After managing OL Reign to a thrilling 2-1 win over bitter rivals Portland Thorns FC on Sunday, Laura Harvey stood with her players in the endzone of Lumen Field in front of the over 27,000 cheering fans — an NWSL record — and drank it all in.
“I think every single person that’s touched this club — whether it be a coach, whether it be a player, whether it be a fan or a member of staff who’s worked behind the scenes, for years, or whether it be ownership or investors in this club — we’ve all dreamt of a day like Sunday,” Harvey said.
Harvey’s first Cascadia rivalry game back in charge was a success for the Reign in just about every measurable: the record crowd, the world-class stadium and atmosphere, not to mention the three points taken from their league-leading rivals. It was a fitting result that encapsulates Harvey’s fairytale return to the club so far. And the positive momentum showed little signs of slowing mid-week, when the Reign bagged another three points by gritting out a 1-0 victory in the punishing Houston heat over the Dash on Wednesday.
“Playing in this heat in a three-game week, sometimes you just throw tactics aside and you just got to battle, and you just have to work really hard for each other,” said Reign forward Bethany Balcer, who picked up her seventh goal of the season, after the win over Houston. “It wasn’t the prettiest soccer we’ve ever played, but we got the job done and got the three points, which is what we want to do.”
That win, their second of the week and third in a row, pushed OL Reign closer to a playoff bye; while they remain third in the table, their 28 points are now tied with second-place North Carolina Courage heading into their third game of the week against Racing Louisville FC on Saturday. It also showed a drastic difference from the Reign we saw tumble down the table in the early goings of the season. Even when they don’t play their best soccer, things still click, and points are still picked up. Under coaches Sam Laity and Laura Harvey, the Reign have won seven of their last nine matches dating back to July 11. It’s a stunning turnaround to be sure, but Reign players have always believed these results were possible given the talent in the locker room.
“I think we knew all along that this is what we were capable of, it was just a matter of it clicking finally and getting all the right pieces together,” Balcer said. “Once Sam took over, and then Laura, they’ve just been so great at preparing us for games and really making each individual player shine and use the gifts they have.”
Sofia Huerta, a seven-year NWSL veteran, echoed her teammate’s sentiments. “I don’t think people understand how much a good coach really can do for a team,” Huerta said. “There’s concise information, we know exactly what we’re doing. The quality starts from the top, and I think you can see that in our play.”
The Reign now have another quick turnaround to cap a grueling week as they travel to Louisville for a Saturday meeting. While Racing Louisville will be slightly more well-rested having last played on Sunday, August 29 with no midweek match, this will be OL Reign’s third match over a span of seven days. Harvey believes the positive momentum of the points picked up over the week will help carry them through the strenuous schedule.
“Obviously a quick turnaround is never easy, but I think obviously getting a result on the road was the priority and we obviously got that so it puts us in a good position leading into Saturday’s game,” Harvey said. “Physically everyone’s doing okay. We have training [Friday afternoon] so we’ll see a little bit more then of where people are at in preparation for tomorrow.”
Canadian gold medalist Quinn, who has acquitted themself well since returning to the squad, says the similarly hectic schedule at the Olympics, where teams typically only have two days rest in between matches, helped them prepare for these stretches in the NWSL season.
“You know what to prioritize — your sleep, your recovery and whatnot,” Quinn said. “I think mentally, it also helps having experience with that, so I think those are good learnings that I’ve had and are helpful for this as well.”
Whatever advantage Louisville may have gleaned from the extra rest that comes with a more traditional turnaround, the expansion side have had their fair share of adversity to face in the midweek preparations. Head coach Christy Holly was let go by the team for cause, though the exact reasons for his dismissal are unclear at this point. The team will be led by interim coach Mario Sanchez, a career college coach who took charge of Louisville’s men’s and women’s youth academy in 2019. While Harvey acknowledges there may be some tactical differences from the last time the Reign faced Racing, a 2-0 Reign victory at the end of July, she does not believe in making wholescale changes to the game plan.
“There’s always a chance that things could change a little bit, but the reality is the players are still the same players,” Harvey said. “Obviously the field size is a little bit different. They’re at home so we’ve looked at a few things about how they play at home, compared to how they play away, just little bits like that. We plan as if things are going to be the same … If there’s changes to how they look when the game comes around, we’ll be prepared for them.”
OL Reign will be without forward Megan Rapinoe, whose four goals over the last three matches earned her Player of the Month honors for August. She was named to the NWSL Team of the Month, along with midfielder Jess Fishlock who had four goal involvements over four August starts. While Rapinoe has been added to the injury list, one notable name has come off of it: Ally Watt, who has spent over a full calendar year recovering from various surgeries related to an ACL tear in her pro debut with the North Carolina Courage in 2020, has been fully cleared and activated to the full roster.
OL Reign will visit Racing Louisville FC on Saturday, September 4 at 7:30pm at Louisville, KY’s Lynn Family Stadium. The match will be broadcast in the US on Paramount+ and internationally on Twitch.
(Image courtesy of OL Reign twitter)