The NWSL Championship is the one accomplishment, piece of hardware that has eluded OL Reign as a founding club of the NWSL. In a regular season where it's been a roller coaster, and at times you wondered if they were going to hang on and qualify for the playoffs, it took until the final day of the regular season last week and the alignment of outcomes for them to host a quarterfinal match Friday evening at Lumen Field.
But as with any other sport in the U.S. in which there are playoffs to decide a champion, it doesn't matter how you get into the dance, just that you're there and against your opponent, just be better than them for 90 minutes, four quarters, nine innings, whatever. If you're a team that's been in the dance before and know how you have to step up in these big games, that can be what puts the equation into your favor, and the Reign when coached by Laura Harvey have been through enough playoff games. They've won some, they've lost some.
On Friday night with their opponents Angel City FC playing in their first postseason game, it was that playoff experience – digging down deep to know how to show up in the big moments – that gave OL Reign the edge in the form of late goal from Veronica Latsko to punch their ticket to the NWSL Semifinals.
WHAT WORKED: VERONICA LATSKO
Tougher than a $2 steak, Veronica Latsko busted ass tonight. In the first half, she sustained what felt like all of the fouls. The box score shows she sustained five fouls, but nevertheless, she kept grinding it out on both ends of the field, trying to be involved in the attack and defensively limit the impact of Angel City's M.A. Vignola per head coach Laura Harvey's instructions.
Then in the 87th minute, a perfect cross into the box found Latsko's head and for all of the hard work on and off the field, with and without the ball, that her teammates and the coaching staff have praised throughout the season, Lastko got the ultimate reward for a great shift tonight, the match-winning goal.
WHAT WORKED: STRONG SECOND HALF
OL Reign's first half by the admission of Latsko, Megan Rapinoe, and head coach Laura Harvey wasn't good. The ball was given away too many times and they acknowledged that Angel City FC could have punished them for it.
Last week, Angel City lit up Portland Thorns with five goals, and yet while they certainly didn't want to give Angel City extra chances with the ball, the galaxy brain thinking is maybe they wanted to play it like that and try to hit them on the counter. To borrow a phrase from the world of boxing, rope-a-dope. Very risky to do that, but perhaps that's where playoff experience comes in handy.
However, in the second half with OL Reign kicking off, it was all gas no brakes for them. They thoroughly had the tempo and were relentless in making runs into Angel City's third to break through and winning the ball back. The box score shows that OL Reign had nine shots, five on target compared to Angel City's four total shots, none on goal. Most if not all of those nine shots came in the second half as OL Reign very clearly wanted to win this game in regulation and it worked out.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK: ROLLING THE DICE WITH THE ROPE-A-DOPE
They admitted to it in the post-game press conference that the first half wasn't good because of the turnovers. Yes, we can say it was some boxing rope-a-dope/four-dimensional chess, but it's very much a risky thing to do. This was Angel City's first time playing in the postseason, so you can understand if there were some jitters in playing in the big stakes of win-or-go-home, but for sure this is something OL Reign can't afford to do against the remaining teams in the playoffs.
Always verbose, Megan Rapinoe was straight to the point on what the return of Rose Lavelle meant for the team with a great back-of-the-box quote.
Rapinoe elaborated, "We've seen Rose struggle and battle and it's been a tough year for her. It's been really tough. She loves to play and it's like you gotta drag her off the field, the practice field, and she wants to be out there so bad. So, to get that boost for the team to get a world-class player back in your squad, that's amazing. To be able to have her back out there, she's just different. There's no player like her in the world. So, fuck yeah."
"I don't really remember when I score goals."
OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey has two thoughts when it comes to goals: they change games, and that she says she blacks out whenever her team scores them and has to catch a replay well after the fact. The latter appears to be a thing for Veronica Latsko, as tonight's goal – without a doubt one of the biggest goals she's scored in her career – was her third against Angel City in all competitions this year.
She scored a brace against them back in the May 27 regular-season meeting. Yet she couldn't tell you if there's something she sees against them that she uses to her advantage to find the back of the net against them. "Honestly, I don't really remember when I score goals, it's just like every game is kind of like a blank slate, so I don't know what it is about Angel City. Yeah, honestly, we just have really good players that put really good services in every game and it makes it easy for us," she said in the postgame.
Next up for OL Reign is a meeting with San Diego Wave FC at Snapdragon Stadium for the NWSL Semifinals on Sunday, November 5 after the FIFA international break. The match will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network with a 6:30 PM PT start time.
OL Reign have not lost a match against San Diego Wave FC in all competitions since the team joined the league in 2022. With a spot at the NWSL Championship on the line, hey, no pressure.