Reign FC returned to the field after the league took a week off for FIFA break to host the Orlando Pride. With six matches remaining entering Saturday night's fixture and the team one point outside of the final playoff qualification spot, it is must-win territory for Reign FC the rest of this regular season.
And it did not take long for Reign FC to open the scoring.
The first goal came three minutes into the match as forward Bethany Balcer intercepted the ball, and while she could have taken the shot for herself inside Orlando’s 18-yard box, she opted to pass to her left where forward Darian Jenkins smoothly finished it past Orlando’s Ashlyn Harris for her second goal on the season.
It began with an interception by Bethany Balcer and then a pass to @darian_jenks for a finish as cool as the other side of the pillow to open the scoring here at Cheney Stadium. #RFCvORL pic.twitter.com/i92gpajJLn— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) September 8, 2019
Jenkins was not yet done in getting on the scoresheet so early into the match. Nine minutes later, she took the ball down the left flank and fired from the vaunted tight angle to beat Harris once again.
Five minutes later, Reign FC pushed their lead to a rare three-goal cushion as Beverly Yanez hammered in a cross that Balcer sent into the box, for her first goal of the 2019 campaign. Rosie White was credited with the assist as it looks like she got the faintest of touches on Balcer’s cross. Fans might consider that really unfair as Balcer was far more influential in setting up two of Reign’s goals and perhaps could be putting herself back into the conversation for NWSL Rookie of the Year consideration.
The second and third Reign goals prompted Orlando to huddle up before the restart, though clearly whatever they could have been talking about was not working as right out of the gate, Reign FC were dominating the match.
The goals weren’t the only thing falling in abundance.
Play was suspended in the 23rd minute because of an approaching storm system that knocked out the lights at Cheney Stadium and brought on flashes of lightning as Reign FC were dropping the hammer on Orlando. It created for a unique situation where the crowd was saying, “Ooooh!” at both Reign FC’s dominance and the approaching storm.
The magnitude of the storm was something very uncommon for the Pacific Northwest region as the flurry of lightning strikes and heavy rain caused the University of Washington versus California Bears college football game to have their own weather delay, with that game not ending until around 1:45 AM, Sunday morning.
The match resumed at 9:32 PM local time, making the first ever weather delay at a Reign FC home match at just a little over two hours and ten minutes. The remainder of the first half saw both sides slowly getting back into the groove of the match, but Reign FC did have a couple chances to claim their fourth goal on the evening.
To no one’s surprise, no stoppage time was added to the first half.
The second half was a lot more subdued given the context of a two-hour weather delay. Orlando did claim a goal in the 79th minute when Camila converted a penalty that was won when Danica Evans was taken down in the box by Reign FC defender Megan Oyster.
While Orlando did look a lot better after the delay than they did in the opening twenty minutes of the match, that early onslaught was too big a hole for Marc Skinner’s side to crawl out of.
And finally, after much anticipation, forward Megan Rapinoe made her season debut for Reign FC, entering the match in the 71st minute.
“It was great after two months and five hours of trying to get back on the field. Obviously, the game was a little jumbled once I got in; I didn’t help settle it down much, but just to be back out there and get my lungs a little bit and get my legs back under me felt good,” the World Cup Golden Boot winner said after the match.
Rapinoe said she was on a minutes restriction — around 20 to 30 minutes — and it was clear there was plenty of rust given how long she was out. She did get a couple touches on the ball, much to the delight of the fans that remained at Cheney Stadium after the weather delay, and she was optimistic of an increase in minutes for the next match.
For Jenkins, grabbing a brace twelve minutes into the match was a dream start. Up to this point it had been an inconsistent season for her, which should be no surprise to anyone following the team, having seen some time on the injury list.
“It’s been really nice. Finally, after this week last week off and training this week on grass, I finally feel like I’m back to my normal self. Being able to spring comfortably and have that explosiveness that’s a major part of my game is really nice and built my confidence for this game,” said Jenkins after the match.
Coming out of the gate like gangbusters, only to have it abruptly halted by adverse weather, obviously wasn’t in Reign FC’s script for the evening, but they were able to maintain their focus after the delay. Only a fraction of the announced attendance of 6,668 remained at Cheney Stadium when full time was called, but those that stayed got to welcome back a World Cup hero and Mother Nature put on a show in the skies equal to Vlatko Andonovski’s squad on the field.
The win puts Reign FC back in 4th place on the league table and into the final NWSL Playoffs qualification spot, at least briefly. The team and fans will have to do some scoreboard watching as Sunday’s match between the Chicago Red Stars and Houston Dash could change the standings. A draw or win by Chicago will have them back above Reign FC, each with five matches left to play.
Reign FC’s next game sees them flying across the country for their final regular season match against the Washington Spirit. Control of the regular season head-to-head is on the line with the previous two matches each resulting in draw. This game will be contested under the big bright lights of Audi Field, home of MLS’s DC United. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 PM PDT.