A look back – OL Reign in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup

The 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup in the the books.

The group phase for the OL Reign saw players return from injury, new players make debuts, and a core of the 2019 side provide the core of the line up.

The statistics from the group phase highlight just how some questions were answered, but many more were still pending entering the quarterfinals. Three clean sheets showcased a bend but not break defense with two goalkeepers splitting time. The win, loss, and two draws gave the team five points and third in the table. Third place would be a playoff spot in a full season.

Entering the fourth match, the side was the top possession team, but only scored a single goal in stoppage time of match three. Match four then saw the team mostly sit back and absorb against a Portland side that had to win to avoid finishing winless and the eighth seed.

The quarterfinal finally saw Jessica Fishlock start, going almost 70 minutes until being replaced by Bethany Balcer. A goalless draw would lead to a negative result in penalties as two Reign shots missed the mark and Chicago converted all.

Five matches is a decent sample size to know that OL Reign is definitely on a good track in regards to their defense, possession, and depth. It is tough to gauge the specific value of a missing Megan Rapinoe, but the club only managed a stoppage time goal in their third match. Scoring was a problem.

Four clean sheets are great as it is tough to lose when the other team never seems to score either. If not for the penalty result that would make the Reign a one win, one loss, three draw side, and minus one on goal difference.

The stats though and the results are probably not as important big picture. The Reign developed as the tourney progressed. The new coach and system seemed suited to the personnel they have. The young players are good. The veterans bring class and stability. They placed third in the group phase in a short sample, but it would not be a stretch to see that play out over 24 matches in a full season.

Moving forward, it could be months or 2021 before the club plays another competitive match. The 2020 season was over so quickly.

OL Reign NWSL Challenge Cup Quarterfinal vs Chicago Red Stars

(#3) OL Reign 0 (3)

(#6) Chicago Red Stars 0 (4)

(Chicago Red Stars advance on penalties)

NWSL Challenge Cup (quarterfinal)

July 18, 2020

Zions Bank Stadium – Herriman, UT

After finishing 1-1-2 with 5 points and the 3rd seed, OL Reign enter the NWSL Challenge Cup quarterfinals still searching for an identity on offense, and with a bend but rarely break defense.

Chicago Red Stars completed the group phase in a log jam of 1-2-1 4 point teams, placing them into the 6th seed. Injuries and roster management played a role in the group phase, but Chicago has plenty of experience and talent to potentially make a run in a short tournament that seems much more wide open after Portland upset North Carolina.

Both sides were missing national team starters due to injury at kickoff. But, both sides also fielded starting elevens with significant big tournament elimination match experience.

With the tournament phase beginning with the quarterfinals, the line ups were as close to a preferred eleven as could be.

Early play found OL Reign continuing to absorb and counter, with Chicago willing to press forward to try and get the early goal. By the time of the first hydration break however, Reign had managed to spend some time in the Chicago defensive third and create some chances, with Jessica Fishlock nearly scoring on a right footed shot.

Much like all of the quarterfinals, the match went to the interval scoreless. Would it also go to penalties or not was to be determined.

Similar to the first half, Chicago came out attacking early in the second half before Reign began to assert itself and push opportunities forward.

Many matches in the NWSL Challenge Cup have turned on the use and timing of the five available substitutes. Unlike most matches, neither coach made a halftime or early second half substitutions. The sole goal scorer in the group phase for OLR Bethany Balcer finally entered the match in place of Fishlock in the 67th. Both coaches then began and continued to sub in attacking options, not playing for penalties.

With the match remaining scoreless at the second half hydration break the notion of a single goal or penalties determining who would advance became increasingly likely.

Late chances didn’t pan out. Players were down with cramps. The five matches in a short time span in the heat and elevation had to have been factors in the quarterfinals. Regulation was a goalless draw and the cruelty of penalties were to decide.

Chicago was perfect in its four spot kicks with OL Reign missing on two, giving Red Stars the opportunity to play Sky Blue FC in the semifinals.

