Up against the National Women’s Soccer League’s reigning Shield and Championship winners in the North Carolina Courage, Vlatko Andonovski knows his Reign FC team faces a tough road as the playoffs’ lowest-seeded team. Still, the head coach see an advantage in this type of situation: “[We’re] relaxed because we know that we have nothing to lose.”
“We’re happy to be in the playoffs,” Andonovski said during a conference call Tuesday, reflecting on what has been a particularly arduous season for the Reign.
Battling injury after injury, the Tacoma, Washington-based team had to field more than 30 players. Assistant coach Stephanie Cox had to come out of retirement, and the team found itself relying on undrafted rookie forward Bethany Balcer, only the third NWSL player not to come from an NCAA Division I school.
“It feels like this has been the story of our season,” Andonovski said. “Right when we thought that everything is going to be fine, we get hit on another side, and the next person comes back and then we get hit again.”
It helps that Andonovski and company have been managing just that all season. The team clinched a playoff berth with a match to spare, and managed impressive results along the way, including a victory over its semifinal opponent, the Courage.
Also working in the Reign’s favor are the returns of Megan Rapinoe and Rumi Utsugi in September, though Megan Oyster and Rebecca Quinn’s recent injuries mean the Reign may still be missing key starters for Sunday’s match.
“I don’t think we’re going to have our best team in the playoffs,” Andonovski said. “But we are going to try to be the best with what we have.”
That presents a less than ideal situation for the Reign, considering the caliber of the opponent. Andonovski called the Courage “the best team for a few years now. … Good roster, good team, organized, disciplined, so altogether, they’ve done an unbelievable job.”
Andonovski does not feel that the season is entirely defined by the playoffs. For him, the story of the season is the team’s perseverance throughout the year, between dealing with injuries and World Cup absences.
“We’ve done, as a group and as an organization, an incredible job to work together toward that goal,” Andonovski said of reaching the playoffs. “Now, we’re going to do whatever it takes to be successful in these last two games, but even if we’re not, I have to say that we’re very happy and glad that we’re able to be in this next game.”