After a weeknight trip down to Los Angeles saw them pick up their first win in the 2023 NWSL Challenge Cup campaign, OL Reign were back in the comfortable confines of Lumen Field, hosting the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday afternoon. As the opening act to an eventful Saturday in Seattle professional sports, Laura Harvey’s squad put on a multi-goal show for fans to pick up their third win in the young season, 5-2 over the Chicago Red Stars.
The combined seven goals came from a Bethany Balcer double, a Jess Fishlock double, and a Megan Rapinoe deflected free kick for OL Reign. Chicago’s tallies came from Arin Wright and Ally Schlegel.
The braces for Balcer and Fishlock mark the first time in OL Reign history that two players have recorded a brace in the same match.
WHAT WORKED: BALCER’S BRACE IN FIVE MINUTES
The obvious headline of the first half was Bethany Balcer claiming a brace in a five-minute span as part of some beautiful team build-up play. Her first goal in the 15th minute was the result of a great slip pass by Veronica Latsko, a textbook dummy by Jordyn Huitema and then Balcer’s finish as cool as the other side of the pillow.
.@bethanybalcer doing work early— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) April 22, 2023
A well-worked move and a clever dummy from @JordynHuitema helps @OLReign in front! pic.twitter.com/V7OYIXdx46
Balcer’s second came in the 20th as she connected her head on this cross by Lauren Barnes.
Just #BB8 things @bethanybalcer | @OLReign pic.twitter.com/TPnyTxMCDt— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) April 22, 2023
And the sideline-involved celebrations were great, too.
OL Reign celly recap 1/2 pic.twitter.com/qg4hzFnPtv— LP (@LikkitP) April 22, 2023
OL Reign celly recap 2/2 pic.twitter.com/YtRT6ZHdKT— LP (@LikkitP) April 22, 2023
WHAT WORKED: DOUBLE DRAGON
Not just a classic video game from 1987, Fishlock joined teammate Balcer in having her own brace. The first came in stoppage time of the first half.
‼️@JessFishlock | @OLReign pic.twitter.com/BzN4IEpLwe— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) April 22, 2023
Then the effective match-clincher in the 76th minute.
Count 'em @JessFishlock (again) with the brace! pic.twitter.com/wTtHiIwxxQ— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) April 22, 2023
WHAT WORKED: MEGAN RAPINOE & FREE KICKS: A LOVE STORY
They may not happen at the guaranteed frequency of penalty conversions, but Megan Rapinoe reminded everyone that she can still get a goal from a free kick in the 73rd minute. You can pardon our tweeting at the moment as a replay showed a clear deflection off Chicago’s Yuki Nagasato that maybe it gets recorded as an own goal, but for now and one clearly can argue that the goal should stay with Rapinoe as she was going for net and the trajectory was very much on-frame.
It's 4️⃣ for @OLReign! ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️ pic.twitter.com/buKjBIQ2Pw— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) April 22, 2023
WHAT WORKED: THEY KEPT AT IT
Even though Chicago got a goal back in the first half after Balcer’s double, OL Reign kept at it and remained the aggressors. Fishlock’s goal during stoppage time of the first showed a tenacity that fans have been wanting to see for some time. Chicago’s goal to kick off the second half only angered OL Reign players more, and with Megan Rapinoe entering the match to play the second half, this team has people who can score and can light up the scoreboard. They did exactly that today and it was just refreshing to see them be greedy for more goals. Conceding two goals as part of letting up a two-goal lead on two occasions cannot happen and will be addressed when they review the match, but having five goals on your end is a great numbing agent.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: NO HISTORY-MAKING CLEAN SHEET
Chicago did get one goal back in the 32nd minute by Arin Wright. It took a couple of minutes to be confirmed by VAR (who, by the way, was everyone’s favorite referee Daniel Radford) but it did deny Phallon Tullis-Joyce a chance to be the sole holder of being the club’s all-time clean sheets leader. Tullis-Joyce will have to break the record at the next game.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: BAD START TO SECOND HALF
Whatever happened during halftime, OL Reign came out a minute late because Chicago quickly got their second goal moments after the second-half kickoff. Fishlock’s goal in stoppage time of the first half was great insurance, but you surely don’t want it to come into play that quickly from the restart.
“When the league steps up their celebrations, we have to, too.”
That’s how forward Bethany Balcer summarized her goal celebrations and the team’s collective want to make some memorable goal celebrations this season. And to think it all began with Jess Fishlock’s “Chicken Dance.”
“It’s JoJo’s dance!”
And speaking of Jess Fishlock and dancing, the goal celebration dance she did after her first goal can be credited to her nephew.
“Basically my little nephew, he saw my celebration last week and then he wanted to do a dance for me to do. So he sent a message over by my sister and was like, ‘Jessy if you score, do this dance,’ and so he obviously worked on it. And so I was doing it and everyone was like, ‘What’s this?’ and I was like, ‘It’s JoJo’s dance!’ and then everybody started doing it.”
“We had to come out quick and strong”
“Three games in a week is always tough. It’s arguably even tougher when your opponent doesn’t play three games in a week. So, we knew we had to come out quick and strong and on the front foot and I thought we did that. We made it probably more hard work than when it needed to be at times. But yeah, pleased with the overall performance,” said OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey after the match.
Harvey talked about how conceding the two goals, both from situations of having a two-goal lead. would need to be discussed, but she said that the third goal (Fishlock’s first) just before halftime was a turning point.
“Massive. I think that’s probably the bit that we need to talk about as a collective today is how we let them back into the game. I think we shot ourselves in the foot on both goals, really. We need to look at that and talk about that, but the response was good and last year in September here, we dominated the first half against Chicago, winning on one and we should have been four up in that half and we ended up tying that game and, in my mind, before halftime, I was thinking this is déjà vu and then we got that third goal. So, I think that was really important for us. Disappointed to come out in the second half and concede, that’s something we need to talk about. But again, happy with the response,” said Harvey.
The result gives OL Reign their third straight win of the regular season and a very temporary spot at the top of the standings with nine points, with other results around the NWSL pending. Next up is a trip to Kentucky to take on Racing Louisville on Saturday, April 29. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 PM PT. Fans in the US can watch on Paramount+, those in Canada can watch on TSN+, and those elsewhere around the world can watch on NWSLsoccer.com.