After winning on the road last Friday at Houston Dash, Reign FC were back on the field for a midweek match in the friendly confines of home. The visitors were that old familiar foe, the Portland Thorns FC.
And just like the first encounter this season back in July, the match was a tense affair with just one goal deciding the outcome.
And just like the match in July, Reign FC were the side with the goal and the ones to take the three points.
The match got off to a quirky start as kickoff was delayed due to a field sprinkler remaining in the up position. Once that was fixed, the first half was very much a midweek game.
Portland had more chances to strike first, but none of them really threatened Reign FC’s defense and goalkeeper Casey Murphy. Another element in the first half that surely got everyone’s attention was the battle between Reign FC defender Theresa Nielsen and Portland’s Tobin Heath. Kristen McNabb was listed in the team sheet to start over Nielsen, but was a last-second scratch and in went the Danish international.
And she let Tobin Heath know it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk for the two-time World Cup champion.
On two instances, Nielsen buried a shoulder that sent Heath to the pitch. One was called for a foul, but one that happened in the 16th minute was inside the Reign box. It probably should have been called for a penalty, but alas it wasn’t.
Near the end of the first half, Reign FC had one of their best chances to strike first and surely if Bev Yanez had connected on this, a point-blank goal to go into the halftime break would have swung the momentum to Vlatko Andonovski’s side.
Reign FC would finally get on the scoreboard in the 55th minute when Rosie White picked up her second goal in as many games. While the boxscore will give her the goal, White post-match said all credit went to her teammates Ifeoma Onumonu and Shea Groom. Onumonu tightroped the ball along the endline before lofting it over to the far side of the box. There it found Groom, who White said was calling to her before the ball got anywhere near her. Groom headed the ball to White’s right and in her words, “Not sure what part of my body got it,” but the bottom line was she got a touch on the ball and nudged it past Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.
A beautiful, chaotic sequence as @ify_on22 tightropes the ball on the endline, crosses it over to @sheabayy2 and @rosiewhite13 finishes it to put @ReignFC on the board first!— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) August 8, 2019
The goal is White's second goal for Reign FC! #RFCvPOR pic.twitter.com/SPkMl2sbwE
The goal sent the 5,865 in attendance at Cheney Stadium into a justifiable frenzy, as is the case whenever you score on your rivals from Portland, whether it’s NWSL, MLS, or USL. And just like the match back in July, the goal was a wake-up call to Mark Parsons’ side to try and get an equalizer.
Portland turned up the pressure on making runs and threats on Reign FC, but while there may have been times where they bent, Reign FC’s defense did not break. Despite Portland having their full compliment of USWNT players starting and going the full 90 minutes, they did not have that finishing quality to find the back of the net. Wherever Portland went with the ball, there was a Reign player in front of them to either block/intercept a pass, clear out the ball, or if you’re like captain Lauren Barnes, disrupt their space like only a stalwart can.
After the match, Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski was asked about how this team is managing to keep it together. Certainly with the amount of season-ending injuries and revolving door of players either ruled out or questionable as if the injury list is a timeshare, the coach called this team a family.
“They’re so together, they’re so united. It’s amazing. I’ve been in this game for so long as a player, coach, spectator, I’ve never seen anything like this. I love the players and I think they’re good, but if we compare them with the players from other teams, individually, we may not be the better individuals. But as a team, I feel comfortable playing against anyone.”
Part of that team unity comes from the environment being set by veterans like Yanez and Barnes, whom Andonovski mentioned post-match. He said it’s them setting the example for not only the new players who first arrived during training camp, but also players that the team has signed in response to injuries and World Cup departures; those veterans have helped make it seemingly effortless for the new players to get acclimated.
Andonovski also gave an update on why defender Kristen McNabb was a late scratch from the match. He said that she had felt some tightness in her calf that had been a nagging injury for her over the course of the season. Andonovski said that McNabb could be available for selection for the next match, as he’s hopeful she just needs another day or two of rest.
The win keeps Reign FC in fourth place in the standings, with 26 points, one point behind Portland with one fewer game played, and two points off the pace set by first-place North Carolina in the same number of matches. The Reign match the Chicago Red Stars on points, but Chicago holds the advantage in goal differential and regular-season matchup against Reign FC. However, the win creates a bit of breathing room for Reign FC against Washington Spirit and Utah Royals FC, with both teams now five points behind.
And it’s that team from Utah that Reign FC will meet next and look to create more separation from in the standings. Reign FC remain at Cheney Stadium for the next one, hosting Utah Royals on Sunday, August 11. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 PM PDT.