After securing shutouts in consecutive games, Reign FC was feeling good about its defense heading into Sunday’s game against the Utah Royals FC.
The goals in the second half changed that, however. Royals broke open a tie game and went on to win, 3-1, at Cheney Stadium.
“I think today we just out outplayed,” defender Lauren Barnes said. “I think our game plan worked, there were pockets in that game that we were the better team. Even after we went down pretty early, I didn’t really feel like it was going to be an issue, but at the end of the day they had a little bit more heart than us today.”
Just like the Red Stars game two weeks ago, Reign FC fell into a quick hole. Within minutes, they were down 1-0 after Amy Rodriguez weaved her way past the Reign defense and a shot off the post fell right to Katie Stengel, who put it through the back of the net.
However, unlike the World Cup homecoming game against Chicago, the Reign FC defense was able to hold off the Royals attack, and forward Shea Groom capitalized in the late minutes of the first half to tie the game at 1-1.
“This year we’ve done a good job of responding,” Groom said. “It’s not always the next minute, but I think we’re very confident in the way that we play, and the way that we can get back into games and we can play our way back into games, and that’s what we did today.”
But the Reign couldn’t keep the positive momentum going in the second half, allowing two goals, including a costly mistake from otherwise sure-handed goalie Casey Murphy. After securing clean sheets in her previous two games, Murphy let her third goal by after a shot bounced off her chest, allowing Rodriguez to score easily.
“I thought that we were organized and disciplined and we fought hard,” head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “We denied them any opportunities, and then we allowed a player to dribble 50 yards down, and that’s something that’s unacceptable. From then on, it was a different game, we started losing focus, we tried doing things that we were not prepared or ready for, and they took the game over.”
Barnes, who has been the leader of the Reign’s defense all year, echoed her coach’s words almost exactly when talking about Lo’eau LaBonta’s goal in the 55th minute, which put the Royals ahead for good in the second half.
“She scored probably the easiest goal you could possibly think of,” Barnes said. “She went straight down the middle of us, which should never happen in the game of soccer. We’ll have to go back and look at film and see what happened during the breakdown and hopefully never let it happen again.”
After building up positive momentum from picking up three points on the road against Houston and picking up a huge three points and the win against NWSL leader Portland Thorns FC on Wednesday, that momentum seemed to come to a screeching halt Sunday afternoon in Tacoma.
But it’s not the first time the Reign have faced this situation. Two weeks ago Reign FC fell to Chicago 4-0 in a game that was never close, and followed that performance with two straight big wins. Having been in this spot before, the Reign aren’t worried about how they’ll respond come next Sunday against Sky Blue FC.
“We’re going to focus on the first 60 minutes of the game, and figure out what we need to do,” Groom said. “We’ll be better and we’ll respond.”
While the loss doesn’t drop them in the NWSL standings, it does draw Utah closer to them. The Royals now trail Reign FC by two points for fourth place.
“I’m not worried about this team with that stuff,” Barnes said. “We’ve done a great job of sticking together and staying together, we’ve got two big road games and we’re excited about them so hopefully we get our rest, get back out there, work hard and show up for the next game.”
No timetable for Rapinoe return
Reign FC fans who are waiting for Megan Rapinoe to return to the pitch will have to wait a bit longer. After the game, Andonovski did not reveal a timetable for the U.S. star’s return.
“No, not really,” he said on a timetable for her return. “We’re hoping to get them back as soon as possible.”
Rapinoe did not play on Sunday, but she was sitting toward the north side of the stadium spectating along with other Reign FC players who had been ruled out of the game.