For the third time in 2021, OL Reign met the Chicago Red Stars on the pitch. The first two meetings were at Cheney Stadium, and OL Reign’s first visit this year to Chicago yielded one of the weirdest and most disappointing second halves for the Reign, which is saying something as they’re an NWSL original franchise. While Bethany Balcer opened the scoring in the 12th minute for the Reign, it will be the second half that will grab the headlines. OL Reign committed two own goals in a six-minute span that derailed the team’s rhythm and plan. Chicago’s Mallory Pugh would score a third goal for the Red Stars to hand OL Reign a 1-3 defeat.
WHAT WORKED: BETTY BE BALLIN’
Name a player in the NWSL on fire more than Bethany Balcer, we’ll wait. In the 12th minute, Balcer opened the scoring after catching a low cross from Celia in the box, completely unmarked to get a toe-tap volley in.
Beth be ballin' #CHIvRGN | https://t.co/0LtSAUK1Jw | #NWSL21 pic.twitter.com/V6BXkAPDJn— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) July 18, 2021
After the goal, the broadcast cut to a significantly large cheering section for not just OL Reign, but Balcer. Friends and family came out to represent, emphasis on family.
My parents just watched @bethanybalcer score in person professionally for the first time ever and I cannot imagine the emotions they have right now, it gives me tears!! ❤️❤️ @cjbalcer @OLReign @rovalks— Nicholas Balcer (@nick_balcer) July 18, 2021
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: OWN GOAL ENTERED THE CHAT
Folks, I don’t know what to tell you regarding the luck of Chicago Red Stars getting goals by the own goal, but it hit OL Reign twice today. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The first own goal was credited to Celia after she attempted to block a cross from Mallory Pugh.
Another. Own. Goal. #CHIvRGN | https://t.co/0LtSAUK1Jw | #NWSL21 pic.twitter.com/gP5B6Iceo9— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) July 18, 2021
The second own goal was credited to Alana Cook off a corner kick by Mallory Pugh.
5 straight goals for the Golden Boot co-leader Own Goal of @chicagoredstars #CHIvRGN | https://t.co/0LtSAUK1Jw | #NWSL21 pic.twitter.com/bLKs2ztcBQ— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) July 18, 2021
And it was clear the two own goals broke the momentum they had in the first half, where the Reign looked to be the better side. The third goal for Chicago, this one fully credited to Pugh, came from a throw-in that the Reign just did not set up properly, understandably still reeling from the shock of conceding another own goal.
As the saying goes: goals change games, and after Chicago got their first goal, even if it was an own goal, it hit the Reign in a way they didn’t recover from.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: INABILITY TO PUT THE GAME TO REST
Balcer’s goal in the 12th minute sure looked like it was going to set a tone for the rest of the night in which OL Reign dominated Chicago. OL Reign interim head coach Sam Laity said in his post-match press conference that despite scoring first, the team wasn’t that good in the first half, to which Laity took responsibility for:
I think when we weren’t good enough with the ball in the first half when we had opportunities to really hurt them. I felt there were times with how we intended to press that they looked shaky and we had them on the ropes and we didn’t smell it. We didn’t really cut the throat and we weren’t good enough on the ball.
So the first thing I'm going to do is sit down my staff and point the finger at us being the staff to see why the team has performed like that, when there was so many misplaced passes under no pressure. There is obviously a problem, and we’ll be looking at ourselves. I should be looking in the mirror to make sure that you know prepare the team properly for Orland, but yeah a very frustrating game to say the least.
Midfielder Jess Fishlock and forward Tziarra King shared the same sentiment where they can start the game on the right foot, but can’t finish the game when they have the momentum and they can/should control the outcome of the game, as we’ve seen in flashes.
“WE HAVE TO STOP CONCEDING REALLY SHIT GOALS”
Never one to mince words, that’s how Fishlock described the goals the team has conceded. Certainly, the two own goals would classify as that. But beyond the anomalies of the two own goals, Fishlock credited Chicago making effective changes in the second half, specifically Chicago’s ability to close the middle of the field for OL Reign to build their attack.
The loss keeps OL Reign at 9th place in the league standings. Next up for OL Reign is another match out on the road as they travel down to Orlando to take on the Orlando Pride. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, July 24 at 4 PM PT and will be broadcast on Twitch.