Riding a wave of positive results, including a thrilling 2-1 Cascadia Rivalry victory over Portland, OL Reign look to cash in on their momentum on Sunday against Washington Spirit. The Reign’s win over the Thorns extends the Tacoma club’s unbeaten streak to four games across all competitions and has them fourth in the table with a game in hand.
The Spirit will also enter Sunday’s match with positive momentum after overcoming a chaotic week which saw their midweek match against Houston moved from the DC area to Texas. Despite the last-minute venue change, the Spirit grabbed a 2-1 win over last year’s Challenge Cup winners.
“They definitely are going to ride the wave of momentum of their exciting midweek win,” Reign defender Kristen McNabb said of her team’s upcoming opponent. “But in a similar situation, we had a big win last week versus our rivals Portland. It will probably be a little hectic at first but I hope we settle in and play our style of play and not let them dictate the tempo too much.”
The Spirit boast a revamped roster which includes Trinity Rodman, the speedy and skillful forward who has lived up to the hype early on in the season. Rodman and Washington’s forwards have allowed the Spirit to supplement their possession-forward approach with a direct attack, emphasizing buildup from the fullbacks onward and looking for runs behind the defense. Reign coach Farid Benstiti said he doesn’t anticipate his side making any dramatic tactical adjustments.
“It’s a different style, and we have to try to adapt, but we will not change too many things,” said Benstiti. “We want to be strong, fast, simple and use our potential offensively. 100 percent, when we have the opportunity to go forward, we’ll do it.”
OL Reign are in the midst of a roster rebuild of their own. Their most recent major signing, Rose Lavelle, will be available for Sunday’s game, having arrived ahead of the much-discussed trio of stars on loan from parent club Olympique Lyonnais. Lavelle has been training with the team this week after a spell with Manchester City in the English Women’s Super League. Benstiti has big plans for the US international.
“I really want to try to push Rose to be one of the most efficient players in our team, that’s very important,” said Benstiti. “We have to be very ambitious with Rose, because she can do what we really expect about her if we are very clear with it. She can help a lot for the team to win some games.”
Benstiti said he may restrict her minutes early, but noted that Lavelle arrived match-fit and ready to make an impact, and has fit in well with her teammates immediately.
“It’s very good for us, for her because of the players I have in the locker room,” Benstiti said. “They are very, very good, very nice, and they will accept her immediately. She will not [need] time to adapt. She will be immediately with the team.”
Lavelle echoed her coach’s sentiment about her new teammates.
“I did have a little bit of ‘first day of school’ nerves my first day I came in, but everybody has been super welcoming,” said Lavelle. “They have been really great in helping me integrate with the team, both in the locker room and on the field.”
Lavelle’s first match back in the NWSL comes against familiar faces for the national team star. Before moving to Manchester City and having her NWSL rights transferred to OL Reign, Lavelle enjoyed a successful tenure with Washington. Spirit coach Richie Burke was asked about Lavelle shortly after news of her signing broke, and admitted with a smile that he was “dreading” facing his former player.
“I think she’ll have a little bit of extra motivation. I know Rosie well. She’s an absolutely brilliant personality,” said Burke earlier this month. “But when she gets the bit between her teeth and she’s got something to prove, you need to watch out.”
Lavelle spoke very highly of her former team and called the matchup “fitting,” but the two time NWSL Best XI and FIFPro World XI honoree did not project any extra importance in the match against Washington
“I think every game, as an athlete, you have to treat every game as a big game,” said Lavelle. “So, I mean, I’m just gonna have fun, enjoy it and hopefully win.”
Rapinoe Talks Her Sh*t After Cascadia Win
Lavelle will join her USWNT teammate Megan Rapinoe, who marked her first start this season in style, contributing a goal in the Portland win. Rapinoe has dealt with some nagging injuries and limited minutes. This match was an opportunity to really enjoy her football, she told reporter Katelyn Best in the postgame presser. Her enjoyment was evident upon watching her bring her signature energy and swagger to the derby — on the pitch as well as in the media room.
“Outside of playing international football, this is the biggest and the best, and the most fun game that you could possibly play,” said Rapinoe. “It’s a great atmosphere, the Thorns fans need no introduction, they’re incredible. They have one big problem though: they love me. So it’s really difficult for them to cheer against me. So when I scored, I had to go right over and really talk my s**t, and I was trying to talk my s**t to them and they just kind of didn’t know what to do. And then finally someone gave me a big double ‘f**k you,’ middle fingers up, and I was like ‘That’s what I’m talking about! That’s the kind of rivalry that we want.’”
Rapinoe continued her bid for most quotable player when The Athletic’s Meg Linehan asked about who is filling the villain role this year, and the importance of keeping personality and rivalry alive in the NWSL.
“The Thorns are always a**holes, everybody hates them, that’s the general vibe” laughed Rapinoe. “They’re always good, they’ve got the best stadium, they’ve got the best fans, they always have incredible talent on the field. So everybody’s always gunning for them, they’ve got a big target on their backs, which I think, for them is a privilege.”
She continued, sharing how she loves the personal narratives and smack-talk that unfolds throughout the season.
“I love it, I love all the s**t-talking, I hope all the social media managers are going wild on every team. And Gotham New York New Jersey Sky Blue FC have their own little thing going on. I always think it’s fun, all the little side-narrative and sideshows, and that’s kind of what keeps the fans entertained. I think that’s what will kind of take us to the next level as this league continues to grow.”
Rapinoe remarked on how important the rivalry win is early on for her club.
“So proud of the team,” said Rapinoe. “Huge performance to be able to lock in, score two goals here, and be able to lock in for the rest of the game and bring three points home, as we leave tonight, is massive for the season. Knowing it’ll kind of be a bit choppy going into the Olympic break, this is a big win for us.”
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Photo Credit: OL Reign Twitter