The match marked the return of former Reign FC forward, Nahomi Kawasumi. Kawasumi was traded in the offseason to Sky Blue FC. Before the match she was honored as Reign FC Legend for the four seasons (2014, 2016-2018) she played for Reign FC.
When it was time to play, it didn’t take long for the action to come. Goals came early — within fifteen minutes Sky Blue FC was responsible for each side getting on the scoreboard.
The visitors opened the scoring in the 11th minute when Rocky Rodriguez capitalized on a rare error by Reign FC defender Lauren Barnes.
However two minutes later, Reign FC equalized when Sky Blue FC defender Julie James got her head on a Reign FC corner and unfortunately her attempt to clear it out went into her own side’s net.
The score remained 1-1 going into halftime. It was also during halftime that Reign FC made their first change on the day as Australian international Steph Catley could only go 45 minutes in her season debut. Catley had missed all of Reign FC’s prior matches this season due to a calf injury, but being able to finally get out on the field, even for a half, was as much pleasure as it was relief for the defender.
“[It] felt amazing. It’s been a long time coming, this rehab in particular has been a difficult one, missing these games for Reign and then with the World Cup so close, it’s been really tough,” said Catley after the match. “But I felt really, really good and 45 minutes was my max today, but I would have loved to have played more, but that’s how it it is. Gotta be careful and listen to my body.”
The second half saw both sides trying to claim a second goal, and at times it was clear that these were two teams entering today’s match feeling the pressure of not having yet claimed a victory in 2019. Shots on goal lacked any proper touch to really make either goalkeeper work, especially for Reign FC. They were the side controlling possession and making smart runs, but they lacked any finish to beat Sky Blue FC goalkeeper DiDi Haracic.
It looked to be that Reign FC were going to get another draw, and with it bring some bigger questions about the rest of the season, but it all changed in the 78th minute.
In a true poacher’s fashion, Jodie Taylor was in the right place at the right time after Haracic wasn’t able to secure the ball and the English international was able to get her foot on it to claim her first goal on the season, which turned out to be the match-winner.
Winning the match came at a heavy price for Reign FC, as goalkeeper Michelle Betos made an awkward dive to secure a cross in stoppage time. When she got up for her goal kick, it was apparent she sustained an injury to her lower right leg. Post-match Reign FC Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski didn’t elaborate on the nature of Betos’ injury, only alluding that she likely is going to miss a significant amount of time. Obviously you don’t want any player to sustain a severe injury, but it makes the club’s signing of goalkeeper Casey Murphy earlier this week all the more valuable.
The injury to Betos came when Reign FC had already used all of their substitutions for the match and it presented a situation never before seen in the NWSL — an outfield player needing to step in as emergency goalkeeper. That unenviable job went to midfielder Morgan Andrews.
When asked about it, Andrews said she did not hesitate to volunteer for the task.
Laughing about it after the match, Andrews said the last time she ever played goalkeeper in a match was, “around 20 years ago,” and it would be impressive if there’s a film archive of 4-year-old Morgan Andrews’ goalkeeping exploits. When the team needed everyone to step up, she did it and the 3,036 in attendance at Cheney Stadium certainly gave her due praise when she corralled a Sky Blue cross into the box. Shortly after, the full time whistle blew and Reign FC finally secured their first win on the season.
It wasn’t pretty and it came at a heavy cost with the injury to Betos, but when the adversity turned up for Reign FC, they managed to rise above it and get the win. Every team in the league has hardships from injuries to losing key players to next month’s World Cup, and Reign FC have not been immune to it. Yet Andonovski was adamant to not use any of it as an excuse.
“From day one, ever since I came to this team, there’s one thing I’m very proud of, their togetherness. [The players are] united and doing things for each other and it shows. Not many teams can go through some of the adversity that we’ve gone through and come out stronger. We’re talking about adversity like this, but if you look at our season, we have world-class players not playing this game. We’re not going to use it as an excuse, but you have to play without your best players. But this team, they know how to get together, they know how to battle, and get stronger out of it,” said Andonovski after the match.
Reign FC remain at Cheney Stadium for their next match, when they host reigning league champions, North Carolina Courage, on Memorial Day weekend. Kickoff is scheduled for Monday, May 27 at 4 PM.