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OL Reign draw with Portland in preseason opener

The scoreless match was entertaining, physical, and had a lot of positive moments.

Nikita Taparia

In what felt at times like a regular-season battle, with moments of preseason jitters sprinkled in between, OL Reign and the Portland Thorns played to a scoreless draw on Saturday evening at Providence Park. The match, which was not streamed, was the first of three the Reign will play in the preseason tournament in Portland.

While OL Reign didn’t find the back of the net, there were plenty of positives from the match, which was physical and entertaining for all 90 minutes and saw 17 Reign players feature. Ride of the Valkyries attended the match, and because there was no livestream, we’ll give you a few more details than normal in this recap.

Starting Formations

OL Reign came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Phallon Tullis-Joyce getting the start in goal. Lauren Barnes started at left back, with Sam Hiatt and Alana Cook holding down the centerback spots and Sofia Huerta starting at right back. Quinn began as the lone holding midfielder, with Jess Fishlock and Angelina starting in front of them in the midfield. Veronica Latsko, who the Reign acquired in a trade with the Houston Dash, started on the left wing, Bethany Balcer was in the center, and Ally Watt started on the right wing.

The Portland Thorns, under new head coach Rhian Wilkinson, started in a 3-5-2 formation. Bella Bixby started in goal, with Becky Sauerbrunn, Emily Menges, and Kelli Hubly as the three centerbacks. Meghan Klingenberg was the left wingback, with Natalia Kuikka on the right. In the midfield was Sam Coffey, drafted in 2021 and signed this year, Yazmeen Ryan, a 2021 draft pick who featured for the Thorns last year, and Costa Rican midfielder Rocky Rodriguez. Morgan Weaver and Hannah Betfort, another 2021 draft pick who played both defense and forward at Wake Forest, started up top.

Match Summary

OL Reign dominated the first half as the Thorns struggled to make their new formation work with a number of new players, but the Reign couldn’t find the back of the net due to some preseason nerves and strong goalkeeping from Bixby. The first half ended with the Reign earning seven shots, while the Thorns only had one. Most of the Reign’s best looks came from wing play, with Latsko and Huerta showing danger on crosses.

The Thorns had limited opportunities in part because of some sloppy passing, but also because the Reign midfield outshined Portland’s in the first 45 minutes. Quinn seemed to anticipate every pass in the midfield, and Fishlock and Angelina played well off one another. While there were no official stats from this game, it felt like Quinn had at least seven interceptions in the first half alone. The backline was steady as well, not letting the speedy forwards — Weaver and Betfort — get in behind.

Olivia Athens replaced Balcer at halftime, marking the only change for both sides after 45 minutes. She played a slightly different role than Balcer, often dropping deeper to get involved in the build-up while Fishlock pushed higher into the attack. The Reign again started the second half strong, getting another two good looks in the first 10 minutes, with Watt heating up around this time and creating a few chances.

It was more even after the 60th minute as the Thorns players began to click — and Rodriguez, in particular, took over in the midfield. It was right around this time the Reign made their second change, with Quinn coming off and Madison Hammond coming on and playing a holding midfield role, a spot we haven’t seen Hammond in before.

The Reign lost their shape a little between the 60th and 75th minute, but the defense held strong and Tullis-Joyce wasn’t challenged much in goal. In the 76th minute, OL Reign brought on their final four subs of the night. Sinclaire Miramontez replaced Barnes at left back, Phoebe McClernon came on for Hiatt, Tziarra King subbed on for Watt, and 2022 draft pick and University of Washington graduate Olivia Van der Jagt subbed on for Angelina.

The Reign had most of the possession for the final 15 minutes, but not too many dangerous chances — although King was active and created a few good opportunities. In the last seconds of the game, however, Tullis-Joyce was asked to come up big to keep the scoreline even. Left wingback Natalie Beckman got the ball on the left side in the box and took a hard shot that was swerving and heading for the upper corner, but Tullis-Joyce reacted quickly and pushed it over the bar for a corner kick.

After 90 minutes, the Reign had outshot the Thorns 10-7 and had seven corners to Portland’s three (all stats unofficial). OL Reign face the Chicago Red Stars on Tuesday, and there should be plenty of rotation for that match. Their final game of the tournament will be Friday night against the U.S. U-23 squad, who looked strong in their scoreless draw with Chicago on Saturday.

