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OL Reign earn 2-1 preseason win over Chicago Red Stars

All three goals were scored in a three-minute span of play.

NWSL: Preseason-Chicago Red Stars at OL Reign Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

In their second match of the Portland preseason tournament, OL Reign showed plenty of attacking power in the first half and came away with a 2-1 win over the Chicago Red Stars. While there were chances for both sides throughout the game, all three goals came in the span of three minutes in the first half. Nikki Stanton and Tziarra King scored the two goals for the Reign in the 34th and 36th minute, while draft pick Ava Cook got the goal for Chicago in the 35th minute.

While the tournament is not being streamed, Ride of the Valkyries was in attendance. Here’s a summary of how the match played out.

Starting Formations

OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey made eight changes from her lineup that started the prior game against Portland, giving a number of new and young players the chance to shine in preseason play. The Reign once again came out in a 4-3-3 that played more like a 4-1-4-1, with Nikki Stanton in the holding midfield role.

OL Reign lineup: Phallon Tullis-Joyce; Jimena Lopez (Ryanne Brown), Phoebe McClernon, Alana Cook, Sinclaire Miramontez (Sofia Huerta); Nikki Stanton (Marley Canales), Angelina, Olivia Van der Jagt (Quinn); Tziarra King, Bethany Balcer (Veronica Latsko), Zsani Kajan (Olivia Athens)

Chicago lined up in a three-back system, with Emily Boyd starting in goal. While veterans like Arin Wright, Morgan Gautrat, and Tierna Davidson got the start, a lot of draft picks and other new players rounded out the lineup for Chicago.

Chicago lineup: Emily Boyd; Arin Wright, Tierna Davidson (Haley VanFossen), Zoe Morse; Morgan Gautrat (Sarah Griffith), Regan Steigleder (Danny Colaprico), Channing Foster, Jill Aguilera (Mikenna McManus), Amanda Kowalski (Bianca St. Georges); Sam Fisher (Ella Stevens), Ava Cook

Match Summary

The match started a bit slower for OL Reign than their opener against Portland, with the Reign controlling possession at the start but not having a lot to show for it. The team earned some early corner kicks thanks to pressure on the wings and a desire to push the ball toward the endline, with new signing Kajan taking the corners. The team just couldn’t seem to connect on anything, however, and didn’t earn their first shot on goal until the 17th minute.

On that play, Lopez, who was active in the Reign’s attacking half for the first 45 minutes, faked a cross with her left foot before cutting the ball back to her right at the top of the box. She sent a simple ball to King in the box, who had space and time to take a few touches. King unleashed a shot that was right to Red Stars goalkeeper Boyd.

Not too long after, Chicago had their first good look. A poor Reign clearance went right to forward Ava Cook — a draft pick who looked tenacious all game — and she dribbled the ball toward the endline on the left side. Cook tried to cut it back across goal, but it went straight to Tullis-Joyce on the near post for an easy save.

It wasn’t until the 30th minute that things started to pick up. And pick up they did. In the 34th minute, Stanton gave OL Reign their first goal of the preseason. It started with a corner kick on the left side, which Balcer got her head on in the box. She didn’t connect enough with the ball, however, and it skimmed behind her and looked to be trickling out of play. King sprinted to it and kept the ball in, and turned to find Stanton behind her in the box. She passed it back and Stanton ripped a shot into the upper near-post corner.

Not 30 seconds later, the Red Stars were pressuring the Reign in front of their goal. Ava Cook received the ball at the top of the box on the right side and outmuscled McClernon as she dribbled into the box. She managed to get a shot off that also found the back of the net — flying right over Tullis-Joyce’s arms — and it was even for both sides. Tullis-Joyce initially tried to make herself big before Cook’s shot, which limited her ability to react when the shot went higher, which is a learning opportunity for the Reign goalkeeper.

As I was trying to type this up and live-tweet from Ride of the Valkyries, the Reign again got on the board just seconds later. I wish I could tell you that I saw the entire play, but I was busy typing away. What I can tell you is that King is the player who scored for the Reign in the 36th minute, and based on the reaction from teammates and what I did catch, I believe it was a banger from distance.

