The new-look Houston Dash was a problem for OL Reign on Saturday.
To make it worse, an offseason acquisition from the Reign was key.
Dash midfielder Shea Groom had an assist and a goal to help her side collect a 2-0 win in the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup. Groom was traded along with defender Megan Oyster and a 2022 draft pick from the Reign to Houston in exchange for defender Amber Brooks and forward Sofia Huerta.
“We came into this tournament and this year wanting to make a statement,” said Groom via a live streaming video provided by NWSL. Houston was picked to finish last prior to the season being delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Dash is something to be reckoned with in this league,” Groom said. “Part of that is coming out and keeping our foot on the gas pedal the entire time. We did that today.”
By sunset, the CBS telecast showed Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, surrounded by fireworks to celebrate Independence Day. On the field, all of the flash was from the Dash.
Houston opened up the scoring in the 12th minute. Striker Kristie Mewis had a clear opening to knock in a left-footed shot to the bottom-right corner. Groom had the assist by tapping the ball with a right backheel.
In the second half, Groom was left unmarked to leap high and score off a header just outside the box in the 54th minute. Striker Rachel Daly provided the service after dribbling down the right wing.
Houston leads the NWSL in goals scored with five after two matches in the tournament. It is second in the standings. Meanwhile the Reign has yet to log a goal after two matches. In the scoreless draw Tuesday against Sky Blue FC, the Reign outshot its opponent 13-8.
But midfielder Allie Long, who was limited to 70 minutes due to an agreement with the U.S. women’s national team, intimated the glitches are permitted.
“These four games don’t matter much,” she said via a live streaming video provided by NWSL. “We’re going to continue to progress and hopefully figure it out by Game 5.”
The tournament’s format has every team playing four preliminary-round matches. The eight teams will be seeded again for the knockout rounds that begin July 17.
The Reign continues preliminary-round play against the host Utah Royals FC on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. PT. The Royals finished in a draw against Houston and defeated Sky Blue FC 1-0 on Saturday.
For the Reign, the trade involving Groom was part of a massive overhaul during the offseason. The club also has new owners and coach in Farid Benstiti, both hailing from Lyon, France. Despite a month-long training in Montana, the lack of cohesion was apparent Saturday.
Benstiti also made a lineup change, putting Taylor Smith and Brooks on the backline for the first time. Smith played her first NWSL match since suffering an ACL injury in December 2018, missing the entire 2019 season.
Huerta missed her second match with a right hamstring injury and the club was also without veteran midfielder Jess Fishlock (right leg) and Rebecca Quinn, the latter being part of the starting lineup in the tournament opener Tuesday.
“Our approach was we wanted to get players minutes without gifting any away,” said Reign assistant coach Sam Laity. He handled the postmatch video conference interviews because Benstiti, whose first language is French, was emotional.
“Overall from back-to-front, I don’t think our quality was anywhere what we’d expect and anywhere where we’d need it to be successful in this league,” Laity continued. “As a staff, we’re disappointed in the performance.”
NOTE: Former Reign coach Vlatko Andonovski was in attendance in his new role as U.S. women’s national-team coach. Andonovski coached the Reign the past two seasons, leading an injury-riddled roster to a fourth-place finish last season.
“It’s interesting,” Andonovski said during a halftime of the match’s telecast on CBS of his first NWSL match in the stands in seven years. “There are so many great memories from the league. … I’m also using it as a learning opportunity for myself, too. There’s so many great coaches, different tactics, different formations, defense. I’m excited to be part of it.”