(Note: we’re trying this Winners & Losers format for Reign FC matches, which is similar to our coverage of the Sounders. Let us know what you think!)
On Saturday evening, fans at Cheney Stadium were treated to a goal-scoring affair in the first 20 minutes of Reign FC’s match against the Orlando Pride. Then, they had to wait nearly two hours for the match to continue due to an electric lightning storm. After returning to the field to finish the first and second halves, Reign FC walked away with a 3-1 win.
Return of Rapinoe. Megan Rapinoe was able to find some playing time to close out the match. Her offensive skills weren’t needed, which meant she could use the 18 minutes of playing time to get her legs back under her. Rapinoe didn’t settle into the match particularly well, but she’s only had one or two training sessions with the team. Her contributions should only go up from here, and her return comes at the best possible time, as the team continues to fight for a playoff spot.
Goals! While the Reign have been defying expectations and staying in the playoff hunt while dealing with more than 10 players injured, they haven’t been scoring goals. The team hadn’t scored more than one goal in a game since June 28. Not only did Reign FC score three against Orlando, they did it within a 17-minute stretch to kick off the match. While it was against a struggling Orlando defense, there was nothing fluky about the goals. They came from strong defensive pressure and quick restarts. There’s hope the club can carry the momentum into their next match.
Darian Jenkins. Jenkins started the season off hot, scoring in her opening match for the club. But then she fell into a few different injury bouts and missed consistent playing time. She’s been slowly working her way back, and showed up in force on Saturday with a performance that earned her league Player of the Week honors. Her two goals left no question about what she can offer — explosive runs and lethal finishing when she’s given space to work with.
Orlando’s defense. Orlando has now given up 40 goals in 19 matches, worst in the league by a significant margin. The Reign managed to find openings out wide with ease — giving Bethany Balcer and Darian Jenkins lots of time on the ball in space. Getting the ball out wide is how the Reign managed all three goals in the opening minutes. While they did settle things down in the second half, the Pride have to find a way to plug their defensive gaps in the offseason.
Getting interrupted by a storm. The storm was a winner for many, as it was actually quite gorgeous to watch, film, and photograph. Still, bless all the fans who stuck around for two extra hours to watch the lightning show, get rained on, and finish out the match. You are true heroes! Unfortunately, the remaining 70 minutes were not quite as exciting as the first 20 — and there was that huge gap in between play to do nothing but get more beer and stand in the coffee / hot chocolate line. A lot of fans stayed for the first hour before heading home. Those who finally threw in the towel missed seeing Rapinoe return. The reduced crowd size — which was certainly understandable, given the conditions — also left the atmosphere in the stadium a bit muted. Thanks, Mother Nature.
Lauren Barnes has to sit. In the 61st minute of the match, Lauren Barnes picked up a fairly innocuous yellow card. Unfortunately, it was her fifth caution of the season. Due to NWSL rules, that means she has to sit this weekend’s match against the Washington Spirit. Lu has been a hero along the backline this year. She and Megan Oyster have started next to one another every match this season, and Barnes has played every minute. The good news? There are plenty of quality options as her backup, with the two most likely being Celia Jiménez Delgado or Kristen McNabb. The bad news? This disrupts the formidable partnership Oyster and Barnes have formed — luckily, for just one match.