With this match in the books, Chicago joined the Portland Thorns FC, Houston Dash, and Sky Blue FC in the semis on Wednesday.

Seattle Sounders FC match 2 in MLS is Back vs FCD (postponed)

This is where I would have posted about the July 15 early AM match between Seattle Sounders FC and FC Dallas in Orlando at the MLS is Back tournament. I had set up the posts in the system to be able to run all of the work I am doing for these distance soccer tourneys. With this particular event cancelled and Chicago being shifted to play Seattle yesterday, it was not on me to cover that match.

Unfortunately, FCD was forced to withdraw from the tourney due to a number of positive tests. We are reminded that so much of this is not even close to being over and there is no margin for error in bubbles.

Best wishes to everyone affected by the situation.

The Goalie Guys hope everyone comes through this healthy and recovers.

OL Reign and Portland Thorns FC Cascadia derby goalless draw (at a neutral site)

OL Reign 0

Portland Thorns FC 0

NWSL Challenge Cup

July 13, 2020

In what could prove to be the only Seattle/Tacoma versus Portland Cascadia derby of 2020 for either the women or the men, OL Reign and Portland Thorns FC finished out the group phase of the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah on monday.

The final match day of of the NWSL Challenge Cup group phase found the league’s biggest rivalry taking center stage. OL Reign and Portland Thorns FC played the early match, a match supporters had circled on their calendars from the moment the schedules were determined and announced.

Match day four for OL Reign and Portland Thorns FC was filled with story lines. Portland needed a win to avoid being the only winless side in group play with three points could avoid the 8 seed and a quarterfinal match up with North Carolina. A draw would keep Portland at the 8 seed. OL Reign could jump as high as the 2 seed with a big win, a draw could leave them in the middle somewhere, or drop to the 8 seed themselves with a bad enough loss.

The opening third was mostly the Thorns on the attack, with Reign absorbing the challenges and looking to counter. Going into the first hydration break scoreless served the Reign, as Portland needed to be the aggressor to get out of the tournament cellar.

The Thorns created chances, but were not able to break through in the early stages. Going into the match, OL Reign had actually been the statistically best possession team in the tournament, but seemed willing to take what the match was giving them as Portland pushed forward consistently.

The Reign lost Bethany Balcer late in the first half, coming off in the 39th minute. Balcer has been a constant in this tournament, coming off of her ROY season. First half stoppage time saw the Reign create a couple of late dangerous chances and a chance to take a surprising lead. The nil nil scoreline at the interval meant the second forty-five would likely be dramatic and affect the tournament seeding and quarterfinal match ups.

Substitutes would play a significant role in the final third as the match remained level. OL Reign swapped in fresh legs on the offense, sticking with their veteran defenders down the stretch of the match. Jessica Fishlock came on for the first time in a year late in the match. In the end, they did not get the late goal and grab the three, but a fifth point in the standings still moves them up in the ladder.

Portland controlled long stretches of the match, statistically and in keeping OL Reign pressured and stuck in their own defensive end. All those chances simply never paid off for the Thorns, ending the group phase in the 8th seed and without a win. Should the Thorns offense find the net, they could still be a dangerous opponent for the Courage and cause havoc in the tournament.


Match: OL Reign vs. Portland Thorns FC
Date: July 13, 2020
Venue: Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah
Kickoff: 9:30 a.m. PT
Weather: 85 degrees, partly cloudy

Scoring Summary:

Misconduct Summary:

Lineups & Stats:

RGN: GK Michelle Betos, D Steph Cox, D Lauren Barnes, D Amber Brooks, D Celia Jiménez Delgado (Adrienne Jordan 73’), M Allie Long (Nicole Momiki 58’), M Rebecca Quinn, M Dani Weatherholt, F Bethany Balcer (Taylor Smith 40’), F Jodie Taylor (Jess Fishlock 73’), F Sofia Huerta (Darian Jenkins 58’)
Substitutes Not Used: GK Casey Murphy, GK Carly Nelson, D Alana Cook, D Machaela George, D Madison Hammond, D Kristen McNabb, M Shirley Cruz, M Rosie White, F Mariah Lee, F Jasmyne Spencer
Head Coach: Farid Benstiti

