Tonight’s game is not the most important game that Amy Rodriguez has ever played in. It’s not the most important game the Becky Sauerbrunn, or Christen Press, or Vero Boquete or any of the veteran players on the Utah roster or the Reign FC have played in. It’s not a semi final or a final. It’s a regular season game. Preplanned months and months ago with no idea what it may mean to either team.
But this game will be the most important game that Utah Royals FC have ever played. It is the game that might determine the fate of their season. And I say “might” because there are still two games left for Reign FC and Utah.
It’s hard to put “the most important game in club history” into strong context when the team’s history could be covered in a not-so deep puddle. The team only stretches back to 2018, after all. Do you go with their first game, or their first home game as the most important to date? Do you go with their biggest win or their biggest win just this season? There are a lot of games they have played that have significance to how their season would unfold, and beating Reign FC already this year was a defining moment for this season.
Utah and Reign FC don’t have a long history. But the team that Utah is built on, that FC Kansas City team, the players on the team now and the coaches, there is history in them. And doesn’t that alone add meaning to this game, even if there wasn’t a playoff spot on the line?
Laura Harvey built Reign FC into one of the best clubs this league, any league, had ever seen. She took a team that was second to last in 2013 during their first season, and she turned them in to a dominate force.
Except in the 2014 and 2015 finals against Vlatko Andonovski and FC Kansas City, both times, a dominate Reign FC team went into the playoffs; here they went but no farther. Now it’s Vlatko Andonovski in Reign FC blue, and Laura Harvey has the bones of his team on her roster. Two coaches who both oversaw teams that did wonderful and magical things on the field. Two coaches who are linked as much and deeply as any two coaches could be in this league.
I opened this piece talking about Amy Rodriguez because Amy Rodriguez vs. the (Seattle) Reign FC is in many ways is one of the great battles in the NWSL history. It is woven into the very fabric of this league.
Rodriguez was allocated to the Reign FC roster in 2013, but she sat out that year because she was pregnant with her son Ryan. She was then traded to FC Kansas City and linked up with Laura Holiday to take over the league. Her team beat the Reign in both the 2014 and 2015 NWSL title games. She scored the game-winning goal in each.
I could go on and talk about Rachel Corsie playing on both the 2015 Reign FC team that lost to Amy Rodriguez, the 2015 FC Kansas City team, and the current Utah Royals team. I could talk about Barnhart denying everything Kim Little and the Reign FC had in them in 2014 and 2015, and most matches since. The history of these players and these coaches make for good stories.
I didn’t like the ending of Game of Thrones very much. But Tyrion was right - when it comes to sports, at least - when he said, “There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.”
The NWSL story of Vlatko Andonovski vs Laura Harvey, Amy Rodriguez vs. the Reign FC, players who have been there for the wins and losses, for FC Kansas City fans who did or did not become Utah fans, all of it combines into a great story.
Tonight the next chapter will be written. Amy Rodriguez has her name all over this story and just might add more to it tonight. It might be Christen Press who finds a way to will her team to the playoffs, to take another stab at trying to make it to the finals after being denied with the Chicago Red Stars for so long. There are a lot of players on both teams with history. With beef or shared wins on their resume.
These two teams, two coaches, and players know how to put on quite a show when they come together to write more of this ongoing and ever-changing story. Don’t miss it. It’s what everyone will be talking about around the water cooler tomorrow.