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OL Reign fall to Houston Dash

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Everything went wrong tonight for Farid Benstiti’s squad.

2020 NWSL Challenge Cup - Day 4 Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

This past Tuesday’s NWSL Challenge Cup debut for Farid Benstiti and OL Reign lacked goals, but showed some promise as far as defensive fundamentals and a first-look at what his system could bring to the team.

Tonight’s match against Houston Dash undid a good deal of that.

It was not a good Saturday night for OL Reign, as the Houston Dash punished them for two goals — handing the team their first loss in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup.

Houston’s first goal came against the run of play in the 12th minute when goalkeeper Casey Murphy was caught under duress by forward Shea Groom, resulting in her goal kick not even getting to midfield. Dash collect, Groom gets in a cheeky backheel to Kristie Mewis and, well, it was not the start OL Reign wanted to happen.

Houston’s second goal came in the 54th minute as Rachel Daly sent in a cross into the box and an unmarked Groom put on her bomber jacket, helmet, and took to the skies.

In Tuesday’s outing against Sky Blue FC, we saw a glimpse of how Reign’s midfield could look with Allie Long and Shirley Cruz. Normally, Jess Fishlock would complete that trio, but with her still injured, Rebecca Quinn started on Tuesday. Tonight, Rosie White got the start. Fans hoping to see some continued work on that got the complete opposite, as the midfield just wasn’t there throughout the night. This resulted in forwards Darian Jenkins and Bethany Balcer not being as active as we know they can be.

Nicole Momiki got her first start for OL Reign, positioned at right wing with Balcer moving into the 9 spot. Momiki would only go 63 minutes before being replaced by Jodie Taylor. Before it went completely south for OL Reign, there were flashes of what creativity she can provide in their attack, provided everything else is going as well as intended. Momiki was active early on and had the team’s best look on goal — connecting on a well-sent cross that was just too high for her to bring down. Post-match, assistant coach Sam Laity noted that they wanted to give Momiki early minutes to settle into the pace of the NWSL.

Reflecting on the match, Laity said that nothing about Houston’s game plan surprised them. It was just a poor team performance that lacked some of the fundamentals. Laity emphasized more than once that the Reign committed 14 misplaced passes under no pressure. When things like that are happening on the field, then it’s no mystery as to why the attacking options don’t exist. And why they didn’t register a shot on goal. Yikes.

Laity also said that a loss this bad can be a good thing for the team. With losses like this, there’s often two ways to react to it. The knee-jerk reaction in all of us would say they were bad and they should feel bad. The pragmatic reaction would find some context, not to justify watching a bad performance, but understand it.

In the case of the latter, this was OL Reign’s second competitive match in 2020, where we all wondered at one point if they’d play anything. This was also Farid Benstiti’s second game coaching in the NWSL, and every coach that’s been in this league, gets a, “Welcome to the NWSL new kid,” game where they’re going to lose bad. And tonight, the Houston Dash delivered it to him with great excitement.

Laity said after the match that losses like this can be good for the team and for coach Benstiti. The NWSL shows no mercy to players and coaches, and yes, even in the beautiful game, you have to experience the complete ugly in order to become better.

The players that have been on this team and league for multiple seasons know they were bad and are better than this. After the game, midfielder Allie Long reinforced this. “Before the goal was scored, we were playing to feet and combining and doing a good job. After the goal, we started playing too direct and almost needed to go back to playing to feet and trusting that style,” Long said.

How they respond in their next match goes to Benstiti, who has to acknowledge and assess that everything went wrong for his team tonight and learn from it in four days.

OL Reign’s next match in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup is against Utah Royals FC, scheduled for Wednesday, July 8. Kickoff is scheduled for 9:30 AM PST and will be broadcast on CBS All Access for US viewers, and Twitch for international viewers.