Reign FC entered Saturday’s match-up with the North Carolina Courage in first place in the NWSL standings, but also carried with it an overloaded injury report with 10 players listed as being out.
And that lengthy list just grew by one.
After a 2-0 loss to the Courage at WakeMed Soccer Park, Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski revealed that goalkeeper Lydia Williams could miss more than two months of playing time because of an ankle injury that she suffered at the World Cup.
“I’m sure pretty soon that it’s going to come out, but Lydia Williams picked up an injury during the World Cup that will sideline her for the next 10 to 12 weeks,” Andonovski said. “So, for us, it’s an easy decision (at goalkeeper).”
Williams, 30, had only appeared in one NWSL game this season before going off to France to represent Australia in the World Cup, but has long been one of the better goalkeepers in the league. A season ago, she posted 10 clean sheets in 16 starts. In the most recent Australian W-League season, she posted a 6-1-5 record with Melbourne City.
At the World Cup, Williams started all four games between the pipes for the Matildas. She faced 17 shots that were on-frame and allowed just six to get past her, posting a .647 save percentage, according to Football Reference.
The good news for Andonovski is that the Reign have a more-than-qualified replacement for Williams in Casey Murphy.
A 23-year-old American — who has appeared with the U.S. youth national team — she is competing in her first NWSL season after spending the first two years of her pro career playing in France with Montpellier. In seven starts this season, Murphy is 4-2-1, has allowed just five goals and has posted three clean sheets while facing 29 shots on-frame. The two goals the Rutgers’ product allowed against the Courage were the first balls that had gotten past her in nearly a month.
“I have to say; Casey has been tremendous for us and has done a great job,” Andonovski said. “Even (against the Courage) we were down two goals, but I thought she made some great saves.”
The Courage put 10 of their 23 shots on-target Saturday, forcing Murphy into eight saves.
Despite Murphy’s stellar play in front of the net, Andonovski admitted that the Reign’s injuries were catching up with the team and the difference in skill levels between the defending champs and the players deep down on his depth chart were obvious.
“The difference in quality on the field showed,” Andonovski said. “When you work hard and you’re determined and resilient, you can overcome some of it, but I think the difference in quality was way too much to overcome with hard work.”
On Reign FC’s injury report ahead of Saturday’s match, three players were listed with torn ACL’s (Taylor Smith, Jasmyne Spencer and Jess Fishlock), Michelle Betos has a ruptured Achilles, Jaycie Johnson has a knee injury, Scout Watson is dealing with a concussion, Darian Jenkins and Morgan Andrews have hamstring issues, and Rumi Utsugi and Steph Cox have calf injuries.
In addition to those listed injuries and Williams, Andonovski was forced to use all three of his substitutes before the 47th minute on Saturday, taking off Shea Groom, Beverly Yanez and Celia Jimenez Delgado for various health issues. Andonovski said the substitutes were “forced” and not for tactical reasons.
“We haven’t had luck with injuries and health of the team,” Andonovski said.
The Reign do get some time to rest, as they don’t play again until July 28. They’ll also get some reinforcements soon as England’s Jodie Taylor and Americans Allie Long and Megan Rapinoe return from their national team duties at the World Cup.
While Rapinoe may have taken home the tournament’s Golden Boot award and netted the game-winning goal in the final match, Andonovski isn’t so sure he’ll be getting his star forward back at 100 percent.
“She’s not physically in her best after playing all these games (at the World Cup) and she had a little tweak in her hamstring, so we’re going to be careful managing her minutes,” Andonovski said. “But yes, we will be very happy to have her back.”