OL Reign reset begins as Laura Harvey retakes the reins.
Laura Harvey took Seattle Reign FC to two NWSL Shields and Two NWSL Championship matches in her first run with what is now OL Reign.
She coached the startup Reign club for five seasons, leading it from a sluggish start to a club that challenged for trophies. At the end of the 2017 season, she left to pursue other options. Her shock departure from the club, still then in Seattle and with a loaded roster of talent, was a move that led her to another startup in Utah and international coaching opportunity. The club had moved on, but much of a veteran core remained in place.
When the Reign coaching position became open recently, Harvey was not immediately commented on as a likely return to the club. Yet, after a couple short weeks under the helm of her former assistant Sam Laity, Harvey takes back a club full of promise, but lacking in points and success on the season.
The Reign have used the word “Bold” in much of their media and promotional materials throughout their existence. In bringing back Harvey, with a core of veterans and international talent and much of a season to play, this could very well end up being the case.
Although in 9th place in the standings as of taking charge after Laity’s final interim match, the actual gap in the standings from 4th to 9th is 6 points. There is a great cluster in the middle of the standings and a few three point results could quickly make up the ground.
Coach Harvey has commented about being a different coach and the journey she has gone on since leaving the club. There is a real chance to right the ship this season should a winning run of even a few matches move the club up the standings. With returning Olympians and the talent on hand, the job is not so much a rebuild as a reset.
Reports are the contract is for 2021 through 2023.
TACOMA, WA (July 2, 2021) – OL Reign today announced that Farid Benstiti has resigned his position as head coach of the club with immediate effect. Assistant coach Sam Laity, who has been with the club since its inaugural season in 2013, will serve as interim head coach, beginning with tonight’s match in Houston against the Dash.
“We are appreciative of Farid’s many contributions to the club over the past 18 months and wish him the best in all his future endeavors,” said OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore. “We have great respect for Farid’s talents and all he brought to the organization, but in our recent conversations there was a collective agreement that new leadership was required to achieve the performances and results needed to satisfy our ambitions.”
Benstiti was hired by OL Reign in January 2020 and led the club through twenty matches across four competitions, including the Challenge Cups in 2020 and 2021, the 2020 Fall Series, and the first seven matches of the 2021 NWSL Regular Season. Benstiti’s record during his tenure was 6 wins, 9 losses and 5 draws, including last Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Gotham FC.
OL Reign 0 NJ/NY Gotham FC 3 NWSL Regular Season – June 26, 2021 Cheney Stadium – Tacoma, WA
(photos by Vanya Tucherov)
OL Reign hosted NJ/NY Gotham FC in Tacoma on Saturday afternoon in scorching temperatures. As in, the hottest day on record in June in the history of the region.
The hosts were relishing the opportunity to run out a starting eleven with OL Lyon loanies Eugenie Le Sommer and Dzsenifer Marozsan having had a few matches in the system and healthy and in form Jessica Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe also in the attack. Although Rose Lavelle and Tziarra King were not in the 18.
Gotham entered the match on the cusp of the top four, but without the services of Carli Lloyd. A stout Gotham defense has served them well in the early part of the season, but a dearth of goals had been an issue.
The early going and much of the first half was OL on their front foot, pushing the Gotham FC defense, but unable to finish off numerous chances. The Gotham midfield, led my Allie Long, proved to be difficult to break down in the middle third, pushing the Reign out wide for their attacks. The Reign responded with continual switching, looking to get Megan Rapinoe down the left flank and Le Sommer down the right. With Marozsan pushing the middle of the line, and Fishlock joining, it only seemed like a matter of time.
However, in the 38th minute, Gotham was rewarded for their patience and steady defense when Ifeoma Onomonu got free and Reign keeper Sarah Bouhaddi was caught out of net. Onomonu got around the defense and slotted a long low drive into the vacant net. Although against the statistical run of play at that point, Gotham’s absorb and counter had paid off near the interval.
The second half began with the Reign needing a goal to bring the match level. Taking the second half kick directly down the flank, a sliding Marozsan. The Gotham defense remained difficult to break down. The Reign moved to more long diagonals, trying to isolate their forwards.
