CARY, N.C. — After Reign FC’s 1-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage last Saturday, veteran midfielder Allie Long called this season one that she’s “never experienced before.”
It’s been an interesting 2019 for the Reign. The club dropped Seattle from the front of its name to begin the season and moved its games and operations to Tacoma. After starting the season out 5-5-1, they’re 2-1-4 in their last seven games.
U.S. national team superstar Megan Rapinoe has yet to appear in a game for the club this season – she’s been recovering from an achilles injury since the end of the World Cup – and before Saturday’s match, the Reign had 12 players listed on its injury report.
“I can tell you when I would love have her back, but I don’t know when I can expect her,” head coach Vlatko Andonovski said of Rapinoe. “Obviously, we would love to have her as soon as possible, but with the injury, we’re just waiting to see what is going to happen. Hopefully in a couple of weeks she’ll be back.”
It seemed that lengthy injury report might grow by one after Long, 31, went down with an apparent right foot injury late in the game, but the national team star was able to finish the match. Still, she said afterwards that her foot was “not good” and talked to reporters without a shoe on that foot.
“I’m going to get it evaluated and see how it is. This ankle – I actually rolled it when Megan Rapinoe scored her goal against France (in the World Cup) celebrating. So, it’s been bugging me and then (Sam Mewis) just ran it over. It’ll be okay. At least I have a little time now if I have to rest it up.”
Long, who played in one game at this summer’s World Cup, has two assists in eight starts with the Reign this season. She’s also been stellar on defense, coming up with 18 tackles, 14 clearances, 10 interceptions and four blocks.
Defense hasn’t bee the problem for the Reign. They’ve allowed more than one goal in just four games this season. Even with the goalkeeper switch from Michelle Betos to Casey Murphy, the Reign have been mostly stout on that end.
But without Rapinoe and other injured players on the offense – like Kristen McNabb, Jasmyne Spencer and Jess Fishlock – the Reign have struggled to generate scoring chances. They’ve scored just four goals in their last seven games.
The Reign made of a flurry of signings in July in an attempt to patch the lineup, and while Long and Andonovski appreciate their efforts, it hasn’t translated into wins.
“I think the new players have done great. It’s always an adjustment every time there’s someone new,” Long said. “It’s been really tough, but I’m really proud of the girls. It should’ve been 0-0 probably (vs. Courage).”
Against the Courage, Andonovski attempted to switch up his tactics, moving to a 5-4-1 from the 3-6-1 that he had trotted out for most of the season. The Reign put just one of their nine shots on-frame, while the Courage bombed Murphy with 26 shots, putting seven on-target.
Murphy, a 23-year-old Rutgers product, is in her first NWSL season after starting her pro career in France with Montpellier. She played in 29 games there between 2018 and 2019, taking home the league’s goalkeeper of the year award. This season for the Reign, she’s fifth in the league in saves with 47, fourth in clean sheets with five, and has a goals allowed per-game average of 1.08, which is fourth best among the league’s regular starters. She’s faced 60 shots on-goal in her 13 starts and has established herself as one of the league’s up-and-coming keepers.
“Casey is a good goalkeeper. Lots of potential, lots of talent there,” Andonovski said. “I think that this season for her is a great opportunity to grow into the league. Coming from France, she had games like this maybe twice a season. Here, she has this type of game almost on a weekly basis.”
While the Reign currently sit below the playoff line in fifth place with 27 points, it’s still very possible that they can make the playoffs, and perhaps even host a game. With six games remaining, the second-place Courage are just four points ahead. The Chicago Red Stars are two points ahead of the Reign, and the Utah Royals have just a one-point advantage in the table.
“I actually don’t think our team is fit enough,” Long said. “I think that our mode during the week is a little bit too low, and that way in the game we’re kind of expending ourselves to the maximum. I think we need to get a little bit fitter and that will help injuries overall.”