Reign FC wins, heads to NWSL playoffs

Reign FC’s first season in the city of Tacoma and Cheney Stadium has been a memorable one.

From the near-sellout on opening night against Orlando in April to the homecoming match against Chicago on July 28, which more than 7,400 attended, the memories are going to last for a while.

Sunday’s 2-0 triumph over the Portland Thorns was another memory made in Cheney. It was played in front of the second-largest crowd (7,370) in the brief history of Reign FC in Tacoma and punched a ticket to the NWSL playoffs.

After a dangerous scoring chance from Reign FC’s Megan Rapinoe in the 27th minute, Portland attempted to clear the ball. That attempt was stifled by Theresa Nielsen, who found Jodie Taylor. Taylor put the ball in the back of the net, giving Reign FC a 1-0 lead. The goal was Taylor’s second goal in as many games and fourth of the season.

“It was a typical Reign FC-Portland game,” Reign FC coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “It was intense, it was aggressive, it was hard. After everything, I’m glad as a team we were able to overcome what they did, match their intensity and be a little more precise in the final third to create a few opportunities and score a few goals.”

As Portland tried to tie the score, the goalkeeping prowess of Reign FC’s Casey Murphy was on full display. After blocking and saving multiple shots, Murphy’s biggest came in the game’s 73rd minute. Portland’s Lindsay Horan fired a shot into the box, but Murphy stretched to her left and made the save to keep a clean sheet.

In the 81st minute, Reign FC’s Bethany Balcer moved the ball past a Portland defender and slipped it past Thorns goalkeeper Adriana Franch, putting the game to rest. The goal was Balcer’s team-leading sixth of the season.

Reign FC has one more regular-season, in Orlando Pride on Oct. 12, before beginning the playoffs.

Did someone say playoffs?

Reign FC’s victory put it in the playoffs for the first time in back to back seasons since 2014 and 2015. Both times, the Reign FC, then known as the Seattle Reign, made the NWSL Finals, losing both games to FC Kansas City.

Currently, Reign FC sits in fourth place with 37 points. It could pass the Thorns and finish in third place if Reign FC beats Orlando and Portland loses to Washington.

After all of the struggles that Andonovski’s team faced this season with players getting injured and some being gone due to international duties for two to three months at a time, he understands the importance of what has been accomplished by this team, even if the job isn’t done yet.

“It’s no secret. Everybody knows what the season looked like for Reign FC,” Andonovksi said. “It was a battle; every game was a battle; every training was a battle. There were so many question marks about who was going to play, who wasn’t gonna play. How long is this person gonna be out, how long is this person gonna be out.”

“I’m so proud of these girls of how they handled the whole situation and the way they handled the adversity and the challenges they had to overcome. Not just overcoming it but growing from it and getting better and perform the way they did today, the way they did against Utah. All of that is a byproduct of the whole season. The relentlessness, their resilience, mental toughness. I love this group.”