The visitors struck again, grabbing a two nil lead in the 60th as Midge Purce got free with possession in front of the net, calmly finishing and extending the Gotham lead. The Reign then tried a wave of fresh legs to see about getting into the match.
Gotham grabbed a third in the 85th minute when Dom Richardson beat Bouhaddi far post, and the match that seemed so much like the home side would dominate early, was a three nil to the visitors.
Moving forward, the stout defense, difficult to break down, will serve Gotham well. For OL Reign, a line up full of international experience needs to get some goals or points and the standings are going to get away from them for 2021.
OL Reign 0 North Carolina Courage 0 NWSL Regular Season May 15, 2021 – Cheney Stadium – Tacoma, WA
It had been since the 2019 NWSL semifinal in Cary, NC in October 2019 since the OL Reign and North Carolina Courage had squared off. It was an extra time thriller on the other coast then.
The visiting Courage went right at the hosts, getting an opportunity on goal in the second minute that hit the Reign crossbar. The first quarter hour continued in that manner, with the visitors on the pedal and bringing a good deal of pressure on to the Reign goal.
Eventually, the Reign got their footing, with Jessica Fishlock sending a set piece over Casey Murphy that the Cheney Stadium crowd was briefly certain had gone in. A few more set pieces for the Reign were dangerous as the half progressed, as the match got chippy for a while and the Courage drew two quick yellow cards.
Any team with Debinha on the pitch has a chance to do dangerous things. The Reign defense was put under pressure dealing with her and what she was creating, setting the rest of the Courage offense up as she drew additional attention.
Even so, an entertaining first half finished and the match entered the interval goalless.
Courage coach Paul Riley had mentioned in the match build up how the narrow confines in Tacoma would dictate play. With both teams looking to push the attack, both defenses played a bit on their back heels, seeming more to disrupt and quickly distribute than maybe typically building up out of the back. With the narrow field, Jessica McDonald’s long throws were dangerous set pieces for the Reign defense to face.
Both keepers were put to the test throughout. Both Karen Bardsley for the OL Reign and Casey Murphy for the Courage were called upon to make reflex saves, which in what turned out to be a goalless draw are even more important.
The hosts subbed in fresh attackers, with Megan Rapinoe and Bethany Balcer augmenting the second half attack, creating chances. But, with veteran defenders on each side like Lauren Barnes and Abby Erceg, neither defense gave way.
Both clubs were 2-1-1 with 7 points and 2nd place divisional finishes in the Challenge Cup matches leading to the opener. Both sides pressed on the attack, were challenging and disrupting passes, and attempting to counter quickly.
Afterward, Courage players were happy with their play, even if the result was a goalless draw. “Honestly, I thought it was one of our best performances so far,” Carson Pickett said. “We are really starting to gel, and I think we are in a good place to keep growing into the season.”
The Reign have reason to feel good as well, especially with their resilience against a good North Carolina side, knowing that international help is coming later in the season.
Both sides grab a point to start a long regular season. Both defenses kept a clean sheet. Both offenses created chances, but were unable to convert. A long season is now underway.
NCC (4-3-3): Casey Murphy, Merritt Mathias, Abby Erceg, Kaliegh Kurtz, Carson Pickett; Denise O’Sullivan, Debinha, Havana Solaun (Brittany Ratcliffe – 77’); Jessica McDonald, Hailie Mace (Cari Roccaro – 77’), Kristen Hamilton Subs Not Used: Katelyn Rowland, Taylor Smith, Schuyler DeBree, Diane Caldwell, Ryan Williams, Lynn Williams, Lindsay Agnew
RGN (4-3-3): Karen Bardsley, Celia Jimenez (Amber Brooks – 23’), OLison Hammond, Kristen McNabb, Lauren Barnes, Jessica Fishlock, D. Weatherholt, Sofia Huerta, Rosie White (Bethany Balcer – 46’ ), Tziarra King (Megan Rapinoe – 57’), Leah Pruitt (Angelina – 86’) Subs Not Used: C. Morché, Machaela George, Stephanie Cox, Jasmyne Spencer, Yuka Momiki
So, a few weeks ago, we had the Bouhaddi and Maroszan announcement. This week, Eugénie LeSommer was announced as coming over to join OL Reign as well.
