No team in the National Women's Soccer Team had a more injury-plagued 2019 season. From start to finish, Reign FC battled injuries with toughness and fortitude, and while their season ended on a low note, the playoff berth was a fitting reward for the effort put into this season.
A myriad of injuries
With a final record of 10W-8D-6L and 38 points, Reign FC managed to grab the fourth and final playoff spot after a trying season. USWNT superstar Megan Rapinoe was rarely available for the team, but head coach Vlatko Andonovski managed to keep the team ahead of the curve by consistently adding depth from around the league and overseas. The biggest addition was definitely goalkeeper Casey Murphy. The second-year player who traveled to France after being drafted by Sky Blue FC in 2018, came back to take over the starting role after Lydia Williams and Michele Betos both went down with lengthy injuries. Her addition changed the tone of the season, and she helped solidify the defense.
During the offseason, in an effort to add more offensive presence, Reign FC traded a first-round pick to the North Carolina Courage to acquire forward Darian Jenkins. The striker played well when she could take the field, but lingering leg injuries limited her time on the pitch. They also added Shea Groom, but she also endured an injury early in her tenure with the team.
Rookie of the Year steals the spotlight
With double-digit injury reports each week, rookie Bethany Balcer made a name for herself in an attacking role. From the first games of the season, everyone around the league was talking about Balcer's confidence. She had no fear in ripping shots from distance. Balcer led the Reign with six goals scored on the season and she won the 2019 Rookie of the Year award.
While Balcer's offensive presence was desperately needed for the team, she also worked tirelessly on defense as well. She was tentative challenging players on the ball early in the season, but she grew into her role and ended up making a name for herself as a defender as well. Hopefully, the next Reign FC coach will be able to properly utilize her talents and continue her growth in this league.
Biggest Win: September 29, 2019 vs Portland Thorns FC
As the season was winding down, Reign FC were still fighting for a playoff spot. Coming off of a huge win against Utah Royals FC the previous weekend, Reign FC were close to clinching their spot in the playoffs. They hosted their fiercest rivals, Portland Thorns FC, and proceeded to dominate the game. There never seemed to be a moment when the outcome was in doubt, and English international Jodie Taylor got RFC's first goal on the board in the 27th minute. Taylor was an offensive spark coming back from the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, but the team wasn't done scoring yet.
In the 81st minute, Balcer got a goal of her own and cemented the win for her team. With that goal, Reign FC managed to win all three of their matches against the Thorns in 2019 and secure their spot in the 2019 playoffs. There was an outside shot that they could get the 3rd seed to face Chicago in the semifinal round, but that shot evaporated when Portland drew their next game.
Biggest Loss: Semifinal Match @ North Carolina Courage
While the Reign fought valiantly to make the playoffs, they ran into the best team in the league in their semifinal match. The North Carolina Courage won the NWSL Shield for the third season in a row, and they ended up beating Reign FC 4-1.
Despite the lopsided final scoreline, the game was quite evenly matched during regulation. Reign FC played a brilliant defensive game for the first 86 minutes of the match, but an unfortunate handball occurred in the box when Courage midfielder Sam Mewis tried to cross the ball in toward her forwards and Lauren Barnes slid an hit the ball with her hand. It looked like the game would end 1-0 in favor of the Courage, but Ifeoma Ubogagu, another mid-season acquisition, scored a stoppage-time goal to even the score at one apiece.
Unfortunately, the Courage proved to be too much to handle in the extra 30 minutes of play. Reign FC gave up three goals in the two overtime periods, but they were gracious losers who took pride in how the season went. They were underdogs coming into the match and they played admirably from whistle to whistle.
Where do they go from here?
Playoff teams rarely suffer significant turnover in the offseason, but Reign FC are in a different category altogether. After years of phenomenal coaching in the NWSL, Reign head coach Vlatko Andonovski was appointed the new head coach of the USWNT. With that move, this playoff team is now in search of a new coach to go with their banged up roster. That's a tough position to be in, and it might mean that the Reign will face another tough season in 2020. Only time will tell, but this franchise is known for winning and they shouldn't be counted out.