NWSL: No decision day, as Reign FC clinches final playoff spot

Reign FC Balcer
TACOMA, WA β€” SEPTEMBER 29: Bethany Balcer #24 of Reign FC, left celebrates her goal with Theresa Nielsen #8 against the Portland Thorns in the second half of the game at Cheney Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Tacoma, Washington. Reign FC won 2-0. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images).

Tacoma, Washington β€” It almost seemed impossible a few months ago. Reign FC had a laundry list of injuries, with more than 10 on the injury report at a time. However, defying the impossible, the team turned around, saw young players rise up and secured the final NWSL playoff spot yesterday.

Reign FC is back in the playoffs for the second year in a row. Vlatko Andonovski has been the head coach for these last two seasons. While there are whispers that he could be in contention for Jill Ellis’ national team head coach spot, Andonovski buckled down and focused on his team.

Then, the players did the rest.

If Reign FC won their match on Sunday against the Portland Thorns, that was it. There would be no decision day deciding if Reign or the Washington Spirit earned the final spot. Utah was knocked out of contention with a loss against the Reign last Wednesday, piled on with a loss against Chicago this weekend.

For the Spirit, it was crushing for a young team to see Reign put two goals over the Thorns. Washington once was at the top of the table. They had a chance for that final playoff seed, and even defeated the North Carolina Courage on Saturday β€” read more below.

However, Bethany Balcer came and ruined their party.

After an early first half goal from Jodie Taylor, the Reign needed another insurance goal. Balcer has been in contention for Rookie of the Year. It’s almost like she notched it yesterday, scoring the game-winner less than 10 minutes after entering the match. Balcer has scored six goals this NWSL season. She didn’t come from a big school.

However, Balcer is making herself into a big name player.

Chicago hosts semifinal with win

Reign FC and Portland will battle out for spots three and four. However, the Chicago Red Stars have cemented themselves in second place. With their victory over Utah and Portland’s loss to the Reign, Chicago joins the Courage in hosting a semifinal match.

The fourth place team will face the first-place Courage. Meanwhile, Chicago will host the third place team, which is currently Portland.

Chicago hosting a semifinal comes at a crucial time for the city and women’s soccer. The USWNT is ending their Victory Tour in Chicago on Sunday, which is a great marketing chance for the Red Stars. The semifinal will be held on Oct. 20.

Meanwhile, the Courage host the semifinals on Oct. 19. The final will also be held at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park on Oct. 27.

Chicago picked up another massive three points against Utah, ending their playoff hopes. Last week, fans saw Sam Kerr break her own NWSL regular-season scoring record of 17 goals. Kerr now has 18 goals to her name, and has one more regular season match to add to her tally.

However, this week was the Yuki Nagasato show. The Japanese international is showing that age is just a number. She currently leads the league in assists with eight, and also has eight goals. She scored the game-winning goal against Utah in the 85th minute, off an unassisted goal.

Vanessa DiBernardo tapped in the first goal, while Christen Press scored the equalizer minutes before halftime.

Washington with plenty of positives in 2019

This season has been a rollercoaster for the Washington Spirit.

The young team saw injuries pile up on their roster, but managed to get their youth to perform in big moments. Jordan DiBiasi is another candidate for Rookie of the Year, along with defender Sam Staab. Both players were selected in the first round by Richie Burke, the Spirit’s first-year coach.

Burke has turned the team around. Washington did not finish in a playoff spot, but did improve from last season. Despite what the records may show, Aubrey Bledsoe continues to be one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Bledsoe is tied with Kailen Sheridan of Sky Blue FC in the league with saves, totaling 80 this year. Bledsoe has also tallied an impressive eight clean sheets.

Paige Nielsen is another player that has risen up for the Spirit. She saved Bledsoe’s bacon with a goal-line clearance on Saturday against the North Carolina Courage. With everything to lose, including a playoff spot, Washington shocked the league with a 2-1 victory over North Carolina.

The club’s national team stars were the goal-scorers, though. Mallory Pugh tapped in the first goal in the 75th minute. Almost 10 minutes later, Rose Lavelle found the game-winning tally.

Meanwhile, for North Carolina, Lynn Williams kept her line of good form with a goal before halftime. Williams is second in the league in goals with 12, six goals shy from leading scorer Kerr.

 

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