OL Reign opens its 2021 campaign Friday.
The Bold will host the Houston Dash at 7:30 p.m. in the National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma. About 1,500 fans are expected to be in attendance, a first since the club’s 2019 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Jay Inslee moved Pierce County back to Phase 2 earlier this week due to rising COVID-19 metrics. But professional sports teams were among the organizations approved to continue operating under Phase 3 guidelines, including hosting spectators up to 25 percent of a facility’s capacity.
“(We) are excited to get back to playing football after a long preseason,” OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti said in a news release. “We have worked hard to come together as a team and are looking forward to competing in this tournament.”
Scoring goals was an issue for the Reign during the truncated 2020 NWSL season where the league regionalized teams for a four-match Fall Series after a Challenge Cup summer tournament in Utah. The Reign added several new faces, including forward Tziarra King and Brazilian midfielder Angelina to help in the attack.
In addition to roster changes, fans will notice new uniforms for the Reign. The club’s two-year partnership with Zulily ended in February. For the Challenge Cup, the Reign will instead have “Black Future Co-op Fund” emblazoned on the front of their primary and secondary jerseys.
The co-op is Washington’s first all Black-led philanthropic organization, which was created to help grow Black generational wealth, health and well-being.
“During our transition between presenting partners, we recognized that our club had an incredible opportunity to use our most valuable media asset to raise awareness for an organization that we care deeply about,” Reign CEO and co-owner Bill Predmore said in a news release. “We believe that by being featured on our jerseys we can help them make a greater and more immediate impact within our community.”
The Challenge Cup opened play last week and was a contentious start to the NWSL’s season.
The four matches resulted in multiple fines and suspensions being levied by the league Tuesday for misconduct from players to owners. The league also opened an investigation under its new anti-harassment policy after Chicago Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden posted a Twitter thread about being racially discriminated after their road match against Houston at BBVA Stadium.
“This is just another reason why we kneel,” Gorden posted Saturday.
The match ended in a scoreless draw.
Houston (0-0-1) is the reigning champion of the Challenge Cup. The Dash defeated the Reign 2-0 early in last season’s tournament. The Bold was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
The Reign is expected to be without some of its top players due to international call-ups. Forwards Nicole Momiki (Japan) and Megan Rapinoe (U.S.) and midfielder Jess Fishlock (Wales) recently scored goals in their national team matches. Reign goalkeeper Karen Bardsley (England), a new signee, and midfielder Quinn (Canada) made appearances, the latter tallying an assist in one match.
All are expected to be available for selection for the Reign’s match against the Portland Thorns FC on Wednesday at Providence Park.
For the Challenge Cup, the league split its 10 teams into two divisions. Each team will play four matches and the top finisher in each division will play each other for the title on May 8.
The NWSL will hold a traditional season beginning May 15. Teams will play a 24-match schedule and the top six will qualify for an expanded playoffs in November. The NWSL championship will be Nov. 20.
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