After a lesson in growing pains last week in Portland, OL Reign were back on the field tonight, playing in their third 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup match. This time back in the friendly confines of home, they hosted the Chicago Red Stars.
The third game was very much the charm for OL Reign as after conceding first, they responded loudly and held off a late Chicago threat to claim their first win in the 2021 Challenge Cup by a score of 3-2. Mallory Pugh and Morgan Gautrat claimed goals for the visiting Red Stars, while Sofia Huerta, Leah Pruitt, and Tziarra King found the back of the net for the Reign.
WHAT WORKED: A PROPER RESPONSE AFTER CHICAGO’S GOAL
Chicago’s Mallory Pugh put in a lot of work in the first half. The US international had the bulk of Chicago’s best chances on goal and the reward came to her in the 38th minute when she showed off that international-level flair, putting OL Reign’s defense on skates to open the scoring.
OL Reign to their credit showed some resiliency we haven’t seen from them in a long time, when three minutes later Sofia Huerta claimed the club’s first goal in 2021. Huerta closed in on Chicago attempting to build from the back and make enough influence to block a pass with her back. The ball fell to Jess Fishlock’s foot and she sent low pass back to Huerta, who was making a run into the box and slotted it low and past Alyssa Naeher’s right to equalize.
WHAT WORKED: BEHOLD, TZIARRA KING
Ever since the trade was announced, OL Reign fans have eagerly anticipated when forward Tziarra King would make an impact on the field. In her third appearance for the club, this time as a second-half substitute for starter Megan Rapinoe, King showed what she is capable of.
King made her first impact on the game with the assist to Leah Pruitt’s goal in the 70th minute to give OL Reign the one-goal advantage.
Then in the 87th minute, with the ball to her feet, King seized the moment and with a kiss off the post, claiming her first OL Reign goal to cap off her well deserved Player of the Match performance.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: ANOTHER SLOW, DISJOINTED START
While the headline will rightfully be about OL Reign’s victory, highlighted of course by Tziarra King’s performance, it was still a first half in which OL Reign spent more time in their third, their back line being bent to the absolute limit. You can only do that so much of that before someone breaks through and scores on you, and that’s what Mallory Pugh finally did for Chicago late in the half. OL Reign again struggled to connect passes in the first half, which limited their ability to push into the attacking third. With the NWSL regular season right around the corner, there will be games where right from kickoff, OL Reign must assert control and be the ones setting the tempo of the game. The more they play together, as Farid Benstiti establishes his optimal starting XI, the sooner we should see that complete, 90+ minute performance where OL Reign rule the field.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: PLEASE GET PLAYER PRONOUNS CORRECT, NWSL COMMENTARY CREW
It happened again — midfielder Quinn was misgendered by the play-by-play and commentary crew tapped for a NWSL broadcast. Here is a simple reminder:
Quinn’s pronouns are they/them.
This is visible on the roster section of the club’s website and should be easily accessible in the game notes provided by the club to their broadcast partners. Getting names and pronouns correct in such a public-facing job like providing play-by-play and commentary in live sports is the absolute floor, and if respect is the bare minimum, then everyone must do better to earn that respect.
“THEY TRUST ME AS A YOUNG PLAYER”
When tonight’s starting XI was revealed, one of the immediate takeaways was it was the third straight start for defender Madison Hammond. Much has already been said about the journey of the undrafted rookie who impressed the club enough to earn a multi-year contract. Even going back to last season, Farid Benstiti was glowing in describing the Hammond’s potential. The Challenge Cup has been a great proving ground for her to get the experience needed to test and develop her skills. “I know I can play even better each game, and I’ve been pretty happy with each performance, but there’s still mistakes and I hope to get better,” said Hammond after the match, when asked about getting these starts.
“I WAS SO HYPED”
That’s how Tziarra King summarized getting her first goal as an OL Reign player. King added, “It feels good, coming into this new environment, and being able to play my role and do what I need to do for this team is my goal. Being able to do that today, it felt awesome.”
While OL Reign cannot advance to the NWSL Challenge Cup Final as the West division winner, tonight’s victory does move them up into third position, just one point behind the Houston Dash. Should OL Reign win their final Challenge Cup match, they could leapfrog the Dash; ending the Challenge Cup on a two-match winning streak could be massive for their preparations for the NWSL regular season.
Next up for OL Reign is a road trip to the nation’s heartland to close out their 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup campaign. OL Reign will play Kansas City NWSL on Monday, May 3 at Field of Legends. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 PM PT and the game will stream on Paramount+.