Third time was the charm for OL Reign to finally get their NWSL Fall Series match in the books down at Portland against their Cascadia rivals, Portland Thorns FC. After a 2-2 draw on Saturday against Utah, in which the four goals came in the first 30 minutes, OL Reign started out Wednesday’s game promisingly, but the charm of finally playing against your rivals faded into the night as the Reign gave up two goals in a five-minute span just before halftime. And while Bethany Balcer did claim a goal for OL Reign, it was a long, hard night for Farid Benstiti’s squad as they fell to Portland Thorns, 1-4.
A hat-trick by Christine Sinclair was the star for Portland as they reminded OL Reign who is the well-established team with their system and players in place, and who is very much playing their seventh match with their brand new coach and still figuring out the chaotic energy that is the NWSL.
WHAT WORKED: The first 40 minutes
Allie Long, Rosie White, and Shirley Cruz is not just a Model UN club, but a pretty effective midfield trio as it was the second start for the set and it worked out, with White and Cruz as the playmakers and Long as the cleaner ahead of the back four in Benstiti’s system. And for the first 40 minutes of the match, Portland couldn’t do much with the ball. OL Reign was able to limit the touches Lindsey Horan and Meghan Klingenberg had to build up their attack courtesy of a high press.
And while it didn’t result in a goal, MORE SHIRLEY CRUZ LONG BALLS, PLEASE.
5' @bethanybalcer with an amazing header on target from this sublime @ShirleyCruzCR long ball.— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) October 1, 2020
And an amazing save from Thorns goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom. #PORvRGN pic.twitter.com/OX7BUnGJKh
WHAT WORKED: That Cruz to Balcer connection
What did we say about more Shirley Cruz long balls? At least one good thing was allowed to happen tonight in Portland.
70' GOAL OL REIGN! @bethanybalcer takes flight and gets one back, courtesy of a @ShirleyCruzCR cross! #PORvRGN pic.twitter.com/PZGz2VlZyj— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) October 1, 2020
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: Giving Lindsey Horan space & time
You may have heard this story before, but when you give Lindsey Horan space and time with the ball, bad things happen. Especially when the greatest international goal scorer of all time, Christine Sinclair, is there to accept the pass and get a shot off.
OL Reign went 40 minutes of containing the influence Lindsey Horan & Christine Sinclair can have on the field and welp.... pic.twitter.com/emHzvpEDc6— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) October 1, 2020
It was clear that coming out of the first-half hydration break that Portland made some adjustments based on game up to that point and identified ways to break Reign’s high press. A slight slip-up in concentration was just the window Portland needed to open the scoring.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: Giving up a penalty right before halftime
Sounds obvious, right? Taylor Smith unfortunately took Thorns forward Simone Charley down in the box in first-half stoppage time. Christine Sinclair stepped up to the mark, and well, you know the rest.
Christine Sinclair converts and it's a 2 goal lead for Portland to close the first half. #PORvRGN pic.twitter.com/e8lQD3HGq0— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) October 1, 2020
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: Losing focus in the box again
Remember last weekend at Utah when Tziarra King went airborne, uncontested, and got her head on a cross for a goal? Yeah, that lack of pressure and marking in the box burned OL Reign once again. This time, Rocky Rodriguez was the beneficiary of that gift. Yes, conceding goals in games like these that aren’t any official regular-season games is far less harmful, but you still don’t want to see a pattern of these lapses in defensive responsibilities. For all the wow factor of Charley’s cross and Rodriguez’s volley, it all comes down to a lack of pressure from Reign’s defenders. And that’s not good.
Portland's Simone Charley crosses it into the box and right from the penalty spot, Rocky Rodriguez nails it from the volley.— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) October 1, 2020
OL Reign's long, no good night in Portland continues. #PORvRGN pic.twitter.com/bEIW1VcQAp
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: Christine Sinclair gets a hat-trick
If the greatest international goal scorer of all time has a hat-trick in a match against you, then yeah you’re going to lose. Especially when the defense lets up and doesn’t press enough, allowing her to waltz her in like this. Much like the Rodriguez volley, lack of defensive pressure by the Reign resulted in bad things happening. All the more crushing is that it came soon after Balcer’s goal in the 71st minute, killing any hope that we would see a legendary OL Reign comeback.
All the momentum of the Balcer goal in the 71st minute is null & voided as Portland's Christine Sinclair claims her hat-trick in the 75th minute. #PORvRGN pic.twitter.com/SxrOt91Yq9— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) October 1, 2020
“40 minutes is not enough.”
In his post-match press conference, OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti said that while the team started out promising, not having that quality in concentration and match fitness for the full 90 minutes is what resulted in mistakes for Portland to feast on.
“We all know we’re better than the performance that we put out there tonight.”
While it’s all growing pains for OL Reign players and coach Benstiti, forward Bethany Balcer emphasized accountability with regards to the high standard they expect of themselves when they play, even after a hard loss like tonight. “It’s a matter of just making sure every time we step on the field, we’re playing our best and playing to the potential that we know we have, and not backing down. I just think, we can only get better. We can only mesh better as a team. It’s just like a new year. We have a new coach and people are gone right now,” Balcer noted.
“We have to rest and recover, not only our bodies, but our minds as well. Playing two road games in less than a week after not having played for however long, that’s tough.”
Defender Steph Cox said while the loss stings, getting a bit of a break before they prepare to host the Thorns and Royals for the home slate of the NWSL Fall Series in mid-October will present the team with an opportunity to reset.
OL Reign’s road leg of the NWSL Fall Series comes to an end, and now it’s their turn to host the Thorns and Royals. First, OL Reign will host their Cascadia rivals, Portland Thorns FC, on Saturday, October 10. The following week, they’ll host Utah Royals FC on Saturday, October 17. The match against the Thorns will be broadcast globally Twitch, while the match against the Royals will be broadcast on CBS All Access for US and Canadian viewers. Both matches will be played at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium with 5 PM PT kickoff times and no fans allowed in attendance for either match.