2020 is in the books for OL Reign and the NWSL. With the summer NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah and then the NWSL Fall Series, clubs have managed to all play a number of matches and at least manage some sort of a 2020 season.
For OL Reign, the Challenge Cup was a first chance to play under Farid Benstiti’s system. The summer matches were a solid display of defense and possession, but offense was at a premium. The club managed to finish in the top half of the table and were very much a tough out. There was a good deal of reason for optimism.
The NWSL Fall Series is tougher to gauge. A significant number of players, many likely starters, were not available. Players were loaned out to clubs in Sweden, England, and France, and USWNT stalwart Megan Rapinoe chose the VOO option. Even with the absences, it was not difficult to look at the available players and put together a solid starting eleven and likely main substitutes, without even utilizing young players brought in through recent drafts or trials. That said, and even though the league put a trophy on the line, the results were not really the point of the exercise for 2020 when it comes to the big picture, or the roster would not have been depleted by the loans out.
In the end, OL Reign won one, lost two, and drew one. They were 7th in the table. Their matches were against the sides that finished top of and bottom of the table. They did not beat the top club, they did not lose to the bottom. Taken alone, this implies some mediocrity, but this is simply not the case when looking at the whole.
The two losses both were against a pretty loaded Portland side that managed to draw and convert three penalties. The away loss got away from them with the stoppage time penalty and the home match was lost to a penalty not long after equalizing. Football is cruel, and in the end those are losses, but those matches could have swung differently. Since this four match fall series was really about development, the reactions to adversity in those situations will be what is valuable.
The road draw with Utah and the home win were both interesting matches. Utah broke out to a lead at home, but the Reign were able to equalize. The home match saw OLR press early and maintain energy, holding off the Utah counter for a pretty solid end of season victory. It is the last match that seems to indicate the trajectory of the club.
Sitting at the bottom of the table with only a match to play for pride the Reign played with pride. They had energy. They showed their depth. Even with a significant amount of talent in Europe, injured, or opted out the club still started players with significant international experiences, solid league veterans, a possible national team goalkeeper, and some young players that look to have a future in the league.
In the end, that is the real lesson about OLR moving forward. They went out and went for it, playing with energy because they had a game to go win. With so much talent available, even with some upcoming potential losses to an expansion draft, the Reign look to be in good shape moving forward. A closer to full strength side finished in the top half of the Challenge Cup group phase and they went out and finished strong in the Fall Series.
There are questions. What will be the future of the national team players with the club? Who will they lose to expansion? But, for now at least, they get to enjoy looking ahead.