Victoria Pickett was all alone.
Set up on the right side opposite OL Reign’s defense as Kansas City prepared to take a free kick from about 25 yards out in the 73rd minute of a tied match, Pickett didn’t seem like a factor the Reign needed to be worried about.
KC’s set play created a shot for forward Hailie Mace, but it ricocheted off a Reign defender, and bounced straight to Pickett. Left one-on-one with the goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, the Kansas City midfielder kept her composure, slotting home at the near post to give Kansas City a 1-0 lead.
Kansas City never surrendered its advantage, and the Reign’s three-game winning streak ground to a halt, losing 1-0 Saturday night on the road to the team at the bottom of the NWSL table.
It was Kansas City’s first win of the season, and a tough way to start Laura Harvey’s second tenure as the Reign’s new head coach.
“I think we were unlucky to lose the game, but we didn’t deserve to win it either,” she said.
Despite scoring five goals in its last outing, the Reign started slowly and struggled to break through the Kansas City midfield for most of the game.
The Reign’s potent attack took a blow early. A rough challenge by KC right back Kiki Pickett in the 27th minute sent star forward Eugenie Le Sommer to the ground, and despite receiving treatment on the sideline, she was lifted from the game and entered concussion protocol.
Pickett was shown a yellow card, and after playing down a player for a few minutes, the Reign brought in Tziarra King.
The rest of the first half went without much incident, though Reign center back Alanna Cook did pick up a yellow card in extra time of the first half after committing a tactical foul to prevent a Kansas City counter.
Lacking rhythm due to the injury delays and playing down a player for a while, the Reign simply couldn’t generate much rhythm on offense. The team sent in 16 crosses and took 12 shots but failed to put a shot on goal until extra time of the second half.
“I just think we lacked quality across the field honestly,” Harvey said. “We gave the ball away sloppily, (and) when we had the chance to play a final ball in behind for the forwards or up to the forwards, it wasn’t good enough. There are a lot of things we need to get better at quickly, and this group’s shown they have the quality to be able to do that.”
Part of the Reign’s struggles might have come from the Kansas City game plan. KC switched to a diamond midfield, with emphasis on pressuring the Reign’s creative players and maintaining numerical superiority in the middle of the pitch.
Jess Fishlock wasn’t able to control the match like she did against Houston, and Dzenifer Marozsan was under constant pressure, eventually exiting the game in the 76th minute after a challenge seemed to injure her right knee. However, Harvey and Fishlock both insisted that the Reign’s flat performance was more the result of its own lack of sharpness than KC’s formation change.
“We didn’t really deserve anything much out of that game, which is unfortunate for us right now because we have been doing and playing so well lately,” Fishlock said. “That K.C. game was a different type of game today — very physical, very long ball — and more of a different type of game and we just didn’t really react to that fast enough.”
Harvey said K.C.’s long-ball tactics made it difficult for the Reign to implement their high press, which has been so successful recently, and cited Kansas City going with goalkeeper Abby Smith instead of its starter the past week, Katelyn Rowland, as the biggest tactical change.
And while the Reign offense failed to generate good chances, the defense didn’t look steady either. K.C. striker Kristen Hamilton caused problems for most of the match, taking six shots and putting two on target.
Kansas City kept scrapping too. Even with the Reign dominating possession, holding 58.3% of the ball, Kansas City won more duels and more tackles, all while taking more shots and putting more on goal.
“We didn’t have possession in the area of the field that we wanted it,” Harvey said. “I think we didn’t do enough in the mid to final third with quality, right? I can’t remember when we strung three to four passes together consistently, which gets you up the field, right? You can have possession but if you don’t get up the field it doesn’t mean anything.”
The Reign will have a chance to rebound next week, when the team returns to Cheney Stadium for a matchup with Gotham FC on Aug. 21. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.