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Winners & Losers: Reign FC v. Washington Spirit

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Bethany Balcer continues to shine.

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In what was characterized as a “must-win” match for both sides, Reign FC and the Washington Spirit played to an exciting 2-2 draw at Audi Field. Twice, the Reign fell behind. Twice, the club battled back — including a 92nd-minute Ifeoma Onumonu equalizer.

Megan Rapinoe got 45 minutes under her belt. She’s still settling in after recovering from some injuries and a dominant World Cup, but we saw moments of Rapinoe magic on Saturday evening. Rapinoe’s injury meant she couldn’t do much training in the last two months, which has left her needing more and more minutes to get back to full fitness.

The match — combined with a Houston Dash win over Utah — leaves the Reign equal with 4th-place Utah on points, and the two sides face off this Wednesday at Cheney Stadium.

Winners

The atmosphere: 17,418 fans filled up the stands at Audi Field to take in an exciting, entertaining, end-to-end match. They created an incredible atmosphere that both Vlatko Andonovski and Megan Rapinoe were quick to praise in their post-game remarks. You could feel their energy even following on the stream. Neutral fans got one of the best displays of the NWSL. Spirit and Reign fans, however, might have preferred a more tempered game.

Bethany Balcer: The rookie notched her fourth goal of the season and was once again creating havoc on the defensive end and opening up the match on the right wing. Balcer continues to make a case for Rookie of the Year honors — an award no player on the Reign has won before.

The Reign press: The Reign had been playing a lower, mid block as they were dealing with injuries — focusing more on defending and keeping numbers behind the ball when facing teams like North Carolina and Portland. Against the Spirit, however, the team came out of the gates with lots of high pressure. It forced Washington into a number of early mistakes — including a turnover that led to a Reign shot off the crossbar in the 4th minute — and the first 30 minutes were all Reign FC.

Losers

Finishing: It’s hard to complain about a match where the Reign scored two goals, but the one thing that didn’t happen in the first 30 minutes — when the team had the Spirit on their heels with that aforementioned press — was a goal. While a point on the road is fantastic, the Reign will surely be feeling like they could have earned three. If the team wants to make a playoff push, they are going to have to be much more ruthless in front of goal.

The Spirit’s playoff chances: This felt like a must-win for both sides, but the reality is the Spirit needed three points more than the Reign. They now sit 5 points out of the final playoff spot. While the Spirit have played one fewer match than the Reign, they are going to need to be perfect moving forward to have a chance. The problem? They still have to take on North Carolina, Chicago, and Portland.

Your nerves: Not only was that match nervy for Reign FC fans, the rest of the regular season is bound to produce just as many stressful moments. The playoff race is so tight, with five points being the difference between fifth and second. The Reign have a game in hand on two teams sitting above them (Portland and Chicago). They also face off against two teams currently ahead of them, the Thorns and Royals. A win against either one could propel the Reign above their opponent. That means we are likely to have a few stress-inducing matches or moments, but it also means the club controls its playoff destiny. Buckle up.