Laura Harvey knew Wednesday was going to be difficult for her OL Reign.
Sunday’s historic rivalry win against Portland where the Reign drew a NWSL-record 27,248 fans to Lumen Field was still the talk of the club and league. The atmosphere and result deserved a night of reveling, but the Reign’s schedule — and desires for this season — didn’t provide that kind of time.
In a nearly empty BBVA Stadium due to COVID-19 restrictions in oppressive heat, the Reign fought through fatigue to piece together a 1-0 win against the Houston Dash.
“We wanted to celebrate like it meant what it should’ve meant, which is everything,” said Harvey of coaching the club at Lumen Field for the first time since the organization’s founding in 2012. OL Reign played the bulk of its matches at Memorial Stadium or its current home, Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.
“But we couldn’t because we had to get on a plane the next day and come here,” Harvey continued. “Emotionally, today was probably the toughest game we’re ever going to have. But I felt like once we got that goal, it settled us down a little bit and then it was just about the grind. It was just about pushing through. The players did a really good job of that.”
Bethany Balcer opened the scoring for the Reign in the seventh minute. The forward trailed a left-footed strike by teammate Jess Fishlock that Dash keeper Jane Campbell deflected in front of the goal. The ball arced behind Campbell and Balcer used a right-footed tap to get it into the net.
The goal is Balcer’s seventh of the season, tying her with Ifeoma Onumonu (NJ/NY), Sydney Leroux (Orlando) and Ashley Hatch (Washington) for the NWSL scoring lead.
Houston used smart substituting to gain footing on a visibly disjointed and tired Reign in the second half. But the Dash were unable get the ball past keeper Sarah Bouhaddi. The French national had five saves.
Frustration showed on the home side, too. The Dash accounted for three yellow cards in the second half. The Reign had one after halftime.
“Playing in this heat and a three-game week, sometimes you just throw tactics aside, and you’ve just got to battle, and you’ve just gotta work really hard for each other,” Balcer said. “It wasn’t the prettiest soccer we’ve ever played, but we got the job done.”
The Bold (9-7-1) have won six of their past seven matches while Houston (6-7-3) has lost three of its past five. Harvey attributed the Reign’s rise to third in the NWSL standings to assistant coach Sam Laity’s leadership after the abrupt resignation of Farid Benstiti in July.
“When Farid left, it was a difficult time for everyone involved with the club,” said Harvey, who returned to the position she held from 2013-17. “(Sam) really steadied the ship. And then it was a way easier transition for me to come in and hit the ground running. (Sam) put back into the team a little bit of belief and a little bit of organization. When things are a little bit rocky, getting someone that’s stable and can put things together is exactly what people need. Sam provided that for the players and staff, too.”
Reign striker Megan Rapinoe and midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan didn’t start in the midweek match. Rapinoe had a brace in her past two outings, which were wins against rival Portland and NJ/NY Gotham FC.
Balcer slotted in for Rapinoe. Angelina, who was recently called up by her Brazilian national team for the September international window, started in place of Marozsan. The latter substituted into the game in the 61st minute for Balcer.
The Reign (9-7-1) continue their road trip with a match Saturday against Racing Louisville FC. It’s the Reign’s first match at the expansion side’s Lynn Family Stadium. Louisville is also under new leadership after Christy Holly was terminated earlier this week.
Mario Sanchez, who oversees the club’s youth academy system, was named the interim coach.
“The game against Portland was fantastic, but it would’ve been a waste of time if we didn’t come here and get a result,” Fishlock told the CBS broadcast team after the match. “We knew it was going to be a different type of performance. On Sunday we were fabulous and today we had to grind it out.”