Key Moments

  • Before kickoff, players and staff for both teams lined up around the center circle in a moment of silence for Katie Meyer, the Stanford goalkeeper who died this week.
  • 1’ - The Reign set the tone early, as Latsko got the ball on the left wing. She got a cross off, but it was blocked for a corner. Angelina took the corner kick, which the Thorns were able to clear for a throw-in. The Reign had a few near-chances in the minutes that followed.
  • 8’ - The Thorns sent a ball over the top to Betfort, who showed a lot of tenacity and speed all game. Hiatt stayed with her and blocked Betfort’s cross for a corner. On the corner, Tullis-Joyce couldn’t cleanly grab a ball in front of goal and Betfort smashed in the loose ball, with Balcer going to ground in the same area. After a goal was announced on the PA and red smoke from the supporters’ section began to blanket the stadium, the goal was waved off following a foul called against Portland. It was a little unclear what happened, but it appears Balcer was fouled on the play.
  • 10’ - Balcer got the ball near the corner of the box on the left side and sent a ball on the ground toward Angelina at the top of the box. Angelina’s shot was blocked but the ball fell back to her. She found Watt on the right, who shot near-post and on the ground. It wasn’t hard enough, though, and Bixby made an easy save.
  • 17’ - Latsko, who put in a ton of work all game, sent a beautiful cross from the left. Watt got her head on it, but Sauerbrunn cleared it out for a corner. This followed another cross from Huerta a few minutes earlier that Bixby snagged before Balcer could get to it.
  • 28’ - The Thorns get their first and only shot of the half. Hubly poked the ball away from Fishlock in the midfield and it fell to Weaver near the top of the box. She’s pressured quickly by the Reign centerbacks and her soft shot falls into Tullis-Joyce’s hands.
  • 40’ - Watt takes the ball down the right channel and unleashes a hard shot, but it’s right at Bixby. It was right around this time the match started to get a bit more feisty, with the supporters getting loud whenever the Reign fouled or it felt like a call didn’t go their way. Not too soon after, Klingenberg and Watt fought hard for a ball near the touchline, with Kling bodying Watt out of bounds on the 50/50 challenge. These two had a few different moments where they used their physicality to win the ball.
  • 47’ - Watt started really heating up as the second half began. She took Sauerbrunn on 1-v-1 and got the better of the USWNT defender, beating her on the right side before whipping a ball into the box. It’s cleared out for a corner, and Quinn got a shot off on the corner but couldn’t put it on frame.
  • 55’ - Watt again gets a great look. She received a lovely through ball from Athens and drove it endline before smoothly cutting it back to her left foot when the defender arrived. After taking a few touches and looking for options, Watt opted to shoot far post. Her shot is heading for the upper corner, but goes just wide.
  • 66’ - Fishlock, who went 90 minutes, sends a gorgeous through ball toward the top of the 18-yard box. Watt is sprinting to get there, but Bixby manages to clear it right before the speedy forward arrives.
  • 71’ - Betfort sends a ball into the box that Weaver heads on frame, but she doesn’t get enough power on the header and Tullis-Joyce easily collects it.
  • 73’ - Midfielder Ryan found herself with space near the right edge of the 18-yard box for the Thorns, but her shot goes well over the crossbar. A few minutes later, Smith gets a dangerous look on her first touches, but it goes right to Tullis-Joyce.
  • 77’ - King, who has just subbed on, collects a Thorns clearance. She took a few touches before teeing up a far-post shot. Bixby bobbles it and there is a brief moment of chaos, but the Thorns manage to clear it for a throw-in.
  • 90+3’ - Smith combined just outside the 18-yard box with Weaver before they found substitute Natalie Beckman on the left wing. The 2022 NWSL Draft pick took a hard shot that was swerving and heading for the upper corner, but Tullis-Joyce reacted quickly and pushed it over the bar for a corner kick.

Additional Observations

  • Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle were both with the squad, but did separate warmups from the team and did not suit up. Lavelle is recovering from an ankle injury that occurred in her recent USWNT appearance, but she was sprinting and doing cutting exercises on Saturday night. It’s unclear if Pinoe is injured, but she was doing several sprints around the field before the game started.
  • Hammond didn’t look out of place when she subbed on for Quinn in the midfield. She was quick to challenge Thorns players when they got the ball, which resulted in a few foul calls and a yellow card for the third-year Reign player. But she played simple and helped the team keep possession well.
  • Angelina put in a great shift in the attacking midfield role for the Reign, and it’s going to be an interesting challenge to find her best spot on this field — as Lavelle would presumably line up where Angelina started today when healthy.
  • The backline was really calm, and Cook in particular showed how difficult it is to beat her. Hiatt was challenged a few times by Betfort, who nearly got behind her with her speed, but she held strong. Huerta was involved in the attack in the first half before having to defend more in the second, and Barnes was as calm as ever on the left side. She stayed home more, but got involved in the build-up at times.
  • Latsko put in a ton of work on the wing on both sides of the ball, and her crosses were more dangerous than anticipated. Both her and Huerta had crosses that were inches away from connecting with Balcer or Watt — something that should only continue to get better. With three quality centerbacks in the middle for Portland, it was also a bigger challenge for the team to find Balcer.
  • Watt is going to be a problem for defenders. Her shots were a little timid to start, but she grew in confidence throughout the game and was dangerous at the start of the second half — taking defenders on 1-v-1 and showing skill with both feet. While King had limited minutes in this opening match, she looked confident and dangerous when she came on.
  • Tullis-Joyce wasn’t challenged much, but she came up huge when it mattered in the final seconds of the match. She had one clearance that didn’t quite connect, but otherwise looked confident on the ball.

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