Scoring was an issue for OL Reign in its return to National Women’s Soccer League play.
During the Challenge Cup last summer in Utah, the Reign managed one goal in five matches and was knocked out in the quarterfinals. The club spent the past two months focusing on tactics in the final third in preparation for NWSL’s Fall Series.
The opening result was a 2-2 draw against the Utah Royals FC on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Reign goalkeeper Casey Murphy had a pair of saves in second-half stoppage time to preserve the draw. She finished with six.
“(It) wasn’t just scoring goals, but how we score our goals,” Reign defender Madison Hammond said during a video conference call with media. “For some people it might be a completely new style that we’re introducing. I really like that it’s creative, and we move off of each other. Both of our goals were really indicative of all the hard work that not only our forwards, but as defenders, how we build out of the back. It all really came together on both of those goals, so I was really proud of us from a team standpoint.”
Utah midfielder Aminata Diallo opened up scoring in the 9th minute with a beaming shot outside the box. Reign defender Steph Cox inadvertently set up the play by heading a clearance toward Diallo, who collected the ball and sent it back at the net through the Reign’s defense.
Royals rookie Tziarra King scored her club’s second goal on a pretty header in the 22nd minute off an assist from forward Brittany Ratcliffe.
“Brit played a chef’s kiss, beautiful ball right to my head,” King said during a video conference call with media. “She couldn’t have put it any more perfect. Luckily I got up and I just redirected it. Big credit to Brit on that one.”
Instead of being deflated by the deficit, the Reign immediately responded with their own goals.
Cox sent a rolling pass to forward Bethany Balcer, who broke away from her defender to knock a right-footed shot into the far post netting in the 23rd minute.
Reign midfielder Rosie White had the equalizer five minutes later. The play was initiated by a powerful, pinpointed cross from midfielder Shirley Cruz to forward Jasmyne Spencer, who tapped the ball to White for the score.
Saturday was the Reign’s first match since July 18. The club was set to open their Fall Series on national television against Cascadia rival Portland Thorns FC two weeks ago. Hazardous air quality in Oregon due to wildfires prompted NWSL to twice postpone the match.
The Reign will play the Thorns on Wednesday at Providence Park. Fans are not expected to be in attendance.
“The first 20 minutes of the game (Saturday) was a little tough for us,” White said during a video conference call with media. “It took that long to sort of brush the rust off. Going into the next game, we know we have to be a lot stronger from the beginning defensively.
“We’re creating opportunities, which is good. We struggled with that a little bit during the Challenge Cup. So that’s exciting. As long as we can tighten things up defensively, Portland will be a different game.”
A smattering of socially distanced fans were in attendance in the 20,000-seat stadium Saturday. They appeared to join in a moment of silence with the players, who also knelt in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Bold and Royals released a joint statement prior to the match regarding the killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, by white Louisville police in March. None of the officers involved were indicted for her death.
“We are disheartened that she will not receive the justice she deserves following a grand jury’s ruling on Sept. 23,” a portion of the statement read. “However, in the true spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement, we will not stop telling her story until her life is justly honored.”
The white and brown soccer players also wore warm-up shirts that read “Justice for Breonna Taylor” while the Black players for both clubs, including Hammond, wore shirts that read “I am Breonna Taylor.”
Hammond, who entered the match in the 76th minute, made history for being the first Native athlete to play in an NWSL match.
“I couldn’t have written a better debut,” said Hammond, a rookie who had her mother and sister in attendance. “I’m a competitor, I want to play and so once that part of the game happened, it felt totally unreal.”