Nearly two weeks after the NWSL, and the sport of soccer as a whole, was rocked by a report in The Athletic that detailed the horrible sexual coercion, homophobic remarks, and verbal abuse that Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim suffered, matches have resumed. A reckoning is happening within the league even as OL Reign and Chicago Red Stars took the field for the first time since that report. The players are tired and angry of being told to stay silent about systemic abuse that has gone unchecked in the nine years the NWSL has existed — and they’re going to reclaim their power and their voices.
As was the case with this past Wednesday’s matches, all league games this weekend were stopped in the 6th minute so players from both teams could gather at midfield and hold a minute’s silence, with the NWSL Players Association urging fans in the stands to join in.
The bravery for all players in the NWSL to resume playing, while taking back the power and agency that should have been theirs to begin with, requires attention and support from all of us. My colleague Susie Rantz has written an eloquent recap — and the players’ fight will continue on for the rest of the regular season, through the post-season, and well into the off-season. What happens on the field the rest of the way for OL Reign of course will continue to be written about, but their quest for their rightful power must not take a back seat anymore.
On the field Sunday at Cheney Stadium, OL Reign defeated the Chicago Red Stars, 3-2, and clinched a spot in the 2021 NWSL Playoffs. OL Reign’s goals were scored by Jess Fishlock (31st minute, 35th minute) and Rose Lavelle, who finally opened her OL Reign goal account (51st minute). Chicago’s goals were scored by Mallory Pugh (14th minute) and Tatumn Milazzo (69th minute).
This recap is going to be different in that we’re highlighting quotes from captain Lauren Barnes, forward Ally Watt, and head coach Laura Harvey instead. What these human beings are thinking and feeling, as best as they can describe, is more important than a discussion of tactics.
Ally Watt on making her OL Reign debut
“Very overwhelming. I was trying not to cry when I hit the field, but just relief and finally everything came together. I had great support from the team and that’s what carried me through it and I shared that moment with them.”
Here it is, the moment @allymwatt made her @OLReign debut and her return to the field after sustaining a torn ACL in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup.— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) October 11, 2021
That's 1 year, 3 months, 14 days later.
A long, hard, and well documented road to get to this moment.
Welcome back, Ally! pic.twitter.com/Hkv9usmlli
Watt on how she’s feeling
“We’re all feeling the same emotions as everyone else in the league and we’re all just making sure that we’re here for each other and just making sure that we’re staying united as well as exposing the league. We all support each other and want to stay as one; we’re feeling the same emotions as everyone, so we’re just embracing it and standing with each other.”
Lauren Barnes on how she’s feeling
“We’ve just been grieving, and you know there’s no time frame on that for individuals and teams. We’re just taking it step-by-step and day-by-day, and I think our group’s been so supportive from the staff to everyone around — they’ve really given us the space we need and the platform we need, so I think being represented by them and then just also being able to not show up for practice, for instance, if we just weren’t feeling good. I think those things are really important, because you know these things that have come out in this past two years — it’s not even what’s happening right now, but it takes a toll. This career’s a grind, every day you come in and a lot of us are just trying to maintain; this one [Watt] has been working so hard to get back, it’s double the work for someone that’s coming off the injury list.
“We all have our own battles that we’re working on, so it’s just so nice for this team to come together, everyone — not even just players, but our staff as well — and grind through this with us, and I think that’s like what’s carrying us right now.”
Laura Harvey on admiring the causes the players are fighting for:
“These players stand up for what they believe in and I think sometimes that’s a really heavy toll to carry around, but I stand in awe of them at times, how brave they are. You know even from pride and the standing up and going out there and showing what it means to be a gay athlete, or what it means to stand up in the community as a gay athlete, or as a gay coach, I think they constantly make me look in the mirror and go, ‘How can I be a better human, how can I stand up and then use my voice in a better way?’ And I’ve felt that throughout the nine years that I’ve lived in the US and being around these players is that they truly stand up for what they believe in and try and make their world and the world around them a better place, whether it be Lu Barnes, who will always shout at me if I’m using plastic, they just want the world to be a better place, and there I’m in awe of them, and I constantly turn up to work every day very, very privileged that I get to see these women fight for something that they truly believe in, and I maybe took that for granted, when I was in the league before and but I will never take that for granted again.”
Harvey on what she told Ally Watt before she made her OL Reign debut:
“Go out and have fun. Go out and enjoy it, show everybody what they’ve been missing a little bit.”
Shifting focus onto the field, the win keeps OL Reign in second place in the league standings. Results around the league have shaken up the standings below the top two positions, which basically makes figuring out who will qualify for the four remaining playoff spots so hard to determine that it will almost certainly come down to the final weekend of the regular season. But as far as OL Reign are concerned, they are just one point behind first-place Portland Thorns and yep, that is who is they face next.
It’s a very quick turnaround as OL Reign will travel down to Portland to meet their Cascadia rivals for a third time in the regular season for a midweek match. The match was originally scheduled for last Saturday, October 2, but as you recall, all matches that weekend were postponed in the wake of The Athletic’s report. The rescheduled match is now set for Wednesday, October 13 with kickoff at 7:30 PM PT. The match will be broadcast on Paramount+ for US viewers, while international viewers can watch on Twitch.