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Reign FC players shine in the W-League

Some are still in Australia, competing in postseason play.

W-League Rd 2 - Canberra v Melbourne City Photo by Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images

The 12-match W-League regular season has come to a close, and the eight current Reign FC players who competed in Australia all had successful runs with their teams.

Many players use the W-League to stay in shape during a brutally long offseason, while others who didn’t earn significant minutes in NWSL play head Down Under to refine their skills and regain confidence in the hopes of earning a starting spot upon their return.

Both were true for the Reign FC players this year, and it was a memorable year for all of them who featured in the W-League. Let’s take a look at how they fared.

Lauren Barnes and Steph Catley | Melbourne City FC (11-0-1, 34 points)

Melbourne City FC finished the season at the top of the table, with both current Reign FC players (plus the recently departed Lydia Williams) finding a ton of success. After taking a break for international play, they’ll face the Western Sydney Wanderers in the playoff semifinals on March 14.

The team primarily operated in a 3-5-2 formation, with Barnes along the backline and Catley serving as a left wingback. Melbourne City captain Catley was a star in that position. According to official W-League stats provided by Opta, she led the league in chances created (32 in 12 matches). Catley also contributed two assists and whipped in the most crosses (91) in the league. And we all know what she can do when she’s got space to cross from the left.

A separate stats service, inStat, rated Catley as one of the top three players in the league this year — behind fellow Matildas Hayley Raso and Ellie Carpenter.

Barnes led a backline that only conceded four goals in 12 matches. Barnes also continues to be the glue behind Melbourne’s possession. She led the league in passes (840), averaging 70 per match. Barnes also had an 85.5% pass success rate and notched seven key passes. She also conceded just six fouls the entire 12-match season.

W-League Rd 9 - Melbourne City v Canberra Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Darian Jenkins | Melbourne Victory (7-3-2, 23 points)

Darian Jenkins started the season a bit quiet — she didn’t score her first goal until January. But she was on fire after that. Jenkins was one of the most productive players in the league when the season concluded. She finished the year with two assists and five goals — and there sure were a few beauties.

According to inStat, Jenkins led the league in accurate crosses and dribbles. Her Melbourne Victory side made a strong push at the end of the regular season and finished the year in second place. They’ll face Sydney FC in the playoff semifinals.

Sofia Huerta | Sydney FC (7-4-1, 22 points)

W-League Rd 12 - Sydney v Western Sydney Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The newly-signed Reign FC midfielder/forward, Sofia Huerta had another solid campaign in Australia — serving as the creative engine for a Sydney FC side that finished third in the league. Huerta, who had a stunning goal last year for Sydney in their Grand Final win, ended the regular season with three goals and one assist.

According to inStat, Huerta also finished the season with the most key passes. This isn’t surprising. Aside from an off year in 2019 with the Houston Dash, Huerta has been one of the most successful playmakers in the NWSL these last few years. A change of scenery in Tacoma should be just what Huerta needs to produce on a similar level again.

Morgan Andrews and Celia Jimenez Delgado | Perth Glory (3-7-2, 11 points)

Perth Glory was home to Morgan Andrews and Celia Jimenez Delgado this year. While Perth started off poorly, the team had plenty of fire toward the end of the season. Much of that revitalization came from Andrews, who ended the season with a league-leading seven goals. The W-League seemed to be EXACTLY what Andrews needed to reignite her career.

W-League Rd 13 - Sydney v Perth Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

In an interview with her hometown newspaper, Andrews admitted that the 2019 Reign FC season was a bit of a disappointment for her.

“I’m not extremely proud of the way I played and the lack of confidence I had, but the really good thing about that is I used it as a learning lesson,” Andrews shared, before noting that she was hungry to bring more creativity back to her game.

She sure did that with the Glory. Andrews was Perth’s best player on the season. She also scored the goal of the year.

Andrews also had two assists, took 28 shots and created 24 chances, which was the joint fourth-highest in the league. She was named Beyond 90 magazine’s Player of the Year.

W-League Rd 5 - Perth v Canberra Photo by Daniel Carson/Getty Images

Celia, meanwhile, was just as important for the Glory. She finished the season with the second-highest rating on the team—again, as rated by inStat. The versatile player moved around for the Glory, playing in the midfield and as an outside back. No matter where she was deployed, she made an impact. Celia — who joined the team a few matches into the season — finished with three goals in nine matches, and she notched one assist.

This long-distance blast was certainly her best moment of the season.

While Perth began to rise at the end of the season, they were unable to secure a top-four finish and qualify for the playoffs. That means Andrews and Celia should be back in town shortly to join the Reign for preseason. After a well-deserved rest, of course.

Amber Brooks and Julia Ashley | Adelaide United (2-9-1, 7 points)

W-League Rd 5 - Brisbane v Adelaide Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Amber Brooks just signed with Reign FC, re-joining the team in a trade with the Houston Dash. While Adelaide United lacked the depth to compete in the league this year — they finished eighth of nine teams — Brooks was one of their best players, putting in more than one person’s work defensively.

The centerback finished the season winning the most aerial duels in the league. She also had a 70% tackle success rate.

Brooks notched one goal for the year, showing her calm from the penalty spot.

Julia Ashley, a fellow UNC graduate along with Brooks, only suited up for Adelaide eight times. Ashley was acquired in a trade with Sky Blue this offseason. During her brief time at Adelaide, she was Brooks’ centerback partner, and the pair looked fairly strong together. While Adelaide gave up 24 goals in 12 games, the two centerbacks were not the primary reason for their defensive struggles. Adelaide struggled to keep possession in the midfield and left the defense under significant pressure.

Despite Ashley’s limited minutes, she was rated as the eighth-best player on Adelaide’s squad by inStat. The defender managed 45 clearances in her eight matches. She gets an opportunity to grow with Reign FC this year, but will need to show strong in preseason to earn a starting spot on the squad.

The long, long NWSL offseason is finally coming to an end. But it never really began for the Reign players who competed in the W-League.

Barnes, Catley, Jenkins and Huerta remain in Australia to finish out the postseason. One or more of them might return to Tacoma as a champion. The rest of the Reign FC players who went to Australia will likely take a few more days to recover before joining the club for the preseason, which officially starts next Monday, March 9.

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