Eight Reign FC players are on their way to France to represent their countries in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. They will all be fighting for a spot in the World Cup final in July 7, and many have a strong chance to get there. Get to know the Reign FC stars who will represent five different countries this summer.
Steph Catley, Elise Kellond-Knight (EKK), and Lydia Williams will all feature for Australia. The left back, midfielder, and goalkeeper are regulars for the Matildas and should be crucial players for a country currently ranked sixth in the world. This is the fourth World Cup for Williams, the third for Kellond-Knight, and the second for Catley, who was named vice-captain for Australia.
All three have the talent to make a World Cup All-Star squad (EKK made the list in 2015), but Australia will have to be more consistent for them to advance far in the tournament. Catley is one of the best left backs in the world and, despite being only 25, already has years of professional experience under her belt. She’s recovering from a calf strain but should be a consistent threat on the flank.
Steph Catley puts in a brilliant tackle to deny an Argentina goal
HOW GOOD was this recovery & tackle from Steph Catley! ♀️ : Fox Sports FootballPosted by Westfield Matildas on Wednesday, March 6, 2019
EKK is a holding midfielder who isn’t flashy but does all the little things well, while Williams has been one of the best goalkeepers in the international game for the last few years.
Australia should make it out of their group, although Italy, Brazil and Jamaica are three wildly unpredictable squads for different reasons. Jamaica is making its World Cup debut, powered by rising star Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who dazzled in World Cup qualifiers. Brazil struggles defensively but can be relentless on goal — especially when the GOAT Marta kicks it into gear (that is, if Marta is healthy; she just picked up a hamstring injury in training). Italy is returning to the World Cup after a 20-year absence. They were bolstered by an incredible defense in European World Cup qualifiers, letting in just four goals over eight matches. They’re unknowns in many aspects, which can always be dangerous.
Australia, Italy, Brazil, Jamaica
Reign FC’s Jodie Taylor is heading to the World Cup with England, who are currently third in the world, according to FIFA. This is Taylor’s second World Cup campaign, as she featured for England during their third-place run in 2015. Making her first World Cup start nine weeks after knee surgery, Taylor scored in England’s 2-1 knockout win against Canada in that tournament.
Taylor scored five goals — including a hat trick against Scotland — to win the Golden Boot at the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017. She was fifth in the NWSL during the 2018 season with nine goals for the Reign, and finally notched her first in 2019 before departing for France.
Taylor might not be the starting No. 9 for England, but she’ll be called upon to help stretch defenses and sneak into the box — in the same way she has for Reign FC.
Group D is not going to be the easiest path for England. Facing former Reign FC star Kim Little and Scotland in their first match, they could be surprised by the scrappy, tenacious side making their World Cup debut. Argentina shouldn’t give them much trouble, but Japan — who bested them in 2015 — could prove difficult for England to break down. England drew the U.S. this year en route to winning the SheBelieves Cup and have looked strong leading up to the World Cup under new head coach Phil Neville. Is football coming home? It’s certainly possible.
England, Argentina, Japan, Scotland
Reign FC’s Rumi Utsugi is going to her fourth World Cup. Utsugi has 112 caps for Japan, the second-most among active players. Japan has focused on rebuilding and youth in the three years leading up to this World Cup, which means Utsugi has seen reduced playing time. However, the 30-year-old brings versatility and a veteran presence to her country’s tournament bid.
While Japan defeated Australia to earn the top seed from Asia heading into the World Cup, they have put in a series of mixed performances in recent years. Japan lost all three matches in the 2018 Tournament of Nations, falling to the U.S., Australia and Brazil. As a result, they’ve fallen to seventh in FIFA’s global ranking.
When their offense is in sync, Japan controls the match through possession and movement — and they have some impressive attacking talent. It’s beautiful to watch and difficult for opposing teams to withstand. It’s on the defensive side and goalkeeping where Japan struggles. Utsugi has played both left back and holding midfield for Japan, and her country tends to concede fewer goals in when she’s in the match. Utsugi isn’t likely to feature every game, but there’s nobody I’d rather have to help hold a lead or absorb pressure than her. Japan will have a tough time against England and could be challenged by Scotland as well.
Japan, Argentina, England, Scotland
Reign FC rookie Celia Jiménez Delgado, who has shined in defense for the Reign, will be joining a talented Spanish side for the tournament. A versatile defender, Celia received back-to-back starts for Spain in their latest World Cup preparation matches — a 4-0 victory over Cameroon and 0-0 draw with Canada. This is Celia’s second World Cup; she featured for Spain in 2015 when she was 19 years old and a student at Alabama.
Spain has a long list of technical talent and play a beautiful brand of soccer. It’s consistency they’ve lacked. FIFA currently has Spain ranked 13th in the world, which feels like a fair assessment. They might be a few years away still from being a dominant international team. Still, that doesn’t mean they can’t make an impact this World Cup.
Spain is in a fairly tough group, with Germany being their best-ranked competition heading into the group stage. China, once a dominating force in women’s soccer, is a talented team that’s flown under the radar. Spain’s final group stage match against the Steel Roses.
Spain, China, Germany, South Africa
Jill Ellis surprised some when she named Allie Long to the 23-player roster for the World Cup, but it was little shock to Reign FC fans who saw Long shine as their holding midfielder in 2018. Long, who is making her World Cup debut, joins Megan Rapinoe in representing the United States, who are on a quest to earn back-to-back trophies.
Long may not get significant minutes in midfield, but she brings something different to the position. Long doesn’t get overly fancy with her passing; instead, she’s someone you can rely on to hold the ball well and keep possession. That could come in handy against a team putting lots of pressure on the U.S. and is a valuable skill-set if you want to hold a lead late in a match. Long also is good in the air on set pieces and might knock in a goal or two off a corner.
Rapinoe, meanwhile, enters her third World Cup tournament with a new badass hairdo to propel her. After an ACL tear put her out for most of 2016, Rapinoe has rehabilitated with a vengeance, reinventing her game to become not only a creative playmaker but a reliable goal-scorer. She missed the start of the Reign FC season with a calf injury, but looks to be back in form heading into the World Cup.
Nothing is guaranteed, but the U.S. should make it out of Group F easily. The primary challenge for the USWNT will be Sweden, who bested the Americans in the 2016 Olympics and is ranked ninth in the world. Nobody will look past Chile and Thailand, but they shouldn’t present much difficulty. The larger question might be how the U.S. responds when they face stiffer competition as the tournament advances.
Untied States, Chile, Sweden, Thailand