You know that old saying about soccer, “It was a game of two halves?” Well tonight at Cheney Stadium, that literally played out as OL Reign met Gotham FC for the third time this season. Gotham took the first two meetings, and to avoid the regular season series sweep OL Reign pulled off a monumental comeback, perhaps fitting of the drama, the frustration, and the highs for head coach Laura Harvey’s Cheney Stadium debut. A brace by Gotham’s Ifeoma Onumonu was the tale of the first half. Despite the two-goal hole, OL Reign did not feel deterred as they were knocking on Gotham’s door and the breakthroughs came in the second half.
For a team loaded with so many attackers that can always find the back of the net on any given day, it was defender Kristen McNabb that began the comeback. Heading in Megan Rapinoe’s corner kick in the 57th minute was the key momentum swing. From then on, the 3,657 fans in Cheney Stadium could sense another OL Reign goal was coming and they spoke it into existence in the form of penalties. First Sofia Huerta was taken down in the box in the 76th minute, which Rapinoe converted a minute later. Then in the 89th minute, another penalty was awarded to OL Reign. This time Rapinoe went down in the box, albeit if you’re a Gotham fan, fair to debate it. Ever constant in converting them, Rapinoe made it two converted penalties to overcome the two-goal deficit and pick up a massive win.
WHAT WORKED: REIGN’S RESILIENCE
In the first stint of being the Reign’s head coach, Laura Harvey had praised the resilience of the various rosters she constructed. However, overcoming a two-goal deficit was something she can’t recall ever doing in the first five years she coached the team. This roster she inherited however is something completely different. Even though they conceded two goals in the first half, there was plenty that looked positive for them. They kept knocking on Gotham’s door to find that first goal; it’s just that Gotham have a very good goalkeeper in Kailen Sheridan. And she’s been good for years in the NWSL. When OL Reign started the second half with the ball, there wasn’t a sense of desperation — yes they knew they needed to get the first goal, but their collective body language suggested that just get that first one and they can get Gotham on their back foot. And that was the case when McNabb opened the scoring for the home side. There was a scary moment before McNabb’s goal in which Gotham almost got their third goal even after Sarah Bouhaddi got her hand on Carli Lloyd’s header, but the ball hit the post and BACK OUT. How it didn’t bounce into the back of the net, perhaps the physics gods were on OL Reign’s side for once.
McNabb’s goal was the catalyst of the momentum swing and the eventual penalty conversions from Rapinoe would go on to emphasize that this star-studded roster has a level of resilience that is just going to hit different like it did tonight.
What wasn’t shown as part of the highlight of Rapinoe’s second and eventual match-winning penalty conversion was a weird moment where Rapinoe’s first attempt was stopped due to McCall Zerboni’s encroachment. It resulted in a rather funny visual of Zerboni almost getting to the ball on the penalty spot before Rapinoe did, but it was so obvious that the ref halted everything and Rapinoe went on to take and convert her second penalty on the night.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: IT WAS IFEOMA ONUMONU’S FIRST HALF
Not many forwards in the NWSL are in-form like Gotham’s Ifeoma Onumonu. And the first half of the match was all about her. While Gotham’s first goal was as much ‘right place, right time’ for Onumonu to collect OL Reign’s attempt to defend the cross, it was her second goal that epitomized the hot hand she’s been on. From Sheridan’s goal kick and the connecting pass from Nahomi Kawasumi, Onumonu did not stop for a second to get in position and blow past OL Reign’s Lauren Barnes.
“GOALS CHANGE GAMES AND SHE WAS IN THE RIGHT PLACE FOR THAT”
Harvey drafted McNabb back in 2017 and in the season opener of that year, McNabb made her pro debut. She scored her first professional goal in that match, also a header. Perhaps there’s something of a full circle moment achieved that McNabb scored her second goal for the club in Harvey’s Cheney Stadium debut as OL Reign’s head coach. Never short for words, Harvey said in her post-match press conference that McNabb only found out she was starting earlier in the afternoon due to an late injury to defender Sam Hiatt. It was that readiness to step up and answer the call even on such short notice that’s made McNabb such a mainstay over the years and one of the club’s new veterans. When asked about the goal that proved to be the momentum swing, McNabb focused on the collective success of the team, even if her individual brilliance caused it, said in her post-match press conference said of the goal,
“It wasn’t supposed to go to me, it just ended up on my head and yeah, I’m glad I got to help the team.”
With the win on Saturday, OL Reign are presently in third place in the standings. Results around the league could keep them in that position heading into their next match. And speaking of that next match, well it’s the big one.
OL Reign will host their Cascadia rivals, Portland Thorns FC.
Always a big deal.
What makes it even bigger is that for the first time ever, an NWSL match will be played at Lumen Field.
A historic doubleheader of OL Reign vs. Portland Thorns FC and Seattle Sounders FC vs. Portland Timbers will take place next Sunday, August 29 at Lumen Field. The NWSL fixture will take place first with kickoff scheduled for 4 PM PT and broadcast on Paramount+ for US viewers, while international viewers can watch on Twitch.