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OL Reign play Utah Royals FC to a 2-2 draw in NWSL Fall Series debut

Bethany Blacer & Rosie White with the goals, Leah Pruitt & Madison Hammond with the debuts.

OL Reign v Houston Dash

After having what was to be their first NWSL Fall Series match against rival Portland Thorns FC postponed twice by wildfire smoke, OL Reign finally kicked off their campaign in the competition with a 2-2 draw against the Utah Royals FC, in which 4 goals were exchanged in the first 30 minutes.

Like all other teams in the league, the NWSL Fall Series provides OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti an opportunity to give minutes to players that normally wouldn’t make the starting eleven when the club is at full strength. Benstiti’s starting elven for the match was a mix of first-team and spot-starters when other players are on international duty, but over the course of the match, we saw the debuts of forward Leah Pruitt and defender Madison Hammond.

Utah Royals FC struck first, claiming two goals just 25 minutes into the match. It was setting up to be a very long and bad day for OL Reign but because the NWSL is chaotic energy, OL Reign equalized in a six-minute span.

The second half was a lot calmer, but overall positive as OL Reign was able to have more time with the ball and build up their runs. And while they weren’t able to find the back of the net in the second half, seeing the overall ideas they have on the field is promising as they continue to understand and execute Farid Benstiti’s vision & style.

We’re trying something new with our OL Reign match recaps and taking a page from our Sounder at Heart colleagues when it comes to their Sounders FC recaps. We hope this format is quicker & easier to digest over a conventional game recap.

WHAT WORKED: Reign remain resilient & respond

After Tziarra King doubled the lead for Utah Royals FC, it looked like it was going to be a really bad day for OL Reign. And then right from the restart and before anyone could blink, Bethany Balcer got a goal back. While Steph Cox got the assist for the Balcer goal, this dummy by Sofia Huerta was just saucy.

Six minutes later, Rosie White equalized with her shot from the 18-yard half circle.

After the fireworks on the first 30 minutes that your favorite summer blockbuster movie could never do, OL Reign came out in the second half having more time with the ball and dictating the buildup on their attacks.

With a small percentage of fans allowed to attend matches at Rio Tinto Stadium, the Royals definitely had the advantage in terms of feeding off the crowd energy, especially in the final moments of the match. Utah had a corner kick that bounced around the 18-yard box and the final strike on target definitely tested goalkeeper Casey Murphy, but she got the better of the challenge to make one last save.

Though she only played 64 minutes, we’ll chalk it up as a victory that OL Reign was able to contain Royals forward Amy Rodriguez. There’s enough historical documentation out there about her feasting on Reign’s defense, so for once it was nice she didn’t do her usual hurt business this time around.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK: A rough start

First and foremost it’s a great shot by Aminata Diallo, as it had some skip to it, making it a tough ball to get a proper read on, but it’s never fun to be conceding first.

Also forgetting to mark and not contest a cross into the box.

While the shot went straight to Casey Murphy, giving space and time to any player, let alone someone who already had a goal under her belt like Tziarra King, seems ill-advised. Looking forward, you want more responsive pressing.

“We’re creating opportunities.”

In her post-match press conference, OL Reign midfielder Rosie White talked about the team’s struggles at the NWSL Challenge Cup to create offense in comparison to today’s performance in responding to the two-goal deficit. White was also asked about head coach Farid Benstiti mentioning in his post-match press conference that he’s been pushing her in training: “He’s told me a lot that he believes in me and he holds me to a high standard. Day in, day out, he doesn’t ever let me slack off — and that’s in the defensive work and also just being more confident and more aggressive going forward. He wants me to take more opportunities, dribble more, tackle harder. To be able to practice that every day has been awesome. I felt a lot more confident out there today.”

It’s a quick turnaround for OL Reign as they travel to Portland for their next match to finally make up the match that was postponed twice. OL Reign face their Cascadia rivals, Portland Thorns FC, on Wednesday, September 30 at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 PM PT and will be broadcast on streaming platform Twitch.

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