Shots: 9
Shots on goal: 3
Fouls: 6
Corner kicks: 2
Saves: 4

POR: GK Bella Bixby, D Meghan Klingenberg, D Katherine Reynolds (Autumn Smithers 79’), D Christen Westphal (Madison Pogarch 90+2’), D Kelli Hubley, M Celeste Boureille, M Rocky Rodriguez, M Angela Salem (Gabby Seiler 79’), F Christine Sinclair, F Morgan Weaver (Marissa Everett 90+2’), F Simone Charley (Tyler Lussi 65’)
Substitutes Not Used: GK Britt Eckerstrom, D Meghan Nally, M Emily Ogle, F Anika Rodriguez
Head Coach: Mark Parsons

Shots: 13
Shots on goal: 4
Fouls: 8
Corner kicks: 5
Saves: 3

Seattle Sounders FC vs San Jose Earthquakes in MLS is Back opener

Seattle Sounders FC 0

San Jose Earthquakes 0

MLS is Back

July 10, 2020

Seattle Sounders FC and San Jose Earthquakes returned to the pitch in the MLS is Back Tournament on Friday night in Orlando. A rivalry that dates back to NASL matches in 1974 and has included epic US Open Cup matches prior Seattle joining MLS in 2009 was renewed in the quarantine bubble in an empty stadium to a home only audience.

With both sides facing live opposition for the first time in four months and having to acclimate to the Florida weather leading in, match fitness and substitution patterns would likely play a roll in the match.

San Jose brought steady man marking pressure to the first thirdhe of the match, forcing Seattle to attempt to play through with limited ability to get numbers forward. Sounders FC still managed a few dangerous chances early, but the Earthquakes controlled the flow of play going into the first hydration break. The story moving forward into the interval would be whether Seattle could break the pressure and take control or if the pace of play would be controlled by San Jose.

Going into the interval goalless was surprising given the amount of possession from San Jose throughout the first forty-five. However, it was a continuation of the trend of the first MLS is Back Tournament matches all being level and scoreless at the half.

The pace of play altered to slower early in the second half, as the short return to training window and Florida climate began to play a role. Once substitutes began to enter, and the line up shifts followed, a very different final third would emerge. Weathering the first sixty minutes meant Seattle had the opportunity to find their legs as the San Jose pressure slowed. Moving to near the middle of the second half cramps in players began to cause stoppages, as the Florida climate acclimation continued to be a factor.

The final stretch of the match would either see late heroics or a goalless stalemate and a point to both sides. The pace of the early stages faded down the stretch, as bot clubs continued to look to chances, but not attacking in big numbers or with nearly the energy of the first third.

Nether side took significant risks in stoppage time, poking forward, but the notion of a point in the first match back and clean sheets seemingly something to build on after slogging through this first match.

And with the final whistle, the single point each was what both teams got.

OL Reign take on hosts Utah Royals in match 3

OL Reign 1
Utah Royals FC 0
NWSL Challenge Cup
July 8, 2020

With quarterfinal seeding coming into focus OL Reign and Utah Royals faced off Wednesday morning in Utah in the third NWSL Challenge Cup match for both sides.

OL Reign were still without the services of both Jessica Fishlock and Sofia Huerta for the match. Sitting on one point after the first two matches, points were becoming increasingly important. Also, the club had failed to score in either match, while conceding only two with a clean sheet to still manage a draw and a point in the standings. OL Reign utilized their squad depth with a significant line up roll over from previous matches, giving a number of players their first starts or minutes of the tournament. Goalkeeper Michelle Betos saw her first action in over a year since a serious injury ended her 2019 season within the first matches.

The Royals entered with four points, having a win and a draw, including late heroics in their opener. A result in the third match, with the four points with minimal missing players, was an opportunity for the Royals to move up in the standings going into the upcoming last group phase match day.

