Sam Laity knew where the game was going.
OL Reign went into the break up 1-0 following a goal from midfielder Jess Fishlock, but several missed chances, thanks in part to the heroics of Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, gave Laity, the interim head coach of the Reign, déjà vu.
It was almost the exact situation the Reign were in a week prior, when a 1-0 halftime lead collapsed in eight minutes against the Chicago Red Stars, resulting in a 3-1 defeat. So Laity did something different.
“At halftime, I gave them my postgame speech early, and I said I was disappointed for them that they’d lost the game,” he said. “My opinion was that we had created a lot of chances and we weren’t ruthless enough. We were not taking advantage of moments of anxiety through our pressure.”
Laity’s halftime talk worked. Six minutes after the restart, Eugénie Le Sommer, leading the line in place of Bethany Balcer, who didn’t start due to a left ankle injury, intercepted a Pride pass as Orlando tried to build out of the back. The French forward backheeled the ball to an onrushing Tziarra King, and the winger cut inside onto her strong foot before curling a shot into the far post which even Harris couldn’t save, securing the 2-0 win. It’s OL Reign’s second win in its past three games.
The goal was also King’s first since arriving from Utah Royals FC, and capped off a productive day for the winger, who also assisted Fishlock’s goal in the first half.
“Truthfully, I didn’t think it was real,” she said. “My brain was like, ‘There’s no way it went in that easy.”
King was rightfully wary of her shot, mainly due to Harris. The World Cup Champion keeper was pretty close to perfect Saturday, saving a penalty from Fishlock and an indirect free kick from Dzenifer Marozsán inside the penalty box. Le Sommer and King also had multiple chances saved. The Reign put 12 shots on target — Harris saved 10 of them.
All of the Reign’s chances came due to its high press. The Reign forced the Pride into trouble from the very kickoff, as the combination of King, Le Sommer, Fishlock, and Sofia Huerta harried the Pride defense into chance after chance.
Fishlock’s goal came in the same way. With the Pride trying to build out of the back, King dispossessed right back Ali Krieger. With the Orlando block out of position and the Reign attackers streamed forward, all King had to do was play in Fishlock, who spun her defender out of the way for a one-on-one chance against Harris.
Pressure may have made the goal, but calmness finished it. Fishlock coolly slipped the ball past Harris at her near post, and gave the Reign a deserved 1-0 lead.
Once the Reign had its lead, all it had to do was lock things down. The team managed a clean sheet, just the second time the Pride had been shutout all season as Alanna Cook, Sam Hiatt, Lauren Barnes, and Madison Hammond kept the potent Pride attack at bay, screened by Dani Weatherholt, who came into the side for Balcer.
“A big part of what I’ve tried to do since I’ve been interim head coach is to stabilize the team a little bit and to try to build relationships,” Laity said. “For whatever reason, the team had been changing and I felt especially that we needed to have a back line that spent time working and playing together. I think now we’re gradually beginning to see the fruits of spending time together.”
The Reign will return home for the first time in two weeks to take on Racing Louisville FC at Cheney Stadium next Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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