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Preseason Hype: OL Reign vs. Club América delivered

Reflections from a 3-1 friendly win at Starfire

Nikita Taparia

On a bitterly cold Saturday night, in front of a crowd of 2,666 supporters, OL Reign returned to Starfire Sports, defeating Club América Femenil 3-1 in the first friendly match of the clubs’ new and much-anticipated collaboration. Often closer than its final score, the match was a showcase for the substantial talent of both teams, and a showcase for América’s supporters, who showed up with passion, energy, streamers, and a puff of unexpected smoke.

The box score will tell you that Tziarra King scored in the 11th minute, that Kim Rodriguez surrendered an own goal in the first minute of first-half stoppage, that Kiana Palacios pulled one back for América in the 74th, and that McKenzie Weinert closed the scoring for the Reign in the 89th.

What the box score won’t tell you is just how hype you should be about some of the things we saw in this match.

Tziarra King

No, seriously, Tziarra King. Tziarra King was an absolute menace, creating havoc on the press, leaving her defenders behind time and again, finishing a picture-perfect Veronica Latsko cross with a beautifully volleyed chip over the head of Itzel Gonzalez, and combining with Bethany Balcer, Elyse Bennett, and Olivia Athens to keep América on their heels for much of the first half. She was the whole package, and also an additional bonus package of ridiculous moves on top of that. If you weren’t already on the Tziarra King hype train, it’s time to get those tickets and get on board.

Coming off a season where the Reign had an electric press yet struggled to turn attacking-third turnovers and magnificent chances into goals, King’s sweet finishing and relentless pressure was a sight we all loved to see. Long may she Reign.

Outside Back Veronica Latsko

Who else would you expect to line up at fullback opposite Lu Barnes, really? Latsko looked sharp and incisive at the position, providing determined cover in defense and getting forward tirelessly on the attack. Her curling cross to King to open the scoring was a thing of beauty, and she constantly combined with the front line in intriguing and dangerous ways. Later in the match, Latsko moved forward to her more familiar position, and she continued to bring the energy, providing a dangerous outlet time after time as América dialed up the pressure and the Reign sometimes defended for their lives.

With the World Cup months away and stalwarts like Sofia Huerta likely to miss substantial time with the U.S. Women’s National Team, Latsko’s brilliance at fullback is a comforting sign that the Reign will still be able to play their game and play it well against quality sides.

Phoebe McClernon

The depth at central defense on this Reign side is, bluntly, absolutely unreal. Phoebe McClernon is a starter in this league, and she proved it again against a skillful and determined first-choice América lineup. McClernon was here, there, and every-fucking-where. She came up with big interceptions and cut off dangerous through balls repeatedly. She dropped more than one inch-perfect tackle. She took charge of the defense and kept things organized as América created chaos.

Acquired from Orlando in 2022, McClernon has at times flown a bit under the radar with Reign fans. Competing for minutes on a back line already anchored by Lu Barnes’ steady leadership and versatility, Sam Hiatt’s arrival and growth into a magnificent defender herself, and Alana Cook’s continued and uncontested excellence, she hasn’t had as many opportunities to show her stuff. Against América, she showed it and then some, and with the World Cup on the horizon, those opportunities are coming up fast.

Stray Observations

  • Phallon Tullis-Joyce, though. Phallon d’Or impresses basically every time she touches the field. She deserves more of a look than she’s gotten from the national team. But we’ll be more than happy to have her play for us this July.
  • Heck yes McKenzie Weinert. The non-roster invitee scored a beauty of a goal mere minutes after subbing on, and she looks like she’s got enough of that something-something to make our lives difficult when it comes to finalizing the roster for the season.
  • Casandra Cuevas has been something of a standard-bearer for Liga MX Femenil, approaching 200 appearances between América and Tijuana, and she was a real dynamo after subbing on in the late stages of the match, giving her defenders fits and helping América seize control of the midfield for some long and nervy stretches. Don’t sleep on this league. It’s only going to get better.
  • Kiana Palacios’ first touch and finish past Laurel Ivory. Damn. Sure, it’s no great feat of analysis to say that Palacios is really freaking good, actually, but do yourself a favor and watch her goal a few more times. Really pause and appreciate how fortunate we were to see her do that.
  • Elyse Bennett won’t get the credit on the scoresheet, but Kim Rodriguez’s own goal was the direct product of Bethany Balcer’s laser of a pass and Bennett’s hard running and pressure. She immediately looked at home with the Reign’s system and looks like she’ll be a real plus.
  • It’s almost time. Let’s go smash everybody. All my homies hecking love it when it Reigns.

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