With the team not likely to feel too much of an impact from the Olympics (Rapinoe, Quinn, Bardsley and possibly Jess Fishlock – dependent on whether Team GB calls in Welsh and Scotland Nationals or sticks with just England’s), the three OL players are going to show up when most of the league is starting to be depleted. And if they weren’t planning to get significant minutes, why would they come over?
The question will be “at whose expense?” Particularly in the attack – will this displace Bethany Balcer or Tziarra King to a secondary role, or bump one of them (I’d think Balcer more likely) into a false 9 or attacking mid running in behind LeSommer? But we’ll get those answers soon enough.
Tonight, we’ll see the North Carolina Courage, who may end up both scoring and conceding the most goals in the league. If this match becomes a track meet, it’s unlikely to end well for the home side. If, on the other hand, the Reign can limit NCC on the counter and build pressure into attack, it bodes well for them. Hopefully, the hostesses will show the form of the last two weeks of the Challenge Cup, and not the first two, and will bank three points in their opener.
Chicago Red Stars visited the OL Reign in the Pacific Northwest Tuesday evening in NWSL Challenge Cup play. Neither side could catch the division leading Portland Thorns, but with the regular season on the horizon and returning internationals, the match was still an excellent chance for both sides to prepare for May forward.
The host Reign presented a far more veteran starting eleven than in their previous two Challenge Cup matches, having worked the returning Megan Rapinoe and Jessica Fishlock into starting roles. Even with the trade earlier in the day of Allie Long to Gotham, the Reign line up had Steph Cox and Lauren Barnes adding veteran presence.
A fairly back and forth first half was reflective of the early season and line up changes through these early matches. Chicago had the best of the early play, pushing more into the host half and making the Reign mostly counter for any opportunities.
Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh broke through with a left footed strike in the 38th minute, sneaking a low strike past the outstretched Karen Bardsley.
The Reign began to get more possession and opportunities as the first half closed, Sofia Huerta converting past ALyssa Naeher in the 41st after the Reign press had pressured the Red Stars into a bad turnover near their own penalty area. For the hosts, the goal was the first of the Challenge Cup, having been held goalless by both Houston and Portland.
It is oft quoted about how goals change games. Chicago continued for much of the second half with much of the possession, but a 70th minute OL Reign Leah Pruitt goal put them in a hole with 20 minutes remaining.
Kealia Watt appeared to have equalized in the 80th, but the flag was up and it was waved off.
Tziarra King extended the lead in the 87th, but the lead was tenuous as the Red Stars continued to press.
A 90th minute scramble and Chicago goal by Morgan Gautrat cut the lead to 3-2 going into the four minutes of announced stoppage time. Chicago pressed forward, getting one last set piece late, but to no avail.
In the end, the three Challenge Cup points went to the host Reign. Not scoring in the first two matches had weighed on them, breaking through with three goals and being mostly full strength doing it could bode well down the road. Chicago continues to look for its first win of 2021, but there was a lot of good in their performance and the regular season resets the standings.
A few more Challenge cup matches remain around the league; the Red Stars have completed their four,the Reign having one remaining. The regular season schedule has dropped and it should be an interesting year.
Goals: CHI – Pugh – 38′ OLR – Huerta – 41′ OLR – Pruitt – 70′ OLR – King – 87′ CHI – Gautrat – 90’+
This entire match can be summarized in one play: the Reign have a throw-in on the right touch line, nearly parallel with the top of the 18-yard box in their attacking zone. The throw-in is taken, and the recipient turns and passes back to either Amber Brooks or Madison Hammond (I can’t recall which) in the Reign defensive third.
Because when you can’t coordinate linking play to advance the ball into attack, you deliberately cede 150 feet of the pitch.
Or in two plays: Karen Bardsley makes an ordinary save, and looks to distribute quickly. By throwing the ball directly to a Thorns player’s feet.
This is a team which may have extraordinary talent, but two matches in, it’s becoming clear that they’re not being coached to play as a unit or to succeed.
The back four struggled again. Bardsley looked even more lost than against Houston in marshalling them in front of her. There’s little linking or transition play.
