Once more a visit to familiar enemy territory, as OL Reign met Cascadia rivals Portland Thorns FC for their third match of the NWSL Challenge Cup. It was a tight, end-to-end affair, as you’d expect when rivals meet, yet a little bit of magic between Jess Fishlock and Rose Lavelle in the 73rd minute gave OL Reign the victory over Portland, 1-0.
WHAT WORKED: CONTAINING SOPHIA SMITH
Coming into tonight’s match, no one in the NWSL was more in form than Portland forward Sophia Smith. However, OL Reign’s experienced back line was able to contain Smith throughout the night. When Portland was able to send the ball over the top to utilize Smith’s speed, OL Reign defenders, particularly Sam Hiatt and Jimena Lopez, were able to keep her in front of them — or, if you’re Angelina and you hit the turbo button, chase her down. There may have been a few nervy moments when the defense looked disjointed, calling upon goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce to make another save, but the collective work to neutralize Portland’s main attacking threat en route to a clean sheet is definitely something Laura Harvey’s squad can be proud of.
WHAT WORKED: THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
OL Reign still has more players remaining from their inaugural season roster than any other founding club. It sometimes flies under the radar that over the years, the club has discovered and developed players, but a recurring a question about this roster is: will the young players make those jumps to the next level? Hiatt, Tullis-Joyce, and Angelina put in shifts tonight that showed what investing and developing in young talents can yield.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: BUILDING THROUGH THE MIDDLE?
This one could be a situation by design and not so much that OL Reign were struggling to build an attack through the middle. While Portland did their part in congesting that section of the field by just being there, OL Reign’s plan of attack was to utilize the cross. That’s what you do when you have a crosser like Sofia Huerta. Could the team tonight not building many chances through the middle be more by design, with Jess Fishlock notably dropping back to help Quinn and the back line keeping Smith in front of them? Most likely.
It was a game that OL Reign admit wasn’t pretty at times, but it was a collective effort to keep the clean sheet and have a bit of magic on the other end to get the goal, all in the context of it being a pre-season match, it’s hard to find an immediate, stand out negative — it’s just always good to get a win over your rival.
“This little magician over here slipped into a perfect little pocket.”
That’s the back of the box quote Fishlock had in talking about her connection with Lavelle that resulted in the goal. Fishlock said that because of Portland’s defensive shape, having five players back, they had to be patient to find the moment to strike. The goal came about after Portland had defended a corner, but thanks a quick interception and heads-up play from Balcer to Fishlock to Lavelle, the rest is history.
The win puts OL Reign at the top of the West division standings because of that beautiful thing called head-to-head tiebreaker. No doubt the win feels very good heading into the international break. OL Reign’s next match will be back in the new, comfy confines of Lumen Field, as they host expansion side San Diego Wave FC on Thursday, April 14. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 PM PT and the game will be broadcast on Paramount+ for US viewers, while international viewers can watch on streaming platform Twitch.