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Reign FC 2019 NWSL preview

Year two of the Vlatko Andonovski era wants that NWSL Championship.

Nikita Taparia

Reign FC enter their seventh season of play this weekend. The offseason was anything but quiet as the club moved to Cheney Stadium to start a new and brighter future. The roadmap to that future includes the second year of the Vlatko Andonovski era, where they have NWSL Championship aspirations.

How did they finish in 2018?

3rd in the league (41 points), semi-final loss to Portland Thorns FC.

What’s new in 2019? / Biggest change from last year?

Reign FC have a new home! The club moved to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, re-branded as Reign FC, and took on new investors (notably Adrian Hanauer) to solidify the club’s future, which may include a brand new, soccer-specific stadium they would share with Tacoma Defiance of USL.

Who’s out?

Nahomi Kawasumi (traded to Sky Blue FC), Elizabeth Addo (waived/signed with China’s Jiangsu Suning), Yael Averbuch (suspended playing career due to illness), Alyssa Kleiner (retired), Adriana Leon (signed with England’s West Ham United)

Who’s in?

Shea Groom (trade with Sky Blue FC), Celia Jiménez Delgado (discovery signing), Darian Jenkins (trade with North Carolina Courage), Elise Kellond-Knight (discovery signing), Morgan Proffitt (discovery signing), Taylor Smith (discovery signing)

What’s the new jersey?

The team will have a new away kit, but at the time of writing it has not yet been publicly revealed.

New coach? Who?

Not a new head coach, but Stephanie Cox returns to the team as one of Vlatko Andonovski’s assistants. She was previously an assistant coach for Reign FC in 2017.

How will the World Cup impact the squad?

Reign FC could lose 8 players to the summer tournament, including their biggest offensive threats, Megan Rapinoe and Jodie Taylor, and the club’s first-choice goalkeeper, Lydia Williams. The team has signed a number of depth players over the last two years with this tournament in mind, and those players will see major minutes this summer.

Projected starting XI

GK: Lydia Williams / LB: Steph Catley / RB: Theresa Nielsen / CBs: Megan Oyster, Lauren Barnes / MIDs: Jess Fishlock, Rumi Utsugi, Allie Long / FWs: Megan Rapinoe, Jodie Taylor, Darian Jenkins

Expectations for 2019?

NWSL Championship contender.

Reign FC warmup ahead of their pre-season match against University of Washington

What did we learn last season about this team?

Rebuild, reload, whatever you want to call it, Reign FC started a new era with the departure of Laura Harvey and the appointment of Vlatko Andonovski. The two-time NWSL Champion head coach significantly overhauled the roster, most notably on the defense, and it translated to the league’s second-best defense (19 goals conceded in 24 games). While the team saw many new faces to the club like Steph Catley, Jasmyne Spencer, and Allie Long, Reign FC still retained its core and still boasts the most players of any club still on their active roster from the inaugural season in 2013. Injuries in the final few weeks of the season affected the team and cut their season short, losing in the NWSL Semifinals to rival Portland Thorns. Fans can only to ask what could have been if the team was healthy. That said, the first year of the Vlatko Andonovski Era was about reclaiming some of Reign FC’s glory and alerted the rest of the league that they are back.

Big rumor(s) this offseason

Unfortunately, it’s been quiet on that front for Reign FC. That said, we have the welcoming party and a fresh Reign FC jersey ready for one Dszenifer Maroszan. Just saying.

Who is THE player to watch on your team, and why?

Darian Jenkins – she was the prize acquisition in the offseason and she will be given plenty of playing time at Reign FC when Rapinoe and Taylor are on World Cup duty. The 5’10” forward brings speed, height and strength to Reign FC’s attack. If it all comes together, that is something the club will need if they want to attack clubs like Portland and North Carolina over the top and through the middle.

See it for yourself with the goal she scored against the USWNT U-23s down in Portland last month.

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

Like all clubs in the league, depth will be tested significantly when the World Cup players depart. Reign FC could lose 8 players for the tournament and while on paper they are well-prepared for it, any injuries could put a strain on that depth.

How much will this roster change after the season starts?

The roster will be rotated in all three departments when the World Cup players head to France. Luckily for Reign FC, their “backup” goalkeeper is first team quality. Our eyes have also taken a focused look at Morgan Andrews as someone who could take her game to another level with the increased playing time she’ll receive due to the World Cup departures.

Over the course of the pre-season, we’ve chatted with Andrews about her game evolving under Andonovski. She’s said her discipline on the ball and confidence has grown since last season and it has translated to a bigger role in the midfield.

Who’s the player fans are going to love to hate?

Shea Groom – after a dismal 2018 at Sky Blue FC, Groom reunites with Andonovski, under whom she was a 2015 NWSL Champion with FC Kansas City, and made NWSL Second XI in 2016. Despite all of the success Reign FC have had on the field, they have lacked a forward who will not hesitate to do the dirty work and be a pest to opposing defenders. Think of what Jess Fishlock has done from box-to-box in the midfield for Seattle — Shea Groom could do that in the attacking third and within the box. Sometimes you have to get a bit ugly in order to win and Shea Groom can do that.

Who’s the player fans will learn to love?

Celia Jiménez Delgado – the 2018 Reign FC draft pick has finally joined the squad and is already on her way to becoming a new fan favorite as it was pointed out she was studying aerospace engineering while playing at the University of Alabama. Reign FC fans may have had to wait an extra year to launch their aerospace puns into orbit, but now she is here and ready to take flight. While her natural position is right back, we’ve already seen her train and play in the pre-season at center back and at forward, and with Andonovski’s affinity for working with defenders, her curiosity and potential could be out of this world.

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