OL Reign – NWSL Fall Series Observations

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.

OL Reign v Utah Royals FC – – NWSL Fall Series Matchday 4

OL Reign 2

Utah Royals FC 0

October 17, 2020 – NWSL Fall Series (OL Reign Matchday 4)

Tacoma, WA – Cheney Stadium

OL Reign and Utah Royals FC faced off in Tacoma, WA on Saturday evening in the final match of the NWSL Fall Series for both clubs and the league.

Although both sides entered the match in the bottom two places on the table, there was more than merely avoiding the bottom involved Saturday evening. 2020 has been a journey for players, club, and the league as training camps were underway when things shut down. There was uncertainty over the merest possibility of playing matches of any kind this season. The Challenge Cup in Utah was a success. A number of real positives for the league with a new commissioner, expansion, and sponsors make the future seem bright. So, as the two bottom of the table clubs met to conclude the league season, the match represented far more resiliency and success than final placement in the standings.

With groups of fans watching from the hillside overlooking the stadium and in the parking lot, the two sides came out with pace and energy, OLR getting in on goal in the first minute and pressing for the early goal. Utah did get some counters, but also were generally stuck in their own defensive end a good portion of the early going. OLR managed to be dangerous, but the Utah defense was able to hold early. Sofia Huerta’s shot in the 24th minute finally got the match a goal.

The match would go to the interval still at one nil to the home side. Utah challenged Casey Murphy as the half progressed, forcing saves to keep the lead for OL Reign.

A 51st minute goal from outside the box by Leah Pruitt extended the OLR lead. It was Pruitt’s first goal for the club.

Utah pressed quickly for a response. In the 74th minute it appeared maybe they would grab one back before the hydration break. Tziarra King really hit one, but OLR keeper Casey Murphy fully extended to her right to push it wide and keep the two goal margin.

OLR maintained its pressure and energy throughout. Utah had chances, pushed for goals, but Murphy and the Reign defense withstood.

With the result OL Reign finish 7th in the table and Utah Royals FC in 9th.

“The victory is indicative of the work we did this week,” Benstiti said. “Last week, too. We are happy when we work very well. You’re sure it’s a good way (to do things). When you win, you are happy because you feel very professional about the job. The players did it very well. They listened to what we asked them to do, but after that they played very well. It’s not me on the field, it’s the players. I can’t tell them everything. They know what to do and when they do those things efficiently, they just have to play. They played today.”

The off-season begins quickly, an expansion draft is in a few weeks.

Match Report

Scoring Summary

RGN – Sofia Huerta (Shirley Cruz) 24’
RGN – Leah Pruitt (Bethany Balcer) 51’

Misconduct Summary

RGN – Kristen McNabb (caution) 45+8’
RGN – Jasmyne Spencer (caution) 90+1’

Lineups & Stats

RGN: GK Casey Murphy, D Madison Hammond, D Kristen McNabb, D Amber Brooks, D Steph Cox, M Dani Weatherholt, M Shirley Cruz (Sam Hiatt 79’), M Rosie White (Morgan Andrews 70’), F Leah Pruitt (Miranda Nild 79’), F Sofia Huerta, F Bethany Balcer (Jasmyne Spencer 86’)
Substitutes Not Used: GK Carly Nelson, D Kimberly Hazlett
Head Coach: Farid Benstiti

Shots: 23
Shots on goal: 11
Fouls: 18
Corner kicks: 8
Saves: 5

UTA: GK Abby Smith, D Elizabeth Ball, D Taylor Leach, D Mallory Weber, D Katie Bowen, M Lo’eau LaBonta, M Taylor Lytle, M Aminata Diallo (Gaby Vincent 63’), F Tziarra King (Arielle Ship 76’), F Amy Rodriguez, F Brittany Ratcliffe (Michele Vasconcelos 66’)
Substitutes Not Used: GK Melissa Lowder, D Michelle Maemone, D Madeline Nolf, F Raisa Strom-Okimoto
Head Coach: Amy LePeilBet

Shots: 10
Shots on goal: 5
Fouls: 11
Corner kicks: 2
Saves: 8

OL Reign v PDX – NWSL Fall Series Matchday 3

OL Reign 1

Portland Thorns FC 2

October, 10, 2020 – NWSL Fall Series (OL Reign Matchday 3)

Tacoma, WA – Cheney Stadium

OL Reign hosted Cascadia rival Portland Thorns FC in Tacoma on Saturday night. The match was more than merely a rivalry match, as for Portland it was an opportunity to take the Verizon Community Shield.

