OL Reign and North Carolina Courage play to a goalless draw in regular season opener

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.

BOX:

Attendance: 2,104

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

Cautions:
NCC: Abby Erceg – 21’; Merritt Mathias – 26’
RGN: Bethany Balcer – 83′

«Que pense Pringle ?» – What’s Pringle Thinking? Regular Season Opener (v. North Carolina Courage) Edition

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.

OL Reign defeat Chicago 3-2 in Challenge Cup

OL Reign 3

Chicago Red Stars 2

NWSL Challenge Cup

Cheney Stadium – Tacoma, WA – April 27, 2021

Megan Rapinoe played her first home match since 2019.

Chicago Red Stars visited the OL Reign in the Pacific Northwest Tuesday evening in NWSL Challenge Cup play. Neither side could catch the division leading Portland Thorns, but with the regular season on the horizon and returning internationals, the match was still an excellent chance for both sides to prepare for May forward.

The host Reign presented a far more veteran starting eleven than in their previous two Challenge Cup matches, having worked the returning Megan Rapinoe and Jessica Fishlock into starting roles. Even with the trade earlier in the day of Allie Long to Gotham, the Reign line up had Steph Cox and Lauren Barnes adding veteran presence.

A fairly back and forth first half was reflective of the early season and line up changes through these early matches. Chicago had the best of the early play, pushing more into the host half and making the Reign mostly counter for any opportunities.

Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh broke through with a left footed strike in the 38th minute, sneaking a low strike past the outstretched Karen Bardsley.

The Reign began to get more possession and opportunities as the first half closed, Sofia Huerta converting past ALyssa Naeher in the 41st after the Reign press had pressured the Red Stars into a bad turnover near their own penalty area. For the hosts, the goal was the first of the Challenge Cup, having been held goalless by both Houston and Portland.

It is oft quoted about how goals change games. Chicago continued for much of the second half with much of the possession, but a 70th minute OL Reign Leah Pruitt goal put them in a hole with 20 minutes remaining.

Kealia Watt appeared to have equalized in the 80th, but the flag was up and it was waved off.

Tziarra King extended the lead in the 87th, but the lead was tenuous as the Red Stars continued to press.

A 90th minute scramble and Chicago goal by Morgan Gautrat cut the lead to 3-2 going into the four minutes of announced stoppage time. Chicago pressed forward, getting one last set piece late, but to no avail.

In the end, the three Challenge Cup points went to the host Reign. Not scoring in the first two matches had weighed on them, breaking through with three goals and being mostly full strength doing it could bode well down the road. Chicago continues to look for its first win of 2021, but there was a lot of good in their performance and the regular season resets the standings.

A few more Challenge cup matches remain around the league; the Red Stars have completed their four,the Reign having one remaining. The regular season schedule has dropped and it should be an interesting year.

Match Report

Goals:
CHI – Pugh – 38′
OLR – Huerta – 41′
OLR – Pruitt – 70′
OLR – King – 87′
CHI – Gautrat – 90’+

Attendance 1,105

«Que pense Pringle ?» / What’s Pringle Thinking? – Post-Portland Debacle Edition

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.

Unbelievable.

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.

«Que pense Pringle ?» / What’s Pringle Thinking? – Pre-match at Portland edition

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.]

«Que pense Pringle ?» / What’s Pringle Thinking? Post-Match Edition

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.

Tiziarra King, breaking ankles

Still, for a first match, and one against a team which played well enough to not lose, there’s hope looking forward.

2021 OL Reign NWSL Challenge Cup Opener

OL Reign 0

Houston Dash 0

2021 NWSL Challenge Cup

Cheney Stadium – Tacoma, WA – April 16, 2021

OL Reign opened the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup Friday night in Tacoma, hosting the Houston Dash. A long off-season was finally over and real matches were in the works, almost six months since playing their final Fall Series match in October.

Houston had grabbed a point in a nil-nil draw at home in their first match, traveling up to the Pacific Northwest looking to get points to defend their 2020 Challenge Cup.