For the rest of the half, the Reign were in control. In the 40th minute, King took another shot from about 25 yards out. It was heading for the upper right corner when Boyd managed to tip it over goal. Kajan had another strong chance a few minutes later when she received a ball in the center inside the 18-yard box off a recycled corner kick play, but she couldn’t quite get enough on her shot and it slid right to Boyd. Lopez closed the half with a speculative shot from the corner of the 18 after cutting inside to her right foot.

The half ended with the Reign up 2-1. The Reign had seven shots compared to four for the Red Stars and also won six corners, indicative of their desire to push the ball endline on the wings, while Chicago had no corners.

It was a much different story in the second half, however. Chicago made a number of substitutions and came out with relentless pressure which had the Reign on the back foot for much of the first 20 minutes. A Bianca St. Georges shot in the 54th minute went just wide on the near post, and the Red Stars had a number of near chances that had OL Reign’s defense scrambling.

Around the 60th minute, however, the Reign started to find a few opportunities of their own. King found Athens on the right and she had a good look from inside the box, but her shot went wide. A minute later, King sent a beautiful, fast-moving cross across goal from the left that just missed Balcer’s head and was out of reach for Athens on the back post.

Chicago took control again in the 75th minute and kept the pressure on the Reign, although Tullis-Joyce wasn’t asked to make any saves until the 81st minute, when she again came up big. Ella Stevens had a strong cut to her left foot at the top of her box that gave her just a little bit of separation from Cook. She quickly took a shot with her left foot that was heading for the far-post corner, but Tullis-Joyce dove and got her fingertips to the shot, pushing it enough that it hit the post and bounced out — and the Reign were able to clear. It’s the second match where Tullis-Joyce was asked to come up with a big save near the end of the game, and she sure delivered.

OL Reign were able to withstand the Red Stars' relentless energy and pressure in the second half, and the game finished with a 2-1 scoreline. After 90 minutes, Chicago managed to get off 11 shots compared to 9 for the Reign.

Up next, OL Reign round out the Portland preseason tournament with a match against the U.S. U-23 WNT. That game kicks off at 5 PM PT on Friday and will also not be streamed, but Ride of the Valkyries will be in attendance to live-tweet and recap. The U-23 squad drew 0-0 with the Red Stars in their opener before falling 3-0 to Portland thanks to a Sophia Smith hattrick.

Additional Observations

  • Lopez has some great service from the left flank, and I could hear Laura Harvey coaching her a bit on positioning and when to push higher up the field. She wasn’t able to find anyone for an assist, but some of her decisions and balls into the box were lovely. If she’s able to put those final pieces together, she should earn a lot more minutes this season.
  • The role of a No. 9 can be hard at times, and that has been true for Balcer’s first two preseason matches. It’s not anything she is doing, as Balcer was pushing play when she had the ball and pressing well. The team in both matches had some great play on the wings and attempted a lot of crosses, which Balcer fought hard to win. But the crosses aren’t quite finding her yet, and against two teams playing in a three-back formation, the center can get clogged and the open space is often wider. Can the team adjust to get her service that she can do more with?
  • Van der Jagt brought a lot of positive energy into the midfield with her pressing. She was often fighting for balls high up the field and winning them back. She played less as a creative playmaker — allowing Angelina to be more of a creator in a box-to-box role — but her energy and tenacity were fun to watch. The Kentridge High School star and University of Washington graduate has yet to sign with the Reign, but she’s done a lot of things right during her preseason minutes.
  • Like Ally Watt in the opener, King began to heat up and show how dangerous she can be in the attack. She was creating and scoring, and it was particularly nice to see her confidence shooting outside the box — something that the Reign haven’t always had consistently.
  • Marley Canales and Ryanne Brown, two other draft picks who haven’t yet signed with the Reign, made their first appearances — both subbing on in the 63rd minute. Canales started as the deepest-lying midfielder and showed a lot of scrappy energy before moving higher up the field when Quinn subbed on late. She had a great combination play with Brown in the 87th minute, sending a through ball to the right back on the wing, who found Veronica Latsko running into space in the box. Brown also had a darting run into the left side of the box — all the way from right back — that showed some of her attacking instinct.
  • Ava Cook was a problem for the Reign and should be one to watch for Chicago. The forward — who is fast and strong on the ball — has a story that’s somewhat similar to Balcer. After dominating NCAA Division II with Grand Valley State — where she led the nation in goals — Cook transferred last year to Michigan State University. She scored seven goals and had three assists that year, leading her to be picked up by Chicago with the 18th overall selection in the draft.