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Reign FC earn preseason win against U-23 USWNT

NWSL soccer is back!

Nikita Taparia

Reign FC continued preseason play on Sunday, taking on the United States U-23 Women’s National Team in the first of a three-game Thorns Spring Invitational in Portland. The match ended 2-1 in favor of Reign FC, although the NWSL side dominated and should have put in a few more goals.

Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski started what looks to be close to an ideal XI, with Lydia Williams anchoring the defense in goal; Steph Catley, Lauren Barnes, Megan Oyster, and Celia Jiménez Delgado along the backline; Allie Long, Elise Kellond-Knight, and Bev Yanez in the midfield; and Megan Rapinoe, Jodie Taylor, and new Reign FC forward Darian Jenkins in the front band of three.

The first half was played mostly in the Reign’s offensive half, with the team peppering the U-23 goal. Most of the play came up the left side of Reign FC’s attack, with Catley and Rapinoe combining and the midfield sending long balls toward their side of the field. If not for a number of deflections and blocks as the U-23s threw bodies into the box, Reign FC could have easily entered halftime with three goals. Credit goes to U-23 forward Ally Watt, as well, who frequently dropped back to provide cover on Rapinoe or Catley as they attacked.

Thanks to the resolute U-23 defending, it was 0-0 after the first 45 minutes, but it wouldn’t take long for Reign FC to find the back of the net in the second half. Some quick attacking movement gave Jenkins the first goal in the 49th minute. A series of rapid passes starting near midfield put Yanez on the ball about 30 yards out. She played to Jenkins on the right, who took a sharp cut to drag the ball to her left, then buried a shot into the right corner.

Reign FC’s lead wouldn’t last for long, however. A poor pass from Kellond-Knight in the midfield gave Catarina Macario, a creative attacking player from Stanford, the ball and an opportunity to counter. With substitute right back Theresa Nielsen pulled up high in anticipation of a Reign attack, the Reign’s right side was exposed. Macario found a streaking Ashley Sanchez, who took a low shot to the far post that was just out of the reach of an outstretched Williams.

Long would get the go-ahead goal in the 70th minute. The midfielder, who went a full 90 minutes after taking the offseason to recover from a partially torn PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament), got her head on a Rapinoe free kick — redirecting it to the right corner of the net.

Reign FC continue the Thorns Invitational on Wednesday, taking on the Chicago Red Stars at 1:30 PM at Merlo Field. They close out the preseason tournament on Saturday, March 30 with a match against rivals Portland Thorns FC. The game is also at Merlo Field and kicks off at 7:30 PM.

Preseason Observations

  • There were plenty of preseason hiccups, and it shows in the scoreline. The finishing wasn’t quite there, but Andonovski was more concerned with how the team pressed on defense and organized themselves — not how many goals they scored. The Reign head coach was constantly asking players to close down quickly, pressure opposing players into a panicked bad pass, and win the ball back as quickly as possible — a trademark approach in Andonovski’s “attacking, aggressive, attractive” soccer system.
  • Jenkins looks to be quite a pickup for Reign FC. She’s still learning Andonovski’s system — especially team positioning and what’s asked of her defensively — but she put herself in a number of good goal-scoring positions on the right flank and was rewarded with the team’s first goal. She’s got a strong cross and looks comfortable using both feet.
  • Long was the maestro on both offense and defense. She was the deepest midfielder and often dropped between the two centerbacks to get the ball and build the attack. She wasn’t flashy, but did all the little things well — winning the first ball in the air, anticipating passes and cutting them off, pulling wide to give the outside backs cover, and shielding the ball and being patient to find the open player. She looked confident and comfortable after spending a good portion of the offseason rehabbing her knee.
  • Reign FC didn’t give the U-23 WNT many chances, aside from about three or four counter attacks. These opportunities came primarily from poor passes or miscommunication, something that will be easy for the team to work out as the preseason progresses.
  • Shea Groom has not yet suited up for Reign FC, but was dressed with the team and warmed up at halftime this match. We have no confirmation from the club on what kind of injury she may be recovering from — whatever it is, we have not heard that it is serious.

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