The final like stakes added an interesting dimension to a match being played in an empty stadium a week and a half after a Thorns thrashing of OLR in Portland. The spoiler role was possibly present, as a draw would not be enough for PTFC and would give the double to Houston Dash for 2020.

Portland pressed early. The Thorns offense is loaded with options even with Tobin Heath in England. Simone Charley was an ever present threat, eventually drawing a penalty in the 42nd. Christine Sinclair is lethal from the spot, burying the penalty. Lindsey Horan had opportunities early on multiple occasions, attacking from spots across the front line.

The late penalty was an especially bitter pill for OL Reign going into the interval. OLR had played a smart tactical defense for long stretches of the first half, clearly holding formation and shape. Even with the Portland heavy pressing and the ball being in the own end, Reign played steady, held their own to keep the match level, and took a few chances forward as the half progressed. The penalty took their ability to absorb and counter knowing the Thorns needed to win for the Community Shield and put them into a different tactical position for the early second half.

The second half got off to a quick start and the match pivoted within the first minute as OL Reign quickly pushed forward and drew a foul in the attacking third. The resulting set piece and follow up deflection by Amber Brooks tied the match in the 46th minute. For Brooks, it was a redemption moment, having been whistled for the PK earlier.

A 73rd minute Christine Sinclair penalty following a foul on Lindsey Horan swung the match back to Portland. OLR coach Farid Benstiti was cautioned after the penalty call. Brooks was called on both penalties, yet booked for neither.

With the victory, Portland moved to 10 points and clear of Houston, clinching the Verizon Community Shield for the NWSL Fall Series.

Match Report

Match: OL Reign vs. Portland Thorns FC

Date: October 10, 2020

Venue: Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Wash.

Kickoff: 5:00 p.m. PT

Weather: 58 degrees, partly cloudy

Goals by half      1    2     Total

RGN                      0    1        1

POR                    1    1        2

Scoring Summary

POR – Christine Sinclair (penalty) 43’

RGN – Amber Brooks (Shirley Cruz) 46’

POR – Christine Sinclair (penalty) 73’

Misconduct Summary

RGN – Allie Long (caution) 40’

RGN – Farid Benstiti (caution) 72’

RGN – Dani Weatherholt (caution) 90+4’

Lineups & Stats

RGN: GK Casey Murphy, D Madison Hammond (Kimberly Hazlett 83’), D Kristen McNabb, D Amber Brooks, D Steph Cox, M Allie Long (Rosie White 89’), M Shirley Cruz (Morgan Andrews 89’), M Dani Weatherholt, F Jasmyne Spencer (Taylor Smith 67’), F Sofia Huerta, F Bethany Balcer (Leah Pruitt 83’)

Substitutes Not Used: GK Carly Nelson, D Sam Hiatt

Head Coach: Farid Benstiti

Shots: 19

Shots on goal: 4

Fouls: 15

Corner kicks: 3

Saves: 8

POR: GK Britt Eckerstrom, D Christen Westphal (Kelli Hubly 86’), D Emily Menges, D Becky Sauerbrunn, D Meghan Klingenberg, M Angela Salem, M Rocky Rodriguez (Emily Ogle 90+2’), M Lindsey Horan, F Christine Sinclair, F Sophia Smith (Morgan Weaver 75’), F Simone Charley (Tyler Lussi 86’)

Substitutes Not Used: GK Nadine Angerer, D Madison Pogarch, F Marissa Everett

Head Coach: Mark Parsons

Shots: 15

Shots on goal: 10

Fouls: 13

Corner kicks: 7

Saves: 3