reign FC, the question remained of whether the club would be able to maintain the momentum that had bagged them a season-high three goals in just over a quarter-hour.
“It’s definitely difficult to deal with,” said Reign FC forward Darian Jenkins. “You come off that adrenaline rush after three goals and then you sit. Then it’s ‘oh, we have to sit longer and longer and longer.’ Being able to maintain that mentality and energy is difficult, but we have such an experienced team that it wasn’t an issue at all. We came out and still played well.”
Reign FC did not add another goal once play resumed, but played convincingly to see out the win.
“During those two hours, we had a meeting—a few meetings, actually—and kept reminding them the importance of jumping out and being ready right away,” Andonovski said. “I think that that they were tremendous. Unfortunately, we didn’t score any of the opportunities that we created, but I felt that we could have scored another four or five goals.”
The win kept Reign FC locked in the playoff battle, one point back of fourth-place Utah Royals FC. For Andonovski, getting the result in adverse circumstances will be huge as his team fights for a postseason berth.
“For us, for any team getting into the final quarter of the season, every point matters,” Andonovski said. “We were in a situation where if we didn’t get these three points, we’d have a much harder time catching up with the teams ahead of us. Now we’re just there. We’re knocking on the door and we can keep battling for a playoff spot.”