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OL Reign’s American quartet shines down under

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Cook and Lavelle start, Huerta returns, and Balcer gets her first cap!

Australia v USA - International Friendly: Game 1 Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

OL Reign’s triumphant second-half of the season, where they climbed all the way from ninth place in the standings to finish in second place, resulted in various end-of-season league honors, as well as four national team call-ups to represent the United States in their final international friendly series of 2021.

Alana Cook (NWSL Best XI defender), Sofia Huerta (Second XI defender), Bethany Balcer (Second XI forward), and Rose Lavelle all featured for the USWNT in Friday night’s (US)/Saturday afternoon’s (Australia) 3-0 win in a friendly against Australia’s Women National Team, a.k.a. The Matildas, in Sydney.

Cook and Lavelle started the match, while Huerta entered the match to start the second half, replacing Racing Louisville’s Emily Fox. Balcer claimed her first international cap when she entered in the 78th minute, replacing Gotham FC’s Midge Purce. Lavelle was subbed out in the 84th minute, while Cook played the full 90 minutes.

The two-match friendlies are the final games for the United States in 2021 and former Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski has opted to use these friendlies to begin to usher what looks like the next generation of the USWNT, as they prepare for qualifying for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, joint-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. An appropriate hashtag of #USWNTAfterDark was used on social media because of time zone differential between the United States and Australia, and the hashtag was more than fitting as the United States opened the scoring 24 seconds into the match, with a goal by Washington Spirit forward and recently minted NWSL Champion, Ashley Hatch. If you can believe it, that’s only the third-fastest goal scored in USWNT history, as Carli Lloyd (23 seconds earlier this year) and Alex Morgan (16 seconds in 2016) did it faster.

Lavelle claimed the second goal for the US in the 49th minute from an assist by Purce, but the run was set up by a Huerta interception, to which the trio celebrated the end result, sending warm feelings across the Pacific Ocean to everyone here in the US.

Portland Thorns’ Lindsey Horan netted the third goal of the night for the US from the penalty spot, and that would do it for score line. However there was still a historic moment not only for OL Reign fans and NWSL fans, but for sports fans in general who love a story of someone coming from obscurity, putting in the work, and getting rewarded with something like a their very first international cap.

Of course we are talking about Bethany Balcer’s United States debut. And yes, we were in the feels seeing Balcer wear the number 15 shirt, as if carrying the mantle of her OL Reign teammate, Megan Rapinoe.

And of course some interested parties in Tacoma took to social media to celebrate.

Balcer wasn’t the only player to get their first cap for the US during the match. North Carolina Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy (who took Player of the Match honors), Washington Spirit’s Ashley Sanchez, and Portland Thorns’ Morgan Weaver also made their USWNT debuts.

The USWNT and Australia will meet again on Tuesday to close out the 2021 calendar of matches for both nations. If last night’s 8 PM PST/11 PM EST broadcast start was a staying up adventure for you, then Tuesday’s match might bring back memories of staying up for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, with a scheduled kickoff of 1:05 AM PST on ESPN. Yes, you read that kickoff time correctly.

As for how much of OL Reign’s contingent will feature in that match, well, we might just have to wait until we wake up and check the DVR, unless you’re going to pull an all-nighter and watch it live.

The next US national team camp is expected to take place in January, and Andonovski and his coaching staff will likely bring in a few more new faces to continue the ushering in of a new, next generation of the USWNT. If the first match against Australia is a sign of things to come, then OL Reign just may be represented well at qualifiers en route to the biggest stage of them all in 2023.