OL Reign Travel to New Jersey Looking to Bounce Back From Washington Defeat

By: Justin McMullen
Posted: June 3, 2021

Reign Look Forward to Gotham after tough loss to Washington

OL Reign will travel to Red Bull Arena and Gotham FC on Saturday hoping to shrug off a disappointing week three defeat to Washington Spirit. The Spirit snapped the Reign’s four-match unbeaten streak after a scramble on a 52nd-minute corner kick led to an own goal credited to Megan Rapinoe and sent Washington home with their second straight road win by a score of 1-0. 

“It was bad,” said Megan Rapinoe after the match. “It was really bad … we needed to play a lot better.” 

The stat sheet might misleadingly appear to tell a different story; OL Reign controlled possession 57% of the time, outshot Washington 14-12, and managed 31 crosses, though few if any chances OL Reign created — most of which came in the first half — posed any real threat to Spirit keeper Aubrey Beldsoe. Megan Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock were effective in spurring OL Reign’s attack, often combining with each other and each managing three shots, to no avail. Rose Lavelle also shone in her first appearance back in NWSL for OL Reign against her former side. 

“She was brilliant today and created all kinds of problems,” said Spirit coach Richie Burke of Lavelle. “We dodged a bullet for 60 minutes.” 

By the time Lavelle exited the game in the 63rd minute as Reign coach Farid Benstiti signalled she would, things had already gone south for The Bold. The Spirit’s 52nd-minute own goal to permanently break the tie was emblematic of OL Reign’s lack of organization, particularly in their own third. Reign goalkeeper Karen Bardsley mistimed her attempt at punching away Julia Roddar’s corner kick, and the ball caromed off of Rapinoe into the net. Giveaways and poor marking, particularly in the 57th and 71st minutes, gifted Washington’s Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch and Ashley Sanchez with several scoring chances that just missed throughout the second half, leaving OL Reign fortunate to remain just 1-0 down. 

“We have to understand the game better as a team and individually that every day we come out and we’re holding at least a very certain level and can’t drop below that,” said Rapinoe. 

Responding to a question by Ride of the Valkyries’ Steve Voght, Fishlock reflected on the result in OL Reign’s press conference previewing Saturday’s tie with Gotham. 

“We were disappointed on the weekend that we weren’t able to attack with authority and assertiveness,” said Fishlock. “We got into some good spaces and we really had the ball in Washington’s half and final third, and we didn’t have quality, at the end of the day. We have a team that has a lot of quality, so we just really didn’t figure that out.” Fishlock stopped shy of calling her squad’s showing against Washington a bad performance, but acknowledged that the team needs to improve “quality and efficiency” ahead of their next match. 

Another unfortunate occurrence for OL Reign came in the Spirit clash, with starting keeper Karen Bardsley having to be subbed off in the 86th minute for a serious hamstring issue. Benstiti intimated that Bardsley, whose loan from Manchester City expires at the end of the month, would not appear again for OL Reign. It’s not yet clear how this injury affects her plans to appear with Team Great Britain at this summer’s Olympic Games. 

OL Reign will have to adjust to new surroundings against Gotham FC, previously Sky Blue FC, as Gotham has settled into their new home stadium, the 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena. Not only is the New Jersey stadium’s seating area much larger than OL Reign’s Cheney Stadium, the playing surface much larger as well, at 120 yards long and 75 yards wide. Cheney Stadium’s pitch is 110 yards by 70, which means The Bold will have to account for an excess of surface area compared to their home grounds. 

“When the pitch is that big, you just have to really be smart,” said Fishlock. “You have to be smart with your defending, with your attacking, which spaces you want to use, how you want to use those spaces … Gotham obviously have an advantage. They play there, they know what it’s like, [while] we have to travel. But we’re ready.” 

Gotham FC’s recent rebrand hasn’t just been limited to the crest on their jersey; a change in management and improvement in conditions in recent years — including but not limited to the new venue — have brought the side a rejuvenated swagger that has coincided with an uptick in on-field performance. Gotham have transformed from perennial bottom-dwellers in the NWSL to competing for trophies in their first season under the new name — they narrowly lost this year’s pre-season Challenge Cup after drawing Portland and losing the resulting penalty shootout by one goal. Fishlock, though, is not daunted by Gotham’s new look. 

“They’re the same squad, same team, same philosophy, same style,” said Fishlock. “That hasn’t changed, they’ve just got way cooler.” 

Reign Trade Jasmyne Spencer to Houston

Forward Jasmyne Spencer has been dealt to the Houston Dash in return for a third-round pick in next year’s college draft, the team announced Monday. Spencer, 30, has spent three seasons with the Reign, one of which was marred by a torn ACL.  Overall, Spencer has appeared in 33 matches for the Tacoma club and earned two goals and an assist. 

Though a seasoned veteran with over 100 matches of NWSL experience and several more appearances overseas, Spencer has fallen down the clubhouse pecking order as OL Reign have stacked their roster with stars at the forward and midfield position, including incoming arrivals from parent club Olympique Lyonnais such as Eugénie Le Sommer and Dzsenifer Marozsán, as well as USWNT star Lavelle. 

“We know she must have an opportunity to play this season, but with us we believe her playing time will be limited,” said Benstiti in a press release. “We are sad and it is hard to have her go, but we are very happy for her that she will have this opportunity.”

Reign Join Seattle Pro Sports Teams in Supporting Pride Month Initiatives

June 1st marked the first day of Pride Month, and OL Reign have marked the occasion by partnering with the rest of the Seattle-area professional sports teams across the NHL, MLB, MLS, NFL and WNBA, to support initiatives related to the LGBTQ+ community. 

The team announced its public support for the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s new gender-inclusive toolkit which offers resources for leaders in youth athletics in supporting transgender gender diverse athletes and K-12 students. In contrast to Tuesday’s signing of a bill by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on the first day of Pride Month — and 11 days before the 5th anniversary of the Pulse Nighclub shooting in Orlando — which prohibits transgender girls from participating in interscholastic sports teams that match their gender identity, the WIAA’s toolkit aims to aid in their efforts to make Washington state “the most inclusive place for youth sports participation in the country,” according to a video released by the WIAA and the professional teams. 

“By providing an inclusive toolkit, coaches and administrators can take confident educated steps towards creating the most safe and welcoming environment for all youth who are interested in participating in any sport at any level,” said WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman in a press release. 

The move in support of trans youth athletes comes at a time when state legislatures across the country are aiming to pass legislation restricting trans students’ access to youth sports. Bills similar to the one signed by DeSantis on Tuesday have been passed in seven other states: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia. 

Reign midfielder Quinn, who is trans and uses they/them pronouns, shared a message in their pre-match outfit ahead of the team’s match against Washington, wearing a sweatshirt that read, simply: “Protect trans kids.” 

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Image courtesy of The Seattle Times

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