It was midweek action for OL Reign, as their second 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup match saw them traveling down Interstate 5 to meet that familiar foe, the Portland Thorns FC in their notorious house, Providence Park. One team looked very much like a complete unit, while the other looked every bit rusty and regressed some from last Friday’s match. Portland Thorns beat OL Reign on goals by Lindsey Horan and Simone Charley, and in doing so, ensured they will top the West group and play in the 2021 Challenge Cup final.
WHAT WORKED: FISHLOCK’S BACK!
It’s been a long time, but The Dragon MBE was back on the field wearing the Reign shirt and what a sight for sore eyes.
WHAT WORKED: RAPINOE’S BACK!
You know you’re missed by everyone with interest in the league when you get a round of applause from your rivals in their home stadium.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: A FIRST HALF TO FORGET
While there were glimpses of making runs to put Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch to work, it was not a good first half for OL Reign. Even if you take out the foul committed inside the half-circle that set up Horan’s free kick goal, the team’s response by falling back deeper and playing disjointed was not good. Yes, this is only their second competitive game of the year and you hope it’s not a sign of things to come, but as the first half played out after Horan’s goal, it felt like we were watching some serious regression. With the regular season on the horizon, the disconnect in passing leading to the inability to build an attack will need to be sorted out.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: AND A START TO THE SECOND HALF TO FORGET
The less said about how OL Reign started the second half the better, other than it was inexplicable how they gave up the second goal.
Given how the first half played out after the Horan goal, some substitutions could have been the proper spark the team needed to keep the deficit at just one goal and push for an equalizer. The eventual appearances of Fishlock and Rapinoe did provide some much needed energy and bite to the team, but it’s understandable to view their second-half substitutions as saving face and too little, too late with Portland being the far superior team on this night.
How much this second Challenge Cup match (still very much pre-season) will play into the bigger picture of a full regular season on the horizon remains to be seen. If this is just one of those very bad nights in the office that all teams in the NWSL are susceptible to, then perhaps it will be good they got it out of their system now. A bad night on the field is never a good thing, but it does happen. And it obviously is amplified when you lose to your rival in the manner the Reign did.
“I have no doubt that we will find our way”
Long-time fans of this club know Jess Fishlock doesn’t like to lose ever. Especially to Portland. While Fishlock did start her post-match press conference sharing appreciation for just being back and playing in an NWSL match in the venerable enemy territory of Portland, tonight’s loss still wasn’t fun for her or anyone on the team. She did have a pragmatic insight in assessing tonight’s performance, focusing on the bigger picture of what this team is trying to build on the field. “Right now we obviously just got our internationals back, so we’ve gotta get on the training field and work really hard as a group. Our last two games, we have to be better and I have no doubt we will do that. We can be a little frustrated. We haven’t scored a goal and we have some stuff to figure out. Credit to Portland, I thought they were great and we’ve got some time now to figure out what we need before the league [regular season] starts.”
“Our average age is not old”
One thing easy to overlook when you look at the result and the statistics is how tonight was the first Cascadia match, specifically first time playing at Portland in a rivalry game, for some of OL Reign’s players. Angelina, Tziarra King, and Karen Bardsley got their first taste of playing in the rival’s house and while yes, OL Reign has plenty of players that are used to the atmosphere and high stakes, mentally preparing for it is one thing. Playing in it is completely something else. Forward Sofia Huerta put it into context as part of the team’s process of getting to know each other and playing with each other. After the match, Huerta said, “The first couple of times you play at Portland, it’s hard to not be influenced by the crowd. I know it’s not fully packed, but you can still hear it and once Portland gets going, it’s hard to get it under control. To be honest, I really am proud of the girls. We made some mistakes that lead to the goals, but I think just the more time we get together, Jess just got here, Pinoe just got here, we have some injuries still, I think we’ll get into it.”
It’s back to the comforts of home for OL Reign after tonight. OL Reign’s Challenge Cup campaign continues on Tuesday, April 27 when they host the Chicago Red Stars at Cheney Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 PM PT and the game will stream on Paramount+.