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.