On a rainy night in Louisville, it seemed just about all of OL Reign’s offense had dried up.
The club played its first match against the expansion side Racing Louisville FC on Saturday. It wasn’t until late in the second half that the Reign had a breakthrough, slipping away with a 1-1 draw at Lynn Family Stadium.
The Reign is on a four-match unbeaten streak. It was in danger of being denied a goal for the first time since an Aug. 14 road loss against Kansas City. Now the club has scored 16 goals in its past eight games.
“We come away from this game disappointed that we (didn’t win outright),” Reign coach Laura Harvey said. “That says where we’re at, honestly, as a group that we come away disappointed. … Happy for the group that we grinded out a ridiculous schedule of three games in seven days and traveled across the country, which is mind-blowing to me. But the overarching emotion right now is that we’re disappointed not to come away with three points.”
Forward Bethany Balcer had the equalizer for the Reign. Sofia Huerta lofted a cross right to Balcer’s crown, the latter scoring off a header in the 74th minute. It’s her eighth of the season, which leads the NWSL Golden Boot race.
The draw also inched the Reign into sole possession of second place in the league table. The Bold (9-7-2) is a point ahead of the North Carolina Courage and behind the Portland Thorns FC.
Louisville (4-8-5) scored in the 23rd minute on a counterattack. Huerta and Reign defender Alana Cook flanked Nadia Nadim, Cook going for the tackle in the box. Nadim quickly recovered the ball and buried a right-footed shot in the back of the net.
OL Reign dominated possession in the opening half at 60% on the rain-soaked field. The Bold had four shots on frame but couldn’t get past Louisville keeper Michelle Betos. The native New Yorker played two different stints with the Reign, including last season, and was selected by Racing in the expansion draft.
Betos was equally stingy in the second half. Balcer’s header was high and out of reach. Betos finished with six saves.
“We tested her, we just need to be more clinical,” Reign defender Lu Barnes said of her former teammate who remains a close friend. “(At halftime), we talked about competing a little bit more in the air, winning those first and second battles. That’s a mentality on our end, so it was easy to change.”
Playing the final of three games in seven days, Harvey pulled midfielders Jess Fishlock and Quinn from the starting rotation. Harvey brought both on in the 60th minute and Fishlock helped create a near-chance in the box for Tziarra King in the 65th minute that Betos saved.
Quinn had an attempt from distance in the 67th minute that also was saved.
Fishlock thought she had the game-winner in the 90th minute. She was instead called offside.
“Coming on and being able to change the game for us is exactly what we needed,” Barnes said. “Both Quinn and Jess totally set fire when they came on. We had momentum the whole (second half), we were definitely the better team. Unfortunately, we gave up a pretty easy goal in the first half. If we didn’t, 1-0 should be enough in this league (to win).”
Racing played its first match since firing coach Christy Holly “for cause” on Tuesday. Mario Sanchez, a former youth academy and NCAA coach, was named the interim coach through the remainder of the 2021 season.
The Reign could face another team in the midst of a roster shake-up next week. The club is scheduled to play the Washington Spirit at Audi Field on Sept. 12 and is traveling to D.C. on Sunday to train and prepare there instead of returning home. But the match is in question after Washington had its game against Portland postponed Saturday due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
At least four Spirit players tested positive for the virus. Multiple reports state eight Washington players are unvaccinated. Portland requires full vaccination and masks in order to enter Providence Park.
“I don’t know what’s going on with Washington, so it would be unfair for me to comment,” Harvey said. “To give the players a chance to recover, we’re not going to fly back across the country to fly back again. We decided to stay on the east coast. So, I’m hoping the league can decide what’s happening with that game quickly so we can prepare the way that we need to.”