Apparently US Soccer dictated 30′ max for Megan Rapinoe. No idea why Jess Fishlock went less than 45′. Ride of the Valkyries is reporting that we didn’t see Lu Barnes for a second week due to an injury and not being match fit. Not to doubt our colleagues, who are passing on what they’ve been told, but if Barnes is injured and not match ready, why is she dressed for the match rather than being on the injury report? Something’s highly suspect there.
Sooner or later, there has to be accountability, and looking unprepared two matches in a row should be putting the coaching staff in an uncomfortable spot. Not winning due to a bad bounce or missed play is one thing, but looking underprepared and disjunct points a finger at coaching.
Reign v Thorns is a iconic an NWSL rivalry as there is. I mean, even if it wasn’t for West Coast supremacy and all that, where else is there one which has stood the test as well as this has? I mean, Western New York is now Carolina, Sky Blue is now Gotham, FCKC became the Utah Royals who became KC SC; so of the NWSL debutantes, that leaves the Spirit and Red Stars. Both worthy adversaries, don’t get me wrong, but nothing comparable to a duel between Upper Left rivals. Even if it has lost some of the cachet of Seattle v. Portland with the Reign move to Tacoma, we can now frame it as MLS v World, and extend the battle to Merritt Paulson v. Jean-Michel Aulas. Take that, Portlanders!
But more seriously, as far as making a run for the NWSL Challenge Cup goes, this is a must-have 3 points if the Reign hope to face the top team from the East. At six points from two matches, the Thorns should be able to clinch the top spot from the West with a win; whereas the Reign need a victory tonight not to sit five or more points back with a game in hand, but only two remaining. To put it simply, if there’s a winner tonight, that team is likely the West representative in the Challenge Cup final. So, where do things stand? Portland beat KC 2:1 at Providence Park, and outlasted Chicago on the road 1:0, whereas the only Reign data point we have was the tussle at Cheney Stadium Friday night where Reign B drew the Dash in a scoreless duel.
But tonight, Fortune’s Favourites should field pretty much an A squad starting lineup, with the likes of Megan Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock back from International duty long enough to be all but certain to slot into the Starting XI. Hopefully, we’ll also see the return of Lu Barnes to the centre of the backline. Madison Hammond was the shining light in the back for OL Reign against Houston, and I’d be hard-pressed to take her out of the lineup, even if Amber Brooks might be ahead of her on the depth chart.
But the BIG NEWS from Camp Predmore this week is the loan from the parent club – Dzsenifer Marozsan and Sarah Bouhaddi are scheduled to join the squad after the conclusion of Olympique Lyonnaise’s season in June. This will see the Reign with a stunning FIVE goalkeepers on the roster – arguably two too many – and will leave competition in the midfield open to see who will round out the trio with Fishlock and Marozsan.
From PDX, we’ll see a trio which has been pretty dominant in establishing control in Rocky Rodriguez, Celeste Boureille, and Meghan Klingenberg. No, that’s not a mistake. Midfielder Meghan Klingenberg, not playing as a centre-back. Therein lies PringELLE’s key to the game. The team which can establish midfield dominance will be favoured to walk away with the laurels of the Cascadia Derby and the three points. We’ll need to see a more solid unit than Shirley Cruz, Angelina, and Dani Weatherholt – my guess would be Fishlock joins Cruz and Long returns to the lineup if able; with Weatherholt, Angelina, and Quinn in reserve. Pinoe slots in on the left side in attack, with Sofia Huerta on the right and Bethany Balcer in the middle; we see Hammond and Barnes in the central defending roles, flanked by Celia and Cox or McNabb; and Bardsley between the sticks.
To rehash Laura Harvey and so many coaches everywhere and when, “Goals change games.” Barring a fluky strike against the run of play, this battle will come down to “which side more effectively can control midfield and link up play out of the back into attack.”
If the Thorns can stretch the field and manage to get runs from the likes of Crystal Dunn out of the back, it might be a long night for the visitors; but it’d be premature to discount Rapinoe crosses into the box or Tiny Dragon determination. This, after all, is why the matches are played, rather than just allocating points on strength of roster.
[edited, 6:41 pm. We now see that I’m not an insider. No Pinoe, Fishlock, or Barnes in the XI. King slots in on left wing, Angelina on the right, with Huerta in the attacking midfield.]