Utah went at OL Reign early, utilizing the dangerous runs and creativity up front of Amy Rodriguez. Despite some chances, there was a fair amount of end to end possession play, resulting in a goalless first half. For the Royals, the first half ending nil nil was an opportunity lost. Even without scoring in the first 45 and sitting a few key players, Utah could build on some of the dangerous opportunities they were creating after the break.

OL Reign went in to the interval having found more of the game as the half progressed. Jasmyne Spencer hit the side netting late in the half and striker Jodie Taylor had been heavily marked by the Utah center backs, but a level first half was a good start. The Reign defense continued to hold tough, leaving it with only a single goal conceded in two and a half matches.

Goalless matches get tighter as the minutes tick down. This was no exception. As each opportunity takes on more potential as a game changing event. Bethany Balcer entering the match led to a quick and dangerous opportunity for OLR as the match moved into the 70s, forcing Royals keeper Nicole Barnhart into a low diving save as the hydration break approached. Utah brought Diana Matheson into the match for the final stretch of the match, looking to try and grab a goal and the full three points.

Neither side looked to be playing for the single point in the final minutes, adding offense and pushing to open the play to create chances. Nicole Momiki brought immediate energy and danger to the Reign attack down the stretch. Bethany Balcer finally broke the deadlock and the Reign scoreless streak hitting the net at the beginning of stoppage time. Balcer, the 2019 ROY got a head on a Momiki cross to break the deadlock and alter the standings of the tournament. Balcer after the match, “We know we have all the right parts.”

Utah goes into match day four with a good sense of their attack and their defense and are certain to be a tough out in the elimination round. Utah has solid defensive shape and moves the ball through the midfield into attack steadily. Having a dangerous and in form striker like Rodriguez could give them an edge in their ability to create goals in the games that really matter. The result has to feel tough given how much of the play they controlled.

For OL Reign, the Cascadia derby finishes out their group phase slate. The derby at a neutral site is certain to have a significant social media presence, as it could be the only one of 2020 for the women or the men. However, the club still has many questions to be answered as to who they are in 2020. It will be interesting to see what line ups emerge for the next two match days. Can’t win if you don’t score. Getting one is great, but they cannot rely on stoppage time winners. Can’t lose if you don’t concede. Three points were a real reward for slogging through so much. However, if OLR keep this up, practicing spot kicks might be something they really need to focus on for upcoming elimination round matches.

Ol Reign Challenge Cup match 2 vs Houston Dash

OL Reign 0

Houston Dash 2

NWSL Challenge Cup Match 2

July 4, 2020

OL Reign and Houston Dash finished up the slate of 2nd matches for the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah on Saturday night.

Both sides entered the night with a point from their first matches, although the draws were very different in regards to the scorelines. The OLR offense did not find the back of the net, while the defense kept a clean sheet. Houston scored three, but their defense dropped two late goals to finish the match a 3-3 draw.

Early matches and game play has meant a good amount of possession for OLR, but those opportunities and set pieces have not paid off. OLR had a number of first third chances and corners, but remained goal less going into the first hydration break after 30 minutes.

Houston capitalized on high pressure leading to the opening goal of the match early in the 12th minute from Kristie Mewis. Mewis’ strike from 15 yards was clean and low and wide and beat OLR keeper Casey Murphy.

A one nil lead was a great place to go into the interval for Houston. OLR was still looking for their first goal of the tournament.

The early second half continued to move Houston’s way. A 54th minute header by Shea Groom put the Dash in control.

The Dash have now scored five goals in the first two matches. They did not give up a goal in match two and finished off OLR to move in to 2nd place half way through the group phase.

OL Reign have a lot of questions still to answer. They still have players like Jessica Fishlock and Sofia Huerta who have yet to play, and that may solve some of the offense, but until they play it doesn’t really matter. After two matches they have one point and no goals.

Match day 3 is where things start to really set up for the quarterfinal, the match that really matters.

OL Reign debut with a goalless draw with Sky Blue FC

OL Reign 0
Sky Blue FC 0
June 30, 2020
NWSL Challenge Cup

OL Reign and Sky Blue FC played match four of the NWSL Challenge cup Tuesday evening in Utah, completing the first set of matches so that all eight participating clubs now have one match in the books.

