Two surprising results in Wednesday action for the NWSL Challenge Cup as OL Reign and Sky Blue FC picked up their first goals and first wins of the summer.
OL Reign FC 1, Utah Royals FC 0
In their third match, OL Reign finally scored their first match of the tournament. That was all that was needed