OL Reign’s run in the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup came to an end after a ten-round penalty shootout, falling to the Washington Spirit 8 to 9 following a scoreless match. And there can be a solid argument that the game should not have even gone to a shootout if this clear and obvious handball in the box at the end of stoppage time was actually called.
It’s left a bad taste across the NWSL despite the penalty shootout being very entertaining — which even had a goalkeeper converting a penalty in the third round. You certainly cannot fault OL Reign players and head coach Laura Harvey for being angry and feeling that they got jobbed. Compared to Sunday’s performance against Washington, OL Reign looked significantly better, but as Harvey said it, they “didn’t get the reward tonight.”
WHAT WORKED: A MORE COMPOSED DEFENSE
The first half on Wednesday night was a stark contrast to Sunday. The return of Lu Barnes and Sam Hiatt to the back line was effective in closing the flanks for Washington’s attacking corps. It made for a much calmer first half for Phallon Tullis-Joyce in goal. And it continued on into the second half, where the Spirit’s attackers never put Tullis-Joyce under serious duress like last game. Some of that can be attributed to the short turnaround both teams had going from Sunday’s match to tonight’s Challenge Cup semifinal, but tactically the Reign’s adjustments continually stymied the Spirit going forward, leaving them with only a handful of low-probability looks on goal.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: QUINN’S LATE SCRATCH
Before kickoff, the midfielder was a late scratch with a right leg injury. After the match, Harvey would only update that they suffered a quad injury in training and the team didn’t want to risk aggravating it.
And full credit to midfielder Olivia Van der Jagt, who got the emergency start because of Quinn’s injury. The rookie had two solid performances in the group stages of the Challenge Cup, capped off with the stoppage time match-winner vs. Angel City FC, and once again looked comfortable in a very fluid Reign midfield.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: A MISSED HANDBALL FOUL
You don’t have to be an OL Reign fan to be asking when the NWSL will incorporate VAR into all competitions, because OL Reign should have had a penalty kick at the end of stoppage time in the second half.
“The hand was out on fucking Jupiter.”
That’s how Rapinoe described the handball in the box that was not called on Spirit defender Anna Heilferty. Rapinoe said the referee’s explanation was, “the hand was inside the body.”
With OL Reign out of the NWSL Challenge Cup, it’s the regular season the rest of the way for them. They return to Lumen Field for their home opener, hosting Racing Louisville on Sunday, May 8. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 PM PT and the match will be broadcast on Paramount+ in the US, while international viewers can watch on Twitch.