TACOMA — Here we are, the NWSL playoffs semifinal round. Despite concerns of heavy rain threatening the pitch, OL Reign and Washington Spirit were able to kick off on schedule.
From when the team was constructed with high-profile loans coming in from Lyon, combined with other veteran experience, expectations were very high as much as there were questions about how this would all work out for OL Reign. After a mid-season coaching change that brought the return of the club’s first head coach and perhaps a bit of storybook magic that could have made for an incredible run to the NWSL Championship, OL Reign’s season ended in the semifinal round, falling to Washington Spirit, 2-1.
WHAT WORKED: STRIKING FIRST
If a sports league has playoffs, then your team needs their best players to show up for the big match. OL Reign’s prolific and star-loaded squad understood the assignment very quickly. Three minutes in, Dzsenifer Marozsán, Megan Rapinoe, and Eugénie Le Sommer combined to open up the scoring.
Early Eugénie™️#RGNvWAS | https://t.co/bONPZnEXuh | #NWSL21 pic.twitter.com/1JqZQfTAAB— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) November 14, 2021
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: DEFENSIVE LAPSE RESULTS IN GOAL CONCESSION
OL Reign were flying high, opening the scoring first, but the lead was only temporary as presumptive NWSL Rookie of the Year, Trinity Rodman, equalized in the 12th minute. A textbook lob pass from Washington’s half landed in the perfect spot to catch a mid-stride Rodman, send her past Reign’s defense, and easily beat Sarah Bouhaddi.
Too easy, @trinity_rodman #RGNvWAS | https://t.co/bONPZnEXuh | #NWSL21 pic.twitter.com/h5aj1KJYrw— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) November 14, 2021
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: MAGIC WAS NOT IN THE SKY
While the Puget Sound region had had plenty of water falling down from the clouds, unfortunately there just was not any of the magic that such a star-loaded squad needed Sunday afternoon.
The ideas were there, the runs look strong, some shots did force Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe to move, but for all the prolific talent OL Reign had — arguably the most talented roster in team history — the magic just wasn’t in the air for them tonight.
“THANK YOU SO MUCH”
Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Barnes spoke first after the match. Both talked about how the team’s attitude was simply not there for the match. Barnes shared that the coaching staff had prepared them as best they could for the match, and while head coach Laura Harvey was admirable in claiming the loss, Barnes said the onus was on the players for not executing. She and Rapinoe also made sure to find time to thank the fans for sticking with this team all year.
“They stuck with us the whole time. They’re here at the games every weekend, some of them follow us on the road, with everything in the world happening right now. you keep showing up and supporting us, and we all feel bad that we didn’t put a better performance out there for the fans, but they’ve been incredible all year. Lu and I, the locker room, everyone in the organization, just thank you so much.” - Megan Rapinoe
OL Reign will no doubt spend the offseason thinking about what could have been done, should have been done, but for all of the highs and lows on and off the field that OL Reign and the NWSL as a whole have dealt with, the return of fans to the stands at Cheney Stadium was not lost on the team. And through emotions, Harvey was able to summarize what returning to coach this club once again meant, even if they came up short of their ultimate goal.
“The club’s got special people in it, and I’ve been away for I don’t know, three, four years now, but I have come back and it’s still the same, still special people here, maybe different places, but it’s just a desire to want it to be the best. It’s infectious. You want to be part of it, people care a lot, and sometimes you take that for granted. Absolutely loved it and I'm excited for the future. I think that this club’s got a bright future — both with the players that we have now and whatever the potential of the future could look like, with the draft. It was a big decision to come back, but it was the right one and I've loved every minute.”
And that is a wrap on OL Reign’s 2021 season.
It always sucks when all of the trials and tribulations on and off the field that this team overcame then rests on one 90-minute game and it’s not the result they as players, us as fans wanted to get. That’s sports; someone has to win, someone has to lose.
As much as we all didn’t know back in January if it truly was going to work for a full season, this was arguably the most star-studded roster the Reign have ever fielded. And with it came very high expectations that they were short on by one game.
CEO Bill Predmore, head coach Laura Harvey, the Lyon-heavy technical staff and coaching staff now have an offseason to continue designing this NWSL team as a title-contending team but also one that can identify and develop those next-generation players.
The hunger to lift the NWSL Championship will have to wait another season to see if it can be satisfied.