OL Reign’s three road matches in a week gauntlet run came to an end on Saturday night with a visit to Houston, Texas, to take on the Houston Dash.
A draw was all that was needed for OL Reign to qualify for the NWSL playoffs, but the team made sure to leave no doubt about their objectives with a solid 2-0 victory over the Dash.
Bethany Balcer kicked things off for OL Reign with a goal in the 29th minute. Veronica Latsko claimed an insurance goal in the 76th minute.
WHAT WORKED: OL REIGN STRIKE FIRST
For most of the first half, Houston controlled possession, yet the stat that matters the most is goals, and OL Reign claimed the first one when Bethany Balcer made the most of this second-chance ball after Houston initially defended a cross from Megan Rapinoe.
.@bethanybalcer cleans up in front of goal as the @OLReign go ahead! #HOUvRGN | #BoldTogether pic.twitter.com/AgUpN39aq7— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) September 25, 2022
WHAT WORKED: VERONICA LATSKO RETURNS TO TEXAS AND SCORES
Forward Veronica Latsko began her career at Houston, being drafted by the Dash in 2018. In January of this year, she was traded to OL Reign and has contributed to a deep forward corps. Tonight, she maximized her return to Houston by scoring the decisive goal to solidify OL Reign’s victory — and a ticket to postseason play, punched.
.@V_Latsko12 puts it on the rebound to help @OLReign double up!#HOUvRGN | #BoldTogether pic.twitter.com/TekkuMjwaD— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) September 25, 2022
WHAT WORKED: ANOTHER CLEAN SHEET
OL Reign haven’t posted back-to-back clean sheets since June 18 and July 1 this season. To be able to do it as part of their three-match gauntlet run on the road while picking up the maximum nine points is massive. It wasn’t pretty at times, and the players definitely were exhausted coming into Saturday night’s match, but a team-wide effort on defense got the job done. Houston had their chances, including a Maria Sanchez free kick that rang off the crossbar, but the back line made the clearances they needed to, and Phallon Tullis-Joyce made the saves she needed to. As important as the goals scored throughout this week have been, it’s holding the leads and keeping it clean on their end that might be more important going into the playoffs.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: JIMENA LOPEZ HAS COVID
There was an update to OL Reign’s availability report before the match as defender Jimena Lopez was ruled unavailable due to COVID protocols. It’s never good to be short an option on your bench, but this has been the reality for sports and will continue to be so. All the best to Jimena as she makes a full recovery.
“I don’t think it was very pretty at times but to win on the road in this league, sometimes it is that way.”
OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey has said many times before that “goals change games,” and they needed those goals to get the wins on this road trip, but holding the lead and posting consecutive clean sheets is also why this season-defining road trip went about as perfect as it could be. The collective effort on defense to make the stops and saves was not lost on Harvey in her post-match press conference.
“I think Phallon [Tullis-Joyce] stepped up big again tonight. I thought Alana [Cook] and Sam [Hiatt] were excellent. I thought Sofia [Huerta] and Lu [Barnes] did a really good job, and I thought Phoebe [McClernon] was excellent when she came on. I actually thought Quinn and Jess [Fishlock] did a really good job in the first half, got pulled around a little bit at times and then Nikki [Stanton] and Olo (nickname for Olivia Van der Jagt) were excelle when they came on. I think this whole group’s mentality has been absolutely exceptional this week.
Just can’t speak highly enough of them, really proud of them, and really excited for what this can mean for us, because I think we’ve been a team this year that’s played some really good football, and we feel we’ve not got what we deserve at times. Tonight, we had to dig in, we didn’t play the greatest football we can, but we showed our quality in periods and patches.
Just really excited for what this group can do.”
During her press conference, Harvey dedicated the win to Latsko, and Latsko herself spoke about her return to Houston and scoring the goal to secure the win for OL Reign.
“It felt like a homecoming, Houston was home for a really long time, and I'm grateful for the time that I spent here, but I also I'm so excited to be in this new chapter in my life, and to be on this team. It was very much a team grinding out win. This is the third game of a three-game week against Houston in 98-degree weather, it’s awful. This team freaking just grinded the entire game and I’m so proud of every single person. This was a huge team win.”
The win tonight puts OL Reign at the top of the league table with 37 points, at least until tomorrow’s matches are played. If you can believe it, OL Reign just might be in contention for the NWSL Shield.
OL Reign close out the 2022 NWSL regular season at home, hosting the Orlando Pride. The match is on Saturday, October 1, with a 7 PM PT kickoff. Those unable to attend in-person at Lumen Field can watch the match (regardless if you’re in the US or abroad) on the streaming platform Twitch.