There were eventful off-seasons for both clubs. Sky Blue made great strides, even if not with all of the results, in 2019. Other off-season moves were in the quality of club business and the adding of players such as McCall Zerboni. The expectations in New Jersey are for a club on an upswing.

OL Reign re-branded a second consecutive off-season; changed ownership and coaching, and had some key players move on. 2020 also finds a number of players returning from injury and joining the club via trades and international signings.

A nearly statistical dead heat in shots and possession in a scoreless first half does not necessarily tell the story. OL Reign had the first truly dangerous chance on goal with Kristen McNabb’s long range shot forcing a save. Near the half Sky Blue forward Naho Kawasumi got through close range but a sliding Lauren Barnes blocked the shot or it could easily not have been goalless at the half.

Still, it was a first match for both sides and the timing was off enough to stop a number of attacks. For OL Reign, attacking down the left flank from McNabb to Darian Jenkins created a number of dangerous opportunities in the first half.

Chances continued for both in the second half and subs like Jasmine Spencer affected the match. Spencer had two dangerous chances with a breakaway in the 85th and blocking the keeper moments later, but to no avail. A dangerous 71st minute strike by Eddy of Sky Blue challenged Murphy.

Both coaches went with a veteran presence in the midfield with Zerboni and OL Reign’s Allie Long, veteran strikers, and goalkeepers with international futures. Jessica Fishlock is still to make her 2020 debut. It is reasonable to expect significant line up changes these first few matches as minutes are spread out and combinations sorted.

After the match OL Reign defender Lauren Barnes said, “I think we can continue to be hard to beat, like we were today. I think we gave Sky Blue too many chances. They’re a good side, but we need to be a little bit stronger and a little bit cleaner in our play.

A goalless draw does no harm in the sense each side grabs a point and knows its defense can withstand pressure, but the attack for both sides will need to use the next three group phase matches if moving forward in the elimination round is to happen.

Match Report
Match: OL Reign vs. Sky Blue FC
Date: June 30, 2020
Venue: Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah
Kickoff: 8:00 p.m. MT
Weather: 72 degrees, clear and sunny

Scoring Summary

Misconduct Summary
RGN – Alana Cook (caution) 59’

Lineups & Stats
RGN: GK Casey Murphy, D Kristen McNabb, D Lauren Barnes, D Alana Cook, D Stephanie Cox (Nicole Momiki 75’), M Rebecca Quinn, M Allie Long, M Shirley Cruz (Rosie White 75’), F Darian Jenkins, F Jodie Taylor (Jasmyne Spencer 75’), F Bethany Balcer (Taylor Smith 57’)
Substitutes Not Used: GK Michelle Betos, GK Carly Nelson, D Amber Brooks, D Machaela George, D Madison Hammond, D Celia Jiménez Delgado, D Adrienne Jordan, M Morgan Andrews, M Kelcie Hedge, M Dani Weatherholt, F Mariah Lee
Head Coach: Farid Benstiti

Shots: 13
Shots on goal: 4
Fouls: 9
Corner kicks: 6
Saves: 2

NJ: GK Kailen Sheridan, D Margaret Purce (Erica Skroski 77’), D Sabrina Flores, D Gina Lewandowski, D Estelle Johnson, M Domi Richardson (Jennifer Cudjoe 60’), M Sarah Woldmoe, M McCall Zerboni, F Paige Monaghan (Elizabeth Eddy 46’), F Ifeoma Onumonu (Evelyne Viens 77’) , F Nahomi Kawasumi
Substitutes Not Used: GK Didi Haracic, GK Megan Hinz, GK Amanda McGlynn, D Mandy Freeman, D Kaleigh Riehl, D Chantelle Swaby, M Cassidy Benintente, M Nicole Baxter, M Kenie Wright, F Imani Dorsey
Head Coach: Freya Coombe

Shots: 8
Shots ton goal: 2
Fouls: 6
Corner kicks: 4
Saves: 4