Utah Royals FC and Reign FC meet for the first time in 2019. The Royals will host Laura Harvey’s old team. We spoke to Susie Rantz of Sounders At Heart ahead of this match to get some insight on the Reign.
It’s the first meeting between these teams in 2019 — can you give us an overview of how the squad has changed since 2018? How has the transition to Tacoma been for the team and their supporters?
The core of the team didn’t change much, with players like Jess Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe returning. What Vlatko Andonovski focused on was making the team younger for both this season and the future. To do that, he brought in Shea Groom, Darian Jenkins, Bethany Balcer, Celia Jimenez Delgado, Morgan Proffitt, and Taylor Smith. Many of these players are getting a chance to shine and earn minutes during this World Cup.
The transition to Tacoma has been great by many accounts. They have a much better field and facility for the fans, including a grass surface, dedicated team store, beer, and more comfortable seats. The home opener was the best-attended opening match in the team’s history. Since then, attendance has dipped a bit -- something the team expected given the late move to Tacoma before the season kicked off -- but it hasn’t fallen below previous levels. I am hopeful attendance will rise after the World Cup. It’s still an adjustment for many fans.
As players have stepped away for International duty during the World Cup, who has impressed you most that isn’t a regular starter for the Reign
Bethany Balcer has been a positive surprise by all accounts. Going undrafted and then signing last-minute and getting so many minutes, the rookie has been a huge part of the Reign attack. She’s also stayed healthy, which has been one of the biggest issues for the team! Balcer gets herself into great positions in the box and is syncing up well with her attacking partners.
Bonus answer: Bev Yanez has been fantastic as a deeper-lying midfielder since Fishlock returned. After mostly playing forward or on the wing in her NWSL career, the veteran player has incorporated new defensive skills in her game. She’s managed double-digit tackles in her previous two matches and is a big reason the players in front of her are getting chances.
The Reign, much like Utah, have struggled to score. They’ve only had nine goals this season. What will they need to do to beat the Royals’ defense?
The Reign faced the Washington Spirit two weeks ago and were able to effectively disrupt a team that likes to dominate possession with a consistent high press. If the Reign can play the kind of game they are capable of for 90 minutes -- where they’re winning the ball back quickly and high up the field -- I think they’ll create some good chances.
In fact, the chances have come for the Reign. It’s the finishing that hasn’t. Taking advantage of the opportunities they create is what it mostly comes down to. Against Utah, I think they’ll try to manage possession while not slowing the game down too much. So I’d expect the Reign to want to push the momentum early in the match in the hopes of snagging an early goal.
You can read our responses to Susie’s questions at Sounders At Heart.