From the team’s press release.
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.
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.
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.
No! Sleep! Til PORTLAND!
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.]
Scoreless in the end, but anything but uneventful.
Finishing touch would be nice. So would more of the team we saw in the white kits in the second half. Not so much the edition before the turn. Loved the spark from King and Spencer when they came in. Pruitt had a solid go from the front – it’d be nice to see those efforts on frame, though. Thought Madison Hammond looked solid in an otherwise pretty shaky back four. Finding McNabb’s compete level to still be commendable.
With at least three, if not four and possibly five starters either not in the 18 or unused (Rapinoe, Fishlock, and Quinn from international duty; Long from a pre-match injury; and Barnes for undisclosed reasons), there’s a lot to look forward to as the Challenge Cup continues.
The back four, though, need to coalesce a bit, and focus on clearances – that seemed to be a running issue all night; and with the attack generating chances but not capitalizing on them, the fear was always that Houston would strike on the counter, despite being on the back foot most of the second half. Bardsley looked a little less confident in controlling the line in front of her too, and although not called upon to make any really challenging saves, I’d expect an international starter between the sticks to be capable of generalling her defenders much more assertively.
Still, for a first match, and one against a team which played well enough to not lose, there’s hope looking forward.