Reign, Courage Battle to Scoreless Draw in Matchweek One
2021 NWSL regular season play arrived with a bit of a thud for OL Reign and North Carolina Courage, who had to settle for splitting the points in a 0-0 draw on Saturday night. Both teams overcame a sloppy start to create some scoring chances, but ultimately a lack of finishing quality plagued both squads, preventing each from opening their accounts on the scoresheets in week one.
The match got off to a fast start in the Reign’s own third, with Courage center back Abby Erceg redirecting a strong corner kick supplied by Carson Pickett that glanced just off and over the crossbar off of Erceg’s head.
The two sides traded possession in midfield for much of the first half, with both teams pressing hard in each other’s half. North Carolina looked to attack mainly from the left wing with long balls to and from Pickett, while the Reign tried to create chances from interceptions as the Courage backs played the ball between each other in the early goings.
Play was physical from the jump, with the referee playing on after several strong challenges early, but eventually issuing a yellow to NC skipper Erceg, who denied Leah Pruitt a goal scoring opportunity with a foul after Pruitt forced an interception outside the box. Jess Fishlock’s resulting free kick sailed just high of the goal in the 21st minute.
Reign wing back Celia picked up a knock and had to be substituted out of caution in the 24th minute by coach Farid Benstiti. When asked about the injury post-game, Benstiti said that it looked like a hamstring issue that will require further evaluation.
The Reign’s back line bent but never broke, though a few sloppy moments led to quality chances for the Courage, especially on corners and other set pieces, where Pickett’s service ability shined. Reign goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was tested just before halftime when a mixup between Sofia Huerta and Lauren McNabb led to an open look for NC’s Havana Solaun, which Bardsley gathered at the near post.
Reign left back Lauren Barnes went the full 90 minutes, quarterbacking the Reign defense to a clean sheet in while marking a milestone 150th appearance with the team. Barnes has been with the Reign since their founding in 2013; she became the first player in NWSL history to mark 150 matches with the same club.
OL Reign’s midfield performed well in limiting touches and chances for North Carolina’s dangerous front line, even without the service of their regular starter in the left defensive midfielder position, Quinn. Dani Weatherhold slotted into Quinn’s place, combining nicely with Fishlock and, in the second half, Bethany Balcer, to shut down Debinha and the Courage attack.
The Reign’s play improved steadily in all phases throughout the duration of the match, with solid buildup leading to quality chances from the 60th minute on. Pruitt sliced an inch-perfect through-ball leading to a shot on goal for Balcer in the 61st. Forward Megan Rapinoe entered the match in the second half and made a quick impact on the left wing, helping to create OL Reign’s two best scoring chances. In the 68th minute, Rapinoe caught up to a weighted pass from Balcer, neatly dribbled the ball away from Courage defender Merrit Mathias and onto her right foot, and smashed a shot off the left post. Just minutes later, Rapinoe outfought North Carolina’s Denise O’Sullivan before going on a zig-zag run and and stroking a through-ball to Pruitt, who found Balcer and forced goalkeeper Casey Murphy into action with a one-handed save.
The two sides exchanged runs in an increasingly frenetic final 25 minutes, but neither broke through and they settled for a nil-nil result to open regular season play.
Though the Reign created several prime scoring opportunities against a strong Courage side, they lacked finishing ability in the final third. Fishlock, who led The Bold’s attack with five shots, stressed that the chances are signs of positive progress, and that the goals will come.
“The most important thing is that we are progressing in our performances,” said Fishlock. “If we keep creating those amounts of chances, as the games go on, we’re going to score two, three goals every time. This is our level now, we do not drop this. All we do is get better and better.”
Officially Official: Lavelle Signs with Reign as Allocated Player
After nearly a week of speculation and unconfirmed reports, the deal is done: Rose Lavelle will be joining OL Reign as a US Allocated Player, the team announced Monday.
Lavelle, who is expected to join the squad as early as May 30 for a game against her former NWSL team Washington Spirit, has spent the 2020-2021 season with FA Women’s Super League side Manchester City, making 20 appearances in all competitions with the Sky Blues. The US international midfielder was 2017’s top overall draft pick, has been named to the Best XI of both the 2019 NWSL season and the 2020 Challenge Cup. She is a bona fide world superstar, thanks to her memorable 2019 World Cup performance which saw her net three goals — including the 2-0 goal in the final which cemented an American victory over the Netherlands.
News of Lavelle’s signing was first reported by The Equalizer’s Jeff Kassouf. Reign gaffer Farid Benstiti appeared to have accidentally confirmed the reports ahead of the team’s official announcement. In an answer to this reporter at a press conference about what he was looking to to get out of the matches before the arrival of his star signings from Europe, which were then limited to Eugénie Le Sommer, Dzenifer Marozsán and Sarah Bouhaddi, he responded:
“If I start to anticipate how I will play with Lavelle or Le Sommer — Le Sommer for sure — Marozsán, or Sarah, it will be a mistake.”
Lavelle’s NWSL rights were acquired from Washington Spirit for $200,000 in allocation money paid over two installments: one up front and the other in the event Lavelle returned to the NWSL. Lavelle joins her City teammate Sam Mewis in returning to the NWSL this transfer window; Mewis announced her impending return to North Carolina Courage this week.
Reign CEO Bill Predmore praised Lavelle’s talents in a Monday press release.
“We believe Rose has the ability to be the best player in the world,” said Predmore. “She is an extraordinary talent that is the perfect fit for our long-term vision for the team.”
Lavelle, for her part, expressed her excitement at returning stateside and joining the Tacoma club. “I just wanted to say how excited I am for this next chapter of my career with this team,” said Lavelle. “I am really looking forward to getting to Tacoma and being a part of what they are building there … I can’t wait to be a part of it with OL Reign.”
The Reign’s next match is Sunday, May 23 against Challenge Cup winners Portland Thorns FC at 6pm on CBS Sports Network.
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Photo Credit: OL Reign Twitter