A match that wasn’t supposed to have much drama was filled with theater. The finish played into OL Reign’s hands.
With a 3-0 win against the Kansas City Current on Saturday, the Reign secured second place in NWSL standings to close the regular season. The Bold (13-8-3) earned a first-round bye in the expanded six-team postseason. The Reign will host a semifinal match on Nov. 14 at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.
“I feel great about it because we really earned it,” Reign forward Megan Rapinoe said. “There was a good chunk of the year where we were sitting down at the bottom (of league standings). Of course, it’s good to get the win, secure the bye, but for us, looking back at the year, we’re really proud of this. And we’re really excited about getting into the playoffs and showing them what we can do.”
The Portland Thorns FC won the NWSL Supporters’ Shield earlier this season and the other first-round bye. They’ll also host their semifinal match on Nov 14.
NWSL’s championship game is set for Nov. 20 at Racing Louisville FC’s Lynn Family Stadium. The NWSL Players Association pushed to have the match moved from Providence Park in Portland to avoid a 9 a.m. local time kickoff. The title game will still be at noon EST and air on CBS Sports Network.
Reign forward Eugenie Le Sommer recorded a second-half brace at KC’s Legends Field in Kansas to guide her team to the needed win. It’s the Frenchwoman’s third brace of her inaugural NWSL season.
“The season was tough,” Le Sommer said. “It’s crazy (but) the success is because I play with great players and everyone has the same goal. We wanted to make the playoffs and we did it and more. We are second and now we just want to keep moving forward.”
The first score was a build up off a corner kick by Rapinoe. Teammate Rose Lavelle tapped an assist to Le Sommer in the box, the latter sending her shot into goal in the 49th minute.
Le Sommer made a strong run in the 64th minute to connect with a Rapinoe cross, heading a strong shot past KC keeper Adrianna Franch. The goal gave the Reign a 3-0 lead and coach Laura Harvey began her substitutions.
Kansas City defender Kiki Pickett had an own goal in the 35th that put the Reign on the board first. Pickett was caught behind a charging Lavelle in the box and when Reign midfielder Sofia Huerta sent in a cross, it deflected off Pickett into goal.
“Before that we’d been excellent,” Harvey said of the opening half. “We had loads of chances and I was thinking to myself that Adrianna is standing on her head already, we’re not going to be able to score. Maybe we needed a little bit of luck to push us over the line to get us going. But I thought we deserved it (the win). I thought we were the better team.”
The Current (3-14-7) entered the match eliminated from the postseason and last in the 10-team league, but there was still a buzz around the facility. The club was founded in December and at halftime on Saturday, it unveiled its new official crest, branding and designs for a $70 million stadium that will be located on the city’s riverfront downtown.
The “Current” moniker is a nod to Kansas City’s location along the Missouri River.
“It’s amazing,” Rapinoe said of KC’s stadium plans. “It’s exactly what we as players want to see in the league. We want to see top-notch facilities. We want to see beautiful stadiums and great pitches to play on. The ownership group here, they have a lot of ambition and it seems they’re looking at it the right way. To have their own facility and their own property and really grow something special and unique here.”
There was five minutes of second-half stoppage time due to multiple injures on both sides. The scariest moment was when Current forward Kristen Hamilton collided with Reign keeper Sarah Bouhaddi. Blood gushed from the keeper’s nose and she nearly subbed out of the match. Hamilton was shown a yellow card in the 52nd minute and Bouhaddi returned to play, subbing off in the 89th minute with the win nearly secured.
“We took her off so Phallon (Tullis-Joyce) could get some minutes,” Harvey said of her backup keeper. “Once the game sort of took care of itself with the third goal, we started to think about what we needed to do in preparation for the playoffs.”
Harvey’s players coaxed her into having a break until Wednesday. The technical staff plans to use the upcoming week to work kinks in their own schemes. Once the opening round games are complete next weekend, the Reign will prep for its semifinal opponent.
The club has numerous international players who recently returned from call-ups who could also use a break before the postseason.
“That’s the nice thing, we can work on us this week,” Harvey said. “Then when we know who we can play, we can really think about the game a little bit. It’s be good. It’ll be the first time we’ve been able to do that for a while with everybody there. We normally have time, but not everybody there. And I love (the season) being wild. The wilder the better.”