The first half was limited in chances on goal. Each side got a few chances, but the bulk of the play was in the middle of the pitch. Houston had an advantage on possession in the first 45, but it didn’t lead to many chances. The Reign defense held the Dash up as they moved towards the goal, but the Reign counter managed a similar level of success generating few clear chances.

The home side came out the second half with more of the play. Opening up their attack also led to the Houston visitors stretching the field in response after an initial ten minutes of Reign pressure. A much more end to end second half followed. By the middle of the second half, a few yellow cards also followed for each, as some hard fouls came in the wake of the additional opportunities and the match remained a tense goalless scoreline.

Goalless draws can be seen as drab affairs, but this one was more a result of early season connections just missing. Houston was on it’s second match since the October NWSL Fall Series ended; with the host Reign on their first. As the match progressed, attackers would take more chances on the dribble, attempting to create for themselves. Dash attacker Shea Groom created some opportunities with dangerous runs. Sofia Huerta challenged the Houston goal with a strong volley, but Lindsey Harris was up to the task.

Neither side comes out of the match too much for the worst in the sense of the point, but it means only two points on two goalless draws thus far for the defending Challenge Cup champions. They do need points.

The match was the first for the Reign in front of fans since the end of the 2019 season. 1263 were spread out about the park, and they became more noticeable as the match progressed. The Reign now move on to fave Cascadia rivals Portland Thorns FC on Wednesday down the road in Oregon.

The only OLR player to have appeared in every match in 2019 and 2020, Bethany Balcer continued her streak of playing every match as a professional in her third season in Tacoma.

SCORING SUMMARY:

None

BOOKING SUMMARY:

RGN-Danielle Weatherholt (caution) 23

HOU-Shea Groom (caution) 25

TOTAL SHOTS:  RGN 11-8 HOU

SHOTS ON GOAL:  RGN 4-3 HOU

FOULS:  RGN 16-10 HOU

OFFSIDES:  RGN 3-1 HOU

CORNER KICKS:  RGN 4-4 HOU

SAVES:  RGN 3-4 HOU

Photos by Vanya Tucherov

«Que pense Pringle ?» / What’s Pringle Thinking?

Welcome to 2021! Hopefully we’re on the flip-side of COVID-19 now.

The OL Reign Lìon lacks an official name, so, after consulting with a number of supporters, we’ve elected to call the Lion Pringle, after the shape its tongue calls to mind for North Americans. With a nod to the parent club, we’re opting to pronounce the name pring-ELLE. After all, elle is the French third person feminine pronoun, and since it’s silly for a women’s team to have a male lion on its crest, this seems to fit.

«Que pense Pringle ?» will be a series of quick takes and general thoughts about the Reign, their competition, the NWSL, or women’s soccer in general. So, without further ado….

It’s not clear if any of the players called up for International duty have returned to the area, and less so whether any will be available for selection in Friday night’s match against the Houston Dash. I’d be surprised if Pinoe, Quinn, and Jess Fishlock were available, more so if all three were, and stunned if any were to go more than 45′.

Regardless of whether England netminder Karen Bardsley – also returning from International duty – starts between the sticks, the Reign will feature a debutante goalkeeper. My money would be on Cosette Morché, but wouldn’t be surprised if Ella Dederick drew the nod, simply given travel for Bardsley.

The potential of the squad to roll out a front three with Sofia Huerta flanked by Megan Rapinoe and Jasmine Spencer, with Bethany Balcer, Tziarra King, Nicole Momiki, and Ally Watt in ready reserve. That the 2019 Rookie of the Year isn’t an automatic for inclusion in the starting XI speaks to the weapons available in attack.

At full strength, the midfield could feature Jess Fishlock, Quinn, and Allie Long – a trio which could out work any opposition. Whether they’ll be effective in linking play remains to be seen, but Long’s passing accuracy should be near the top of the league again; Quinn may be the replacement for Keelin Winters-Petrillo the midfield has been lacking since the latter’s retirement following the back-to-back Shield winners; and the Welsh Tiny Dragon will continue to do Jess Fishlock things.

Centre back will be a potential concern – after Lu Barnes and Amber Brooks, who slots in there? There aren’t similar concerns on the outside.

But, of course, roster strength doesn’t distaste results – thet’s why they play the games. Still, there’s good reason for optimism here at chez Pringle.

MLS Cup Final – Crew defeat Sounders FC 3-0

(Duplicate post of ProstAmerika article as is normal practice for when covering Sounders FC, although this was virtual coverage.)

Seattle Sounders FC 0

Columbus Crew SC 3

MLS Cup Final

December 12, 2020

MAPFRE Stadium – Columbus, OH

Columbus Crew SC hosted Seattle Sounders FC Saturday night in at MAPFRE Stadium in the 2020 MLS Cup Final.

The 2020 final is the third appearance for MLS founding club Columbus, having won the title in 2008.  For Seattle, it is a chance at a repeat, a third title, in their fourth appearance over the past five seasons.

Subplots and history have dominated the conversations in recent days leading into the match. With Seattle at virtually full strength, the late pandemic related suspensions of top Columbus players is likely the subplot that had the most direct chance of affecting the match.

The two clubs have met in a final before, with the Sounders beating the Crew in the 2010 US Open Cup Final in Seattle.  But, the history between the two clubs predates Seattle’s actual first match in MLS in 2009 with the drama over the departure of Sigi Scmid from the Crew to become the MLS Sounders’ first head coach.  Schmid’s passing in 2018 adds an additional somber element as both clubs had great success with him at the helm.  To have been able to have Sigi possibly in attendance at the match would have been a great moment for the clubs, supporters of both, and the league.

Crew coach Caleb Porter was at the helm of Portland Timbers when they defeated Columbus for the cup in 2015 in Columbus.  Porter’s tense relationship with the Sounders through the Cascadia rivalry is apparently now in the past as Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer has commented about them attending licensing courses together.  Supporters may still feel differently.

Columbus looked to close out MAPFRE Stadium on the highest of notes.  A win would end their tenure in what has been possibly the most important building in US soccer history.  Without the stadium, the trajectory of MLS would have been a different story as it proved the proper sized soccer specific stadium was essential to the league not merely surviving but thriving.  With the numerous important matches played in the stadium, it is not hyperbole to state its importance.

The opening half was mostly Columbus on their front foot.  Seattle keeper Stefan Frei was called on a number of times early, coming up big and keeping the match level.  The Crew managed to put Seattle on the chase, creating chances, and only facing the counter on a handful of occasions. Seattle’s counter did get Jordan Morris forward down the left flank a few times, but the crosses didn’t lead to real chances on goal.

The constant pressure would pay off for the Crew.  The initial goal would come mid-half.  Lucas Zelarayán got a foot on a far post cross in the 25th minute and the home side was rewarded with a deserved goal and lead.

Derrick Etienne would make it two nil in the 31st.  The Crew was really rolling at this point, dominating in possession and attack. Seattle needed to get their footing and press back to attempt to cut into the lead by the half, but were unable to.  Heading into the interval the two goal margin was reflective of the way in which Columbus had controlled the match.

Seattle did not wait to make changes after the interval.  Two changes and some urgency put Seattle in position to cut into the lead early in the second half. The early second half suddenly seemed to find Seattle able to get and do something with possession. 

But, the change in game flow did not change the score line in the first part of the second half.  Columbus weathered the storm in the early going, and despite the numerous Seattle chances, the half progressed with the same two goal margin.  The Sounders had definitely found their footing in the match after the half, however, the goals remained elusive.

Given recent history and Seattle’s ability to score in short bursts, the notion that they could come back to bring it level was hardly out of the question. Seattle came close to scoring on a number of set pieces and sequences adding drama to the proceedings. 

Lucas Zelarayán put an end to the come back storyline for Seattle. His left foot drive from the top of the box beat Frei in the 82nd minute and it was just a matter of playing out the match for Columbus to host the title for the second time. 

Columbus had dominated the early going, but had also managed to finish.  The long run of Seattle pressure in the second half had not paid off with goals. 

Columbus is the 2020 MLS Cup champion, closing out the MAPFRE Stadium era with as much style as it deserved.