A packed house and the bright lights of an ESPN broadcast were on hand at Cheney Stadium Sunday morning for Reign FC’s regular season home finale. Vlatko Andonovski’s side welcomed that old familiar foe, the Portland Thorns FC, in a match where a victory for Reign FC meant they would secure the final NWSL Playoff spot.
And that is exactly what Reign FC did with a decisive 2-0 victory over their Cascadian rivals. The victory punches their ticket for post-season play in the NWSL Playoffs, claims the regular season series sweep of their rivals, and made emphatic statements that the club should be getting some end of season accolades.
When Reign FC and Thorns meet, you know it’s always going to be a physical affair. Today at Cheney Stadium wasn’t any different. Andonovski said it was a typical, intense, and hard match but with a wry smile, he was happy at the team’s performance. Without naming specifics, Andonovski praised his squad’s side in winning individual battles and what had been a bugaboo a week ago, but corrected this past Wednesday against Utah, they were able to continue and be creative and finish in the final third.
The work first paid off for Reign FC in the 27th minute.
Forward Jodie Taylor received a long pass from defender Theresa Nielsen, turned, and fired past goalkeeper Adriana Franch for her fourth goal on the season.
The second half remained intense and physical. In the 48th minute, play was stopped when midfielder Beverly Yanez had an inadvertent elbow that struck Thorns midfielder Dagny Brynjarsdottir as both were going for the ball. While the incident didn’t dampen the atmosphere the rivalry match brings, it did bring more stops and starts because of the physicality. However, Reign FC were able to establish their rhythm and would get their second goal.
Bethany Balcer entered the match in the 74th minute, replacing Darian Jenkins, and within seven minutes, the rookie forward put her stamp on the game and bigger picture, her claims to be awarded NWSL Rookie of the Year honors with a near-post goal in the 81st minute to effectively put the game to rest.
“When she scored that second goal, I almost started crying. That’s how excited I am for her,” said Andonovski after the match where he also made a stump speech for Balcer to win NWSL Rookie of the Year honors.
“Other rookies have done pretty good, but after the goal today, I think it’s a no-brainer. No rookie in this league has had an impact on a team or on a season like she has.”
Balcer remained humble about the praise she’s been receiving down the stretch of the club’s campaign and becoming influential in securing a playoff spot.
“This whole season has been so surreal, every moment from my first minute to my first goal. I’m just so grateful and honored that I even got this opportunity. I’m trying to take moments as they come. It’s incredible to even be mentioned and thought of for that award.”
The win, as you already know, secures Reign FC’s ticket for the NWSL Playoffs, but they still have one more match to play that can be a factor in them improving their seeding in the postseason. Next up for Reign FC is a trip to Orlando to face the Orlando Pride after the FIFA break. A victory in their regular season finale at Orlando, and should Portland Thorns FC lose to Washington Spirit, Reign FC will leapfrog over their Cascadian rivals in the table and travel to the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL Semifinal as the three-seed. Reign FC at Orlando Pride is scheduled for Saturday, October 12 with a 4:30 PM PST kickoff.