After two weeks of NWSL Challenge Cup play, OL Reign have scored four goals, with four different players finding the back of the net. The team is already showing how dangerous they can be — in all spots on the field — when the players on the pitch are in sync.
All of OL Reign’s early goals in 2022 have been beauties, which inspired a new Ride of the Valkyries segment where we break down how specific goals came together. For our first edition, we’re rewinding to the first goal of the year: Sofia Huerta’s banger at Lumen Field in the Challenge Cup home opener.
Let’s take a look ...
The play started thanks to a spell of possession in the Reign’s defensive half. After moving the ball for a while back and forth along the backline, the ball finds its way to Sofia Huerta on the right at 17:39.
Huerta gets it to Veronica Latsko, who doesn’t have any options higher up in the attack and is getting pressured, so she drops it to Alana Cook. At this point, Portland allows Cook time on the ball and drops to prevent passes into the midfield, with Christine Sinclair and Hina Sugita hanging back to block pass options to Quinn and Latsko. They leave the left side open, however, and Cook sends a long ball over to left back Lauren Barnes.
Barnes takes a few dribbles up the pitch and then finds Quinn to her right in the midfield, who made a quick run across the pitch to follow the ball. That pass causes Thorns midfielder Yazmeen Ryan to pinch inside to close down Quinn, while Sinclair sprints back to try to win the ball from her Canadian teammate. What does the Reign midfielder do? They send it right back to the now-unmarked Barnes, who has lots of space in front of her.
Angelina and Jess Fishlock advance into the attack, working to give Barnes some line-breaking options and causing the Thorns midfielders to make some quick decisions on who to mark. Meanwhile, Huerta pinches into the space that’s now open, and as you’ll see from the screenshots below, she remains narrow as she follows the ball moving up the pitch.
(As an aside, look how far Latsko has already progressed up the field, compared to the screenshot above.)
Barnes dribbles the ball down the left flank before passing to Tziarra King in front of her. Fishlock continues her run, while Angelina hangs back to give Barnes and King cover. At this point, the Thorns now have a flat five-back, with Natalia Kuikka marking King and holding midfielder Sam Coffey tracking Bethany Balcer’s run into the box. Seeing Fishlock near the top of the box, Sugita starts to sprint into that space.
Balcer’s run pulls Coffey with her into the box, while King continues to dribble toward the endline. Ryan, who stayed with Barnes on the wing, is a little unsure where to be and starts to drop to try to double King, but her run is far too late.
When King then cuts back onto her right foot, she sees Angelina running into acres of space at the top of the box — and a clear path to get her the ball. Huerta remains just behind her Brazilian teammate and to her right, with eight Thorns players now in the box.
Two defenders quickly close down on Angelina, who opens her hips and calmly moves the ball to a wide-open Huerta who — in her own terms — “just hit the shit out of it.”
Goal, OL Reign!
Portland had plenty of numbers in the box, but thanks to the Reign switching play quickly, using their width to create overloads, and smart runs to pull defenders into the box, the Reign were able to get their first goal of 2022 in just the 19th minute of their home opener.
The play also started with patient possession on the backline as well, with the defenders moving the ball back and forth — never forcing it — until they found their moment to advance.
Watch a full breakdown of the play in this video from @duuga_ on Twitter (the goal sequence starts about 45 seconds into the video).
Bom dia, turma!!— ドゥーガ(DUGA) (@duuga_) March 20, 2022
Soltei primeiro material do @OLReign !
@NWSL Challenge Cup
️ @OLReign vs @ThornsFC
- Construção de jogada do Reign
- Pré Assist : @tziarra
- Assist : Angelina
- Gol : @schuerta#NWSLChallengeCup #analise #gol pic.twitter.com/EizGzEuzFQ
And let us know what you think of this new series in the comments below.