Bethany Balcer knew she needed to get into the box late in the OL Reign’s game against Portland. When she did, the Reign’s leading goal scorer timed her run to perfection, arriving at just the right spot — past the outstretched arms of the Thorns’ goalie — to head home Veronica Latsko’s cross in the 81st minute.
The forward’s late-game equalizer stole a 2-2 draw from the rival Thorns and extended the Reign’s unbeaten streak against Portland to seven games.
“I was not losing to Portland, absolutely not, that was not happening today,” said Balcer, who has scored in three consecutive games. “It’s nice to see the work that I’ve put in show out on the field. … It’s just been fun to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Sunday’s tie means the Reign (4-2-5, 17 points) remain unbeaten at home this season. In a matchup between the NWSL’s best defenses — Portland (4-1-6, 18 points) had allowed eight goals before Sunday’s game, trailing only the Reign’s six goals allowed — it was the Thorns’ unit who prevailed. Reign defender Phoebe McClernon scored a fluky own goal, and the Reign left Portland’s Hina Sugita unmarked at the back post for the second goal.
“Both goals are going to be goals we look back on and are disappointed,” Harvey said. “We pride ourselves on, if someone’s going to score against us, they’ve got to score really good goals, and I didn’t feel either goal was great.”
McClernon’s own goal was the first conceded by the Reign at Lumen Field since May 8. The 60th-minute goal marked the first time they’ve allowed multiple goals in the same game since the second game of the season.
For the second week in a row, the Reign were without eight players because of international duty, including key players Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle, Sofia Huerta and Quinn. New signing Tobin Heath was on the bench for the first time but didn’t play. Another four players were in health and safety protocols — Harvey said the team didn’t get to practice much this week and had limited interaction because of COVID-related complications.
“Today was chaotic. We’ve had a week, as a group, it’s been tough,” Harvey said. “So to come back twice, to show that fight and that determination, I’m very proud of this group.”
The Reign showed their depth on Sunday just like last weekend. In front of the largest stand-alone crowd in club history (9,032), Olivia Athens scored her first career goal in her first professional start.
The Thorns tried to clear the ball in the 13th minute, but the attempt ricocheted off another Portland player. The ball landed perfectly in Athens’ path, and the midfielder fired past the goalie to draw the game level almost instantly after the Reign’s defensive blunder.
Seconds prior, the Reign scored an own goal. Portland had crossed the ball into the box in the 12th minute, and as McClernon went to kick the ball, she slipped. Goalie Phallon Tullis-Joyce appeared to be coming to pick up the ball. But McClernon’s touch came first. The center back could only watch as her soft pass — presumably a backward one for Tullis Joyce — trickled into the bottom right corner of her own net to give Portland a 1-0 lead.
“We were playing well, so when we went down 1-0, it didn’t take the wind out of our sails, cause I felt like we still had the momentum, hence why we scored immediately after,” Balcer said.
After the burst of excitement, with goals on both ends in quick succession, the game calmed down. Both teams exchanged possession in the middle third of the field, and neither created many dangerous chances as they had more trouble settling the ball down and stringing together long sequences of passes.
Portland’s best chance at a go-ahead goal during the first half came in stoppage time. Defender Sam Hiatt tried to shield the ball as it was headed toward the end line, but a Portland attacker sneaked around her and stole it. The Thorns crossed the ball into the box, and the Reign were fortunate that the ensuing shot went straight at Tullis-Joyce.
Harvey said Friday that the game would be “a bit more spicy” because of the rivalry with Portland, but that the Reign’s approach and tactics would remain the same. The Reign have already played the Thorns twice in 2022 in the NWSL Challenge Cup, winning one game 1-0 and drawing the other 1-1 and once in league play, a 0-0 draw.
“Both teams respect each other immensely and hate each other immensely,” Harvey said. “It’s the game that everyone circles, every year.”
She also said that the game, which was streamed only on Twitch, should have been on national television. It’s “mind-blowing” that it wasn’t, she said, because big rivalries like this one that help grow women’s soccer.
Down the final stretch of Sunday’s game, the Reign began building pressure as they worked to level the score line. The substitutes that came on really added a spark, Harvey said.
Barnes’ cross from the left side drifted, and clanked off the top of the cross bar in the 70th minute. Fishlock found herself unmarked, on the end of a cross, in the 78th minute but Portland’s goalie made an acrobatic save to tip the header over the net.
And eventually, Balcer found the back of the net to rescue her team and extend the unbeaten streak against their rivals.
“Never say die, especially against Portland,” Athens said. “The resilience of this team is unmatched.”