In an epic battle between Laura Harvey and Vlatko Andonovski, it was Andonovski’s Reign FC that would come out on top against the Utah Royals — defeating the visiting side 2-1 in the final minutes of the match.
Here are three winners and losers from the match.
Last-minute goals: In our match preview, we pushed the Reign to diversify the attack and score multiple goals. They did that on Wednesday, but sure made it interesting, waiting until the 86th minute to get the game-winner and score their second. Regardless, against one of the toughest defenses in the league, Reign FC found a way to get on the scoreboard twice. And they had other chances that required some luck or a world-class save to keep the ball out. The attack was clicking — and it sure was fun to watch.
Jodie Taylor was a beast: Jodie Taylor would be the first to tell you that she hasn’t produced goals at a rate she’d like this year. But on Wednesday, she did everything possible to get her team the win — and was easily my Player of the Match. Defense starts at the front line, and Taylor was key in pushing the Royals to pass the ball wide — a strategy Andonovski said he deployed to pull Christen Press away from goal. Taylor was also a key distributor, earning an assist on top of her game-winning goal and jump-starting two other key chances. Taylor was everything you ask a center forward to be. If she can produce similar results these next few weeks, the Reign are going to be rather dangerous.
“The thing with Jodie is that she knows she hasn’t scored as many goals as she could probably score,” Andonovski said. “But she’s a big player. She comes in in big games and scores big goals.”
Playoff chances: With the win over Utah, Reign FC now sit alone in fourth place. A win in either of their final two regular season matches will clinch a spot to the playoffs, regardless of other results. The playoffs are looking like a possibility, which feels incredible knowing how many injuries to key players this team fought through this year. Reign fans have mastermind Andonovski to thank, who was able to adjust the team tactically to each opponent — and manage through what is likely the worst bout of injuries and absences an NWSL team has faced.
Your stress levels: Wednesday’s match was shaping up to be one of the most exciting and frustrating matches of the year. The Reign went up 1-0 only to squander that lead and give Utah enough momentum to potentially take the reins of the playoff hunt. And as you were on the edge of your seat — about to slip off — Taylor slotted the game winner into the net. In that moment, all the nervous energy was worth it. But boy, that sure was stressful.
Ongoing injury woes: While Rumi Utsugi and Stephanie Cox came into a match for the first time in months, Bethany Balcer left early due to groin pain. Her status for Sunday’s match remains unknown, but another starter lost for a game or two feels par for the course at this point. It doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating. Hopefully it was a precautionary move, as the rookie Balcer has been having an incredible season and currently leads the team in goals.
The season is coming to an end: This has been a fantastic year for women’s soccer. The World Cup was one of the best of all time, and attendance has skyrocketed in the NWSL — and for the Reign specifically. Tacoma welcomed the Reign with open arms, breaking the single-season attendance record for the club with two matches to go. While we are still optimistic about the Reign’s playoff chances, this time of the year is here to remind us that there’s very little NWSL soccer remaining. And that makes us a little sad.
So how about ending with an NWSL Championship to make it all a little better?