The match served as season debuts for Reign FC goalkeeper Casey Murphy and the long-awaited return of midfielder Jess Fishlock, fresh from her treble-winning loan spell at Olympique Lyonnais. The duo were part of a complete team effort as Reign FC defeated North Carolina Courage, 2-1.
It’s always a tall order when going up against the Courage, but Reign FC were more than ready, and it didn’t take long for them to open up the scoring.
In the 13th minute, defender Kristen McNabb sent a cross into North Carolina’s box and forward Bethany Balcer connected with it and headed in it in for her second goal on the season.
The legend of @ReignFC's Bethany Balcer continues to grow as she connects with her head on a cross from @KristenMcNabb14 and it kisses the underside of the crossbar to fine a nice comfortable spot in the back of NC's net with an ice cold beverage. #RFCvNC #SEAvNC pic.twitter.com/4ecF0Rd2qp— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) May 27, 2019
While their second goal wouldn’t come until the second half, Reign FC was in full control of the first half as they were connecting their passes as well as smothering North Carolina’s passing lanes.
“I thought the first 45 minutes were great,” said the returning Fishlock after the match, going as far as suggesting they could have claimed a second or third goal within the first half with how in rhythm the team was. Before Balcer’s goal in the 13th minute, the rookie forward had a chance in the 6th minute.
And Shea Groom had a chance in the 43rd that bounced off the post, off North Carolina’s Katelyn Rowland and then trickled along the goal line, where Darian Jenkins was just a bit late to get to for a follow-up smash into the net.
43' ALMOST TWO FOR REIGN FC! Shea Groom with a shot that bounces off the post and the back of North Carolina's Rowland and trickles along the mouth of goal, but Darian Jenkins isn't able to get there in time for the follow-through! #RFCvNC #SEAvNC pic.twitter.com/jKOKkT2QOS— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) May 27, 2019
Reign FC’s second goal came in the 86th minute when Shea Groom had a trademark Shea Groom run that forced Rowland to come out of her box to try and intercept the ball. A traffic jam happened between Groom, Rowland, and defender Abby Erceg. Out of the chaos came something beautiful with Groom spotting the ball, turning around, and firing into the open net for her first goal on the season.
North Carolina Courage would get one back in the 89th minute when Erceg connected on a Jaelene Hinkle cross. It capped off the visitors being able to establish some control in the second half and pressure Reign FC’s defense far more than in the first half.
While they would try to scramble to get a last-minute equalizer and even came far too close than Reign FC wanted in stoppage time, it was too little, too late and Reign FC held on for the 2-1 victory.
Erceg’s goal in the 89th was the only blip on Murphy’s debut as the Reign’s new and now starting goalkeeper. Murphy was rarely under siege against a potent North Carolina Courage, known for lighting up the box score with shots often in the twenties. She commanded the air on crosses sent into the box by North Carolina, using all of her 6’1” frame. Fans may have been understandably anxious entering today’s match being thrown into the fire, facing the defending champs, but over the course of the afternoon, she did not look like someone that was just signed and began training with the team a week ago.
“Casey was incredible today. Her presence out there is what makes it a little bit easier for the back line, but also I thought she made some big saves in the crucial moments of the game,” said Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski after the match of his new goalkeeper. Andonovski went on to credit goalkeeper Michelle Betos for helping Murphy getting ready for today’s match and beyond.
For Andonovski’s opposite number, North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley was all compliments for Reign FC being the better side today. Riley mentioned how Reign FC’s game plan to smother the midfield right from the start was why they weren’t able to get anything going creatively and test the debuting Murphy.
If it wasn’t clear to Reign FC fans, having Jess Fishlock in the midfield is a very good thing. It also comes as no surprise that despite all of the minutes she played in France, she went the full 90 minutes today and you saw what she brings to the attack. With a new trio in Jenkins, Balcer, and Groom in front of her, Fishlock is excited about what they can do once she catches up with the team and gets in more training.
“We have a connection right away. Just off the cuff, and the first half showed that. So just imagine what we can get up to with a couple training sessions together, and video work and working together on and off the field. That’s something to be super excited about,” said Fishlock after the match.
The victory puts Reign FC at nine points through six matches and is their second win in a row. Reign FC remain at home again for their next match as they host Houston Dash and look to make it a third straight victory. Reign FC host the Houston Dash on Sunday, June 2 with a scheduled kickoff of 1 PM PST.