With the FIFA Women’s World Cup underway, Reign FC and the rest of the NWSL resumed league play this weekend. Reign FC hosted Washington Spirit and with an effective press and plenty of chances, the home side played to a 1-1 draw against the league-leading Spirit.
Reign FC came out the gate strong with early pressure on Washington. The best effort by Reign FC came in the 14th minute from this Lauren Barnes free kick that found forward Ifeoma Onumonu right at Washington’s doorstep, but her kick went right into the sure hands of goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe.
From: @laurenkb31— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) June 16, 2019
Re: #RFCvWAS pic.twitter.com/WlqM6BCwx2
Washington would survive Reign’s early pressure, settle into the match and even getting a couple chances to strike first. Their most dangerous opportunity came in the 28th minute when midfielder Dorian Bailey launched one from distance, forcing Reign goalkeeper Casey Murphy to dive out for a stop. Spirit had another chance 10 minutes later from a free kick spot. Defender Sam Staab opted to go low on it, but it went straight into the Reign FC wall and while there was a rebound opportunity, the rookie defender’s second chance went high.
Despite the chances by both sides, the first half went scoreless and it was looking like we were en route to a repeat of their May 4 encounter that had chances, none finding the back of the net, and once again Spirit goalkeeper Bledsoe shining like she has been all season long.
The second half saw Reign FC continue more of the same with a pivotal moment coming in the 47th minute. Forward Bethany Balcer took a ball down the right wing and sent in a low cross that midfielder Jess Fishlock caught up to, getting a shot off but once again, Bledsoe was in the right place to punch it out. The effort by Fishlock was also met with Spirit midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard crashing into the Reign midfielder, landing hard on her left shoulder. Fishlock would remain down for a few minutes and after being looked at by the trainer, and because she’s tougher than a $2 steak at a truck stop diner, Fishlock was back in the game.
In the ensuing minutes after hitting the deck, Fishlock would move around her shoulder, ensuring she had full range of moment. After the match, Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski only said Fishlock was injured, but did not specify the severity of it. He said that if the team had the full team (not counting those at the World Cup) available, he most likely would have substituted her out.
Washington Spirit would go on to strike first in the match in the 62nd minute when midfielder Andi Sullivan received the ball just outside Reign’s 18-yard box, weaved through Reign’s defenders, and slice the ball past Murphy to claim her first career NWSL goal.
Even no more between @ReignFC and @WashSpirit! @sunshine_sully nets the breakthrough.— NWSL (@NWSL) June 16, 2019
0-1 | #SEAvWAS pic.twitter.com/2Zxbnukyvd
Once again, Reign FC found themselves chasing to get an equalizer and much like their first encounter earlier in the season and up to this point in the evening, they got the chances, but they just weren’t able to finish them. It may sound like a broken record that Reign aren’t finishing their chances, but as good as the chances looked, Bledsoe was just better.
That is, until the 77th minute, which came after a few frustrating sequences where the Reign thought they deserved a penalty or two due to fouls or handballs in the box. After a throw-in, a lobbed pass into the box, a header, a blocked attempt, really a bunch of chaos, Fishlock, having at the very least a very sore wring, pounced on a second chance and finally Reign FC were able to beat Bledsoe to get the equalizer.
— NWSL (@NWSL) June 16, 2019
1-1 | #SEAvWAS pic.twitter.com/HBgHTRIuv4
Anyone following this team since year one should not be surprised that there is no quit in Fishlock. Yet just when we think we’ve seen all there is to her superhuman will to stay in the game, she does something again that leaves us in awe.
Unless you're new to the NWSL, as long as @JessFishlock has a breath in her body, she will not give up on a play. The latest example was this 77th minute equalizer. #RFCvWAS pic.twitter.com/J2IEa9j7mW— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) June 16, 2019
The goal sent the 3,572 in attendance at Cheney Stadium into a roar.
They would try to claim a second to get the full three points, but the match would end on a 1-1 draw, and at the very least, preserving Reign FC’s unbeaten status at Cheney Stadium.
Before all of the action unfolded, the match already had a milestone. Mostly born out of necessity due to the many injuries that have afflicted the team, Reign FC started assistant coach turned National Team Replacement Player Steph Cox at left back. It was her first time seeing the field, having left the game after the 2015 season. Alas, as we’ve seen with many other athletes, some don’t stay retired forever and she wanted to see if she had anything left in the tank.
She sure did, as Cox went the full 90 minutes on Saturday night. It wasn’t planned to go that way, but with the amount of injuries, maybe the soccer gods decided to give Reign FC something magical tonight and we got a vintage Steph Cox performance. She was solid defensively, was sending in cross into the box like it was 2014-15 all over again.
“I had so much fun. Just a lot of special moments out there that made it all worth it coming back,” said Cox after the match. Not a bad outing for your 50th NWSL appearance, even if it took three years to reach that milestone.
The draw gives Reign FC 11 points through eight matches and currently seventh in the league table, with the Chicago Red Stars ahead of them on goal differential.
And speaking of the Red Stars, Reign FC’s next match sees them out on the road, going to Bridgeview, Illinois to face them. Barring any adverse weather conditions, kickoff for this one is scheduled for Sunday, June 23 at 3 PM PST.
The team will have to get comfortable living out of suitcases for a while, as next Sunday’s match kicks off four straight matches on the road. Reign FC’s won’t host another home match until Sunday, July 28.