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.

MLS Western Conference Final in Seattle vs Minn Utd

(Duplicate post of ProstAmerika article as is normal practice for when covering Sounders FC)

Seattle Sounders FC 3
Minnesota United FC 2
MLS Playoffs Western Conference Final
December 7, 2020
Seattle, WA – Lumen Field

Seattle Sounders FC hosted FC Minnesota United FC in the MLS Playoffs Western Conference Final Monday evening. At stake, an opportunity for a spot in the MLS Cup Final against Columbus in Ohio on Saturday December 12.

Due to the unique scheduling necessary this season, it was the first meeting of the two sides in 2020. The last previous meeting being a 1-0 Seattle victory on Decision Day over a year ago at the end of the 2019 season. Seattle was 5-0-1 against the Loons going into the match, with this being the first postseason match between the two clubs.

For the visitors, it was a chance to progress to their first final since joining the league in 2017 in just their second postseason appearance.

A win for the home side and would mean a fourth final in five seasons, an opportunity to repeat and defend their 2019 title, and a shot at a third Philip F. Anschutz Trophy.

Neither Western Conference side could host the final with Columbus defeating New England on Sunday.

The match also marked the return of Sounders legend Osvaldo Alonso to Seattle, albeit a different sort of homecoming given the empty stands. Alonso led his side out to what in another time would have been an amazing spectacle.

And Ozzie made his presence felt early with a strong tackle. A brisk overall pace of play on a crisp but clear Seattle December night meant the action went end to end. Seattle looked to exploit Jordan Morris on the left flank with several long runs in the early going. Morris’ deep runs led to several low and dangerous crosses that put pressure on the Minnesota defense throughout the first half.

Raul Ruidiaz was heavily marked on the Seattle attack, fighting off some tight man marking to have any chance at the numerous attempts to target him. He would have to fight for every opening against the tight marking, and that would come back later to haunt him

The visitors did more than absorb and counter in the first third of the match, but definitely were willing to push the Sounders back line with through balls and their speed.

And then Minnesota broke through in the 29th with a goal on a long set piece by Emanuel Reynoso. Reynoso’s shot over the Seattle wall dipped to Frei’s left and into the goal for the lead. With the Minnesota defense holding off the Seattle crossing attack, the visitors took a one nil lead into the interval.

Seattle looked like it had leveled early on in the second half on a 53rd minute goal from Ruidiaz. Minnesota argued that he had fouled to break free, and the goal was reversed on VAR. Seattle continued to press, but the team defense United played in their own defensive third was a pretty tough nut to crack. The Sounders could get the ball in, but the numbers were very often against them with the commitment Minnesota showed to covering lanes and blocking through balls and shots. The final stats reflecting the team defense in that they blocked 12 Seattle shots throughout the match.

A second set piece goal from the Loons in the 67th minute put the defending champs on their heels. Bakaye Dibassy got his head on the Reynoso service and suddenly it looked like Minnesota was a team of destiny.

Will Bruin came on following the second United goal. Within minutes he had halved the Minnesota lead, slotting a right foot shot home after a deflection. The final 15 minutes suddenly looked more interesting again.

Seattle pleaded for another VAR review minutes after cutting the lead when it appeared Christian Roldan was possibly fouled near the top of the box, but their pleas led to nothing.

Somehow the Sounders got it done. Seattle drew level in the 89th minute. Ruidiaz somehow found himself unmarked on the far post off of a Lodeiro corner and his right footed shot a minute prior to stoppage time meant extra time was on the menu. The wild momentum swings throughout the second half were not done.

Seattle found a third and the winner in the 3rd minute of stoppage. Gustav Svensson headed in to the far post off of another Lodeiro corner and the comeback was complete.

The storyline somehow had completely changed in a matter of minutes. Where Seattle’s run to another final looked over and Minnesota looked ready to ascend to their first, suddenly it was the Sounders celebrating in the center of the pitch. It is hard not to view this match mostly in terms of the final minutes and the comeback/letdown of the 89th minute equalizer and stoppage time goal. In the end, that is the story and what will be remembered.

Minnesota had played a smart match for the bulk of the 90 minutes, frustrating the Sounders offense throughout with tight marking, clogging their lanes, and getting in front of shot after shot. One man is left unmarked in the 89th minute and a late substitute gets to a corner in stoppage time and the conversation shifts to what might have been.

Minnesota has built a solid side in just a few short seasons, getting to the playoffs now a couple years running and to the MLS is Back semifinals this summer. To be in this position as such a young franchise is something noteworthy. It will be an interesting storyline in 2021 to see how the club reacts to the lingering taste of being so close only to lose so dramatically.

Seattle now heads to Ohio with a chance to add another banner to the rafters of Lumen Field. For Brian Schmetzer and his club, it is a fourth final in five seasons and another shot at glory on Saturday.

Kicker photo by Jeff Lageson