(Image courtesy of OL Reign twitter)
In a convincing performance which saw flashes of realized potential for the Tacoma, Washington club’s revamped roster, OL Reign methodically dismantled the Chicago Red Stars en route to a 2-0 win Tuesday night. The Reign picked up three points in front of home fans at Cheney Stadium and snapped their three-game losing skid, their longest such streak since 2013.
“We were definitely motivated, especially having that little losing streak there,” said Reign forward Bethenny Balcer. “We knew this game was so important. Our team is so dangerous, we’re so deep and so we knew what we were capable of in this game and we weren’t concerned at all. We’re at home, we don’t lose at home, and so we just tried to keep that momentum.”
Both teams were operating on a short turnover after playing just days prior this past Saturday. The Bold avenged a 2-1 loss to North Carolina Courage in which they came out of the international break looking disjointed among a spate of recent club debuts. The Reign looked much more comfortable and connected right away, and jumped to a lead in the match’s first minute. Dzsenifer Maroszan found Sofia Huerta during OL Reign’s first possession, who played a ball to Shirley Cruz for the early goal just 55 seconds in—the fastest score in club history. The Reign continued to pour the pressure on throughout the match, dominating the stat sheet with 63% possession and 18 shots with seven on goal. The Reign deservedly doubled their lead in the 17th minute courtesy of a Bethenny Balcer header, finishing a play started by Huerta’s inch-perfect cross to the far post.
“I think we’ve been craving the first goal in all of these matches,” said Balcer. “So to get that within the first minute I think just set the tone for the entire game, which we were able to continue out throughout the whole ninety, which was great. I’m really proud of us because I think we really deserved this win.”
The Reign controlled play in the midfield with Cruz, Quinn, Jess Fishlock leading the way and flustering Chicago with sustained pressure and possession. The stout midfield play and a 75% passing accuracy allowed the Reign front three with Maroszan—who shone after a quiet debut Saturday—to wreak havoc on the Chicago back line.
“We were really balanced,” said Quinn. “I think at times in other matches we’ve not had the discipline of making sure that we have a player holding so we can extinguish their counter. I think we had that discipline and then as well, we were confident and brave to get on the ball and start leading the attack. I’m really happy with our performances in midfield.”
The Reign back line also held Chicago to seven shots and just one shot on goal. The defensive unit which consisted of Madison Hammond, Sam Hiatt, Celia Jimenez and Alana Cook in her second appearance combined with the midfield to relieve pressure and move the ball to the forwards. The back line did make one mistake, when a failed back pass led to a turnover with Chicago getting an open look at goal, but the chance was denied by a crucial save by Sarah Bouhaddi, the French international making her second appearance after joining OL Reign from Lyon. Benstiti was satisfied with his young defense.
“The back line, they are new … they didn’t play many times together,” said Benstiti. “But the younger players, they are the future of OL Reign and I have to get them on the field immediately so I don’t lose time for next year and this setup. If you analyze their quality, they are good defenders, but tactically and technically, with Sarah (Bouhaddi), even if there is a high pressure opponent we can really play through the pressure.”
The Reign now have another short time to prepare for their next opponent, 2021 Challenge Cup winners NJ/NY Gotham FC. The two will battle it out in Tacoma on Saturday afternoon. OL Reign has no shortage of options in the squad, with several world-class players such as Eugenie Le Sommer and Megan Rapinoe coming off the bench in the win over Chicago. These players will both be available and Benstiti anticipates them starting. In his Thursday pre-match press conference, Benstiti said he will wait to make a joint decision with Rose Lavelle on her fitness to rejoin the lineup until the team’s last training session.
“It’s a short time to rebuild the team and to make some changes, but I will not change too many things because we try to be consistent now with the teams,” said Benstiti. “Some players did very well against Chicago and Le Sommer will come in. And Megan (Rapinoe), she’s ready.”
OL Reign and Gotham have already met this month, with Gotham taking the points in a 1-0 decision in New Jersey. Benstiti is preparing his side to make adjustments to earn a better result in the reverse fixture, starting with a plan to prevent Gotham’s outside backs from getting involved offensively and catching out the Reign back line.
“The last game with Gotham in New Jersey, we got a little bit into trouble on the side, defensively. They, many times, came two against one. Secondly … they went through our pressure behind Jess Fishlock and Shirley Cruz and we got a little in trouble with the transitions. Today we spoke about that and tomorrow we will figure out some things … We will focus more about our transition offensively, to really go as quickly as possible because we have the players to do it.
Saturday’s match could very much be hampered by the elements, as forecasters are predicting record high temperatures in the Tacoma area, with a high of 106 degrees possible. Given the match’s start time of 1pm local time, Benstiti raised the possibility that the match may need to be delayed to preserve the safety of the participants.
“I’m not sure they can do it because of TV, many things organized for the time but … we maybe have to do it because the players are more important,” said Benstiti. “Safety is more important than the game.
The Reign are set to take on Gotham FC at Cheney Stadium on Saturday, June 26 at 4pm ET. The match will be broadcast on the streaming service Paramount+.
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