(Image courtesy of OL Reign twitter)
OL Reign headed into the NWSL season in an interesting position. Coming off an uneven first year under new manager Farid Benstiti and new ownership structure, the Tacoma club built out a star-studded roster — with many players on a one-year loan — hoping that this will be the year that everything comes together.
With five matches played, that hope is by no means gone, but the reward from such a busy offseason certainly hasn’t come yet. The Reign dropped a 2-1 decision to North Carolina Courage, extending the team’s losing skid to three matches and placing them ninth in the ten-team table at 1-3-1.
“I think, to be honest we’re still a little bit disrupted because we haven’t had our players in and we keep you know we keep getting drips and drabs of players coming in, and then we have to kind of go for everything from the beginning again,” said midfielder Jess Fishlock. “So I think, right now, we can still kind of say that we probably need a little bit more time, but I think that time, in saying that, is running out. So we have to start performing and we have to start picking up points relatively soon, and so I think from now moving forward that we might be a little bit sterner.”
While it is a disappointing result for OL Reign which does the team no favors as far as the table is concerned, it would be hard to expect a squad with so much roster turnover to perform up to expectations right away. Saturday’s game marked season debuts for Sam Hiatt, as well as new signings Alana Cook, Dzsenifer Maroszán and Sarah Bouhaddi in goal. Celia returned to the lineup at right back for the first time since her injury in the season’s first game. Coach Farid Benstiti said after the game that he also had to limit the minutes of players who participated in international matches during the break, such as Fishlock, who was used as a
substitute for the first time in her OL Reign career. Cook echoed Fishlock’s comments and credited her teammates for their work in integrating the new arrivals.
“I think the players who’ve been here are doing a good job helping us out, but it’s gonna take a little bit of time,” said Cook. “But we can’t waste so much time in this league. Every point matters.”
The match played out in the blistering North Carolina heat, measuring at 92 degrees Fahrenheit at Sahlen’s Stadium. OL Reign absorbed pressure and held North Carolina off despite a flat start. North Carolina forward Jessica McDonald scored a back-breaking goal to take the lead in the 45th minute just as OL Reign were hoping to escape the half.
In the 64th minute, Benstiti made his first two substitutions, bringing on Fishlock and Quinn in midfield. The sub nearly paid off immediately, as Fishlock got off a shot a minute after coming on in a chance assisted by Maroszán. Benstiti’s next two subs were also attacking ones, inserting Leah Pruitt and Tziarra King as momentum continued to swing toward OL Reign. However, the Reign conceded once more, as US International Sam Mewis doubled the Courage’s lead.
The Reign shook off the blow and continued to dial up the pressure, leading to their only goal in the 86th minute. Fishlock forced a turnover in North Carolina’s half, dribbled into space and, seeing Courage keeper Casey Murphy was off her line, clinically chipped the backstop to pull the Reign within one. Ultimately, North Carolina absorbed OL Reign’s late rush and walked away with the three points despite the Reign’s efforts to find an equalizer.
“I think we gave ourselves more time to kind of assume the momentum our way, get some more chances, get something going (in the second half),” said Cook. “Last ten minutes are going to be difficult. They’re going to hunker down, and the clock is against us at that point. But you know, I think we gave it our best push at the end.”
While the debuts of the much heralded Maroszán and Bouhaddi from Lyon did not get off to the best of starts, Fishlock aimed to put things in perspective.
“I think we have to be realistic and give them some time to get used to it,” Fishlock said. “This is probably the first time they’ve ever traveled across this country in this heat and played 90 minutes. I thought they both did great today respective of the situation that they’re in and and when you put context to it. And they’re only going to get better. We can’t put too much pressure on them right now, that’s not fair. It’s up to us as a group to get the very best out of them.”
The Reign get a quick chance to avenge the defeat, with a Tuesday meeting with Chicago Red Stars. While a short turnaround will no doubt compound the Reign’s squad rotation, Fishlock hopes that the squad can begin to have some normalcy as the players have more time to adapt to each other’s play.
“Hopefully soon we will get some consistency and we’ll have the same back line playing together for a few games, the same midfield playing together for a few games, and we can start building the relationships that we need to build,” said Fishlock. “I think when we can start doing that then we’ll get like I said, the very best out of each other.”
OL Reign play Chicago on Tuesday, June 22 at 10pm at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma. The match will be broadcast on Twitch.