After years of wishing and anticipating it, it finally happened — a NWSL regular season match was played at Downtown Seattle’s premier stadium, Lumen Field. OL Reign took the field in the first match of what was dubbed “The Pacific Northwest Experience” and hosted their Cascadia rival, Portland Thorns FC.
And OL Reign did not disappoint in their debut at Lumen Field as a Megan Rapinoe brace in the first half and solid team defense was enough to beat their rivals, 2-1, and set a new NWSL single-game attendance record of 27,248.
WHAT WORKED: TURNS OUT MEGAN RAPINOE CAN SCORE HERE, TOO
It was a cagey first few minutes for OL Reign, perhaps just soaking in the grand atmosphere and getting used to the surface at Lumen Field, but most of the first half was The Megan Rapinoe Show as her first-half brace took the headlines.
First there was the goal she scored in the 16th minute after collecting this pass from Jess Fishlock.
Then in the 39th minute, a handball in the box by Portland was called, which lead to Rapinoe taking the penalty, and you know how that goes.
WHAT WORKED: SOLID TEAM DEFENSE
While the second half didn’t have any goals for OL Reign to put the game to bed, it did have solid team defense to prevent an equalizer for Portland. The standout moment definitely was Sarah Bouhaddi’s amazing save against Portland’s Morgan Weaver.
Really good save from close range by Bouhaddi to preserve the lead for the Reign!— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) August 30, 2021
Eighty minutes in and OL make their very first sub, subbing Bethany Balcer in for Megan Rapinoe, who still has the game winner as of right now.#RGNvPOR | 2 - 1 pic.twitter.com/47NwnZzlL8
OL Reign were working to get a third goal, be it by Rapinoe to claim the hat-trick or Eugénie Le Sommer, but collectively, every OL Reign player was on-point to make the blocks they needed to keep Portland’s total at one.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: NO CLEAN SHEET
OL Reign’s defense was without Sam Hiatt for her usual centerback partnership with Alana Cook. Instead, Lu Barnes moved into that role next to Cook, with Quinn situated just in front of them and Sofia Huerta unexpectedly playing fullback (more on that later). For most of the first half, it was working. However in stoppage time in defending a Portland free kick, the clear out resulted in a second chance opportunity that Angela Salem converted with a very good volley that no one was going to stop.
“WE KNEW THAT IF WE GOT A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THE STADIUM, IT WAS GOING TO BE A RIOT FOR US” - Jess Fishlock
No surprise that Rapinoe and Fishlock were asked in their post-match press conference about the atmosphere and finally playing a league match at Lumen Field. Rapinoe had expressed some “I’ll believe it when I see it” sentiment in the days building up to the match, saying that she and Fishlock have been with the team since the 2013 inaugural season and that it’s been a long time coming and probably overdue. Rapinoe described the years of effort to have a game here and for it to finally happen being “bittersweet,” but the pair of Reign Originals still were very much able to soak up the highs of the victory over their rivals and the atmosphere that a new record crowd brought on Sunday afternoon.
“WE EVEN HAD THIS ONE TRACKING BACK”
An amusing moment in Fishlock talking about the team’s collective effort on defense in the second half that really shut down any attacking runs Portland tried to build, was when she pointed to Rapinoe about her defensive contributions, to which Rapinoe’s eyes grew large and she let out an exhale. Fishlock said that the defensive gameplan was something specific to Portland and something different to what OL Reign normally do. Fishlock was all praises at the team’s execution.
“I DIDN’T WANT PORTLAND TO KNOW OUR FORMATION, SO I MESSED WITH THE GRAPHICS”
In an unexpected twist of events, OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey confessed that she tinkered with the team’s starting XI graphic and it was NOT in fact Quinn and Alana Cook paired as the centerbacks, but rather saw captain Lauren Barnes and Cook in the middle of the backline, with Quinn in front of them. And with a smirk, she went on to praise Cook saying, “She could become an exceptional center back” and noting that the fact she is finally a consistent starter and her growth in front of us just feels different. By putting Quinn in front of Barnes and Cook, Harvey said it gave the team the presence to win aerial duels against Portland’s Christine Sinclair. Harvey pointed out that while Sinclair was higher up the field in the first half, she had to drop back in the second half because of Quinn’s influence.
The win over Portland secures third place outright for OL Reign after this weekend with 25 points. Next up for OL Reign is the start of three consecutive matches on the road. First up is a midweek trip to Houston, to face the Houston Dash for the rubber match of their regular season series. Houston took the first meeting back on July 2 in Houston, while OL Reign evened the series back on August 7, famously dropping five goals on them. The rubber match will take place on Wednesday, September 1 with a 5 PM PT start, broadcast on CBS Sports Network in the US, and Twitch for international viewers.