OL Reign started their 2023 NWSL Challenge Cup campaign on a high note on Wednesday evening in Los Angeles, defeating Angel City FC by a score of 2-0 in their first group stage match. Jordyn Huitema opened the scoring in the 64th minute, while an own goal off Clarisse Le Bihan gave the Reign their second 13 minutes later.
Head Coach Laura Harvey started a heavily rotated lineup compared to the squad which defeated San Diego in league play on Saturday, with only three starters carrying over from the weekend — Alana Cook, Emily Sonnett and Tziarra King.
San Diego defeated Portland, 1-0, in the other Challenge Cup match in the west, which means OL Reign ends the first matchday at the top of the group. The Challenge Cup group stage continues on Wednesday, May 3, when Angel City comes to Lumen Field at 7 PM.
WHAT WORKED: REIGN DEPTH RISES TO THE CHALLENGE
Claudia Dickey stepped into goal for her first NWSL action and looked confident and in control of her box all game while earning the clean sheet. Alana Cook and Emily Sonnett provided some experience in the middle of the back line, but the outside back pairing featured Shae Holmes making her professional debut on the left, while Ryanne Brown held down the right in only her fourth appearance for the Reign. Holmes had a few shaky moments typical of any young player just getting their first pro minutes, but adjusted and didn’t give up any dangerous opportunities. Brown had a strong first half playing right back in a manner similar to Sofia Huerta, pushing forward aggressively and sending in several quality crosses. Angel City adjusted in the second half and pinned Brown back more, but Laura Harvey will surely be happy with what she saw from her fullback depth in this game.
WHAT WORKED: THE HIGH PRESS
Harvey subbed early and often in this game, bringing a lot of experience off the bench to push the game, and it paid off in the 64th minute when halftime sub Jordyn Huitema kept hounding the Angel City back line, which had her in the perfect position to pounce on a mishit ball by Angel City goalkeeper Brittany Isenhour near the top of the box.
A GOAL IS A GOAL IS A GOAL. Let's go, Jordyn Huitema! #ReignSupreme pic.twitter.com/FfveaozuxS— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) April 20, 2023
Later in the half, that same high press by Huitema forced the ball out for a pair of Reign corner kicks, the second of which was a Megan Rapinoe laser which Jess Fishlock redirected before the ball ultimately deflected off Clarisse Le Bihan and into the far side netting. Though it was eventually credited as an own goal, we would be remiss to leave out Fishlock’s plucky celebration.
We will never forgive Opta for calling this an Own Goal. But the chicken-dance celly from Jess Fishlock is worth it. #ReignSupreme pic.twitter.com/JaRaXJhfsm— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) April 20, 2023
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: INJURY CONCERNS
The biggest concern for OL Reign coming out of this game was the loss of midfielder Quinn, who rolled their ankle late in the first half and had to be substituted just before halftime. Several other players showed signs of cramping toward the end of the match, and Holmes left in the 77th minute with a potential concussion. While it’s far too early to have any insight into how serious the injuries are, they do serve as a reminder of the risks inherent in a congested schedule.
”I’m glad she scored on someone other than me.”
In postgame comments, Dickey praised Huitema’s effort in pressuring Angel City goalkeeper Brittany Isenhour and talked about how the team works on that in training and she’s often the victim.
“She finishes like that in training every single day,” Dickey said, nodding to Huitema next to her. “I said to her after, ‘I’m glad you scored on someone other than me,’ but I think that was a key for us. First half, we weren’t putting pressure on the goalie and they were getting out and as soon as she came on, she [Isenhour] made a mistake and I think that’s something that we can continue to do.”
“I thought they all stepped up”
In her postgame remarks, Harvey had a lot of praise for Dickey, Ryanne Brown and Shae Holmes stepping into a challenging environment and holding their own. “I think it’s really important that these players get a chance to play and get minutes and get to see what the NWSL is really like. I thought all three of them [Brown, Dickey and Holmes] were great.”
OL Reign has a quick turnaround ahead of their next regular-season match on Saturday. The team flies home on Thursday and has one more opportunity to train before welcoming the Chicago Red Stars to Lumen Field on Saturday, April 22 at 12:30 PM PDT for their Earth Day match. Fans unable to attend the match in person can watch on Paramount+ in the US, on TSN+ in Canada, or on the league website internationally.