The Kentucky Derby may not be until next weekend, but this weekend in Louisville was not without sporting significance, as OL Reign’s visit to Lynn Family Stadium was the NWSL’s 1,000th regular season match. The hosts Racing Louisville absolutely understood the assignment of celebration on Saturday night as they dominated the first half with a two-goal performance directly tied to a very ugly performance by OL Reign.
With nowhere to go but up and perhaps inexplicably given how bad their first half was, OL Reign turned it around in the second half, overcoming the two-goal deficit to return home with a point. A converted penalty by Megan Rapinoe at a nice time (69th minute) and then a 90th minute header by Jordyn Huitema saw OL Reign salvage a draw in Louisville, because of course the milestone match in the NWSL should make absolutely zero sense, which included Racing Louisville’s Savannah DeMelo being sent off.
WHAT WORKED: MEGAN RAPINOE TAKES THE PENALTY...
...and you know what happens next. OL Reign got one back after Racing Louisville goalkeeper Katie Lund took down Jordyn Huitema in the box in a textbook foul.
Death. Taxes. @mPinoe with a nice time to convert the penalty. #NWSL #ReignSupreme #LOUvRGN pic.twitter.com/NumQKiut90— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) April 30, 2023
WHAT WORKED: THE DEMELO SENDING OFF
Already on a yellow card for a foul in the 35th minute, Racing Louisville’s Savannah DeMelo picked up her second on the night in the 73rd minute for delaying a restart. OL Reign’s Sofia Huerta was penalized for the same transgression literally two minutes earlier, yet DeMelo’s lapse would give OL Reign the player advantage, which was just the extra bit of juice OL Reign needed to complete their comeback.
WHAT WORKED: JORDYN HEIGHT-EMA
And that comeback would be capped off in the 90th minute when Jordyn Huitema went up to meet a cross into the box from Alana Cook and got her head on it for OL Reign’s second goal to take a point perhaps in heist fashion at Racing Louisville.
1000th regular season match = chaos, because #NWSL. #ReignSupreme #LOUvRGN pic.twitter.com/tpgO5Qto57— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) April 30, 2023
“She can be a threat in the air, we haven’t seen too much of it yet. It’s something we’ve been working on, talking to her about. Her and Scott [Parkinson] have been doing some work on it. Jordyn works so hard for us, she does so many good things, and doesn’t necessarily get the reward by getting the goals that maybe she could get and deserve. So I’m glad tonight, she was able to get that one,” said OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey after the match about Huitema’s equalizing, point-saving goal.
WHAT WORKED: PHALLON TULLIS-JOYCE
While the two goals conceded are not good, Phallon Tullis-Joyce is the reason why it was just a two-goal deficit for OL Reign to climb back from. She was clutch in making saves to keep Racing Louisville from finding a third goal. This sequence in the 54th minute is example of that and it had former USWNT goalkeeper Saskia Webber who was on color commentary for the Paramount+ feed all sorts of hyped up.
Don't let the score fool you, @phallon91 is putting on a CLINIC! pic.twitter.com/C6qJFzYxuI— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) April 30, 2023
It would have been great if OL Reign were on the winning side tonight, to which Tullis-Joyce would have set a new club record for clean sheets, given the milestone theme of the evening, but regardless, part of why OL Reign were able to overcome their own bad play and dig out of a two-goal hole was because Tullis-Joyce kept them in the match with more of what’s made her such an impact player and fan favorite.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: BURN THE TAPE ON THAT FIRST HALF
The vibes were bad right from kick-off and OL Reign played a very ugly first half. Two goals conceded capped off a half where the ball was majorly in their defensive half and on the very few runs they made into Louisville’s half, they couldn’t connect meaningful passes to put a dangerous ball on the Louisville goal. How bad was it? OL Reign’s first real shot didn’t come until the 27th minute, when a valiant Megan Rapinoe effort went off the crossbar.
Louisville’s press right from kickoff gave OL Reign no time to set their own pace and the first goal concession came in the 7th minute by Paige Monaghan.
PAIGE MONAGHAN OPEN THE SCORING IN THE 1000TH REGULAR SEASON MATCH❗— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) April 29, 2023
And she scores her first goal with @RacingLouFC . pic.twitter.com/jUZGfSrft0
Racing Louisville’s second would come in the 45th minute, courtesy of a long-distance blast by Savannah DeMelo.
TAKE A BOW @Savannah_DeMelo pic.twitter.com/kbKIPJBdUT— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) April 30, 2023
It’s a testament that players have said so many times over that you cannot afford to make mistakes, to not be “on” at any moment in the NWSL. Every team has enough skill to punish any other on a given night, and as inexplicably lucky it turned out for OL Reign to have everything go their way in the second half, that first half was a great example of what players have said about the parity in this league.
“We were our own worst enemy”
Jordyn Huitema talked after the game about the team being the cause of that first half to forget, rather than anything special special that Racing Louisville was doing to them from a tactics perspective. Instead, she stressed that the onus was on OL Reign players for not showing up.
“I don’t think we connected passes, I don’t think our mindset was good. We just didn’t want to win. It looked like we didn’t care and I think it was more so us than them,” said Huitema.
The draw keeps OL Reign near the top of the standings with 10 points through five matches played.
OL Reign get very little time to rest and review this game, as they return home to resume their NWSL Challenge Cup campaign on Wednesday night, hosting Angel City FC in a follow-up to their 2-0 Challenge Cup win in Los Angeles on April 19. Kickoff of OL Reign vs. Angel City FC is scheduled for 7 PM PT, with viewing options being Paramount+ in the US, TSN in Canada, and NWSLsoccer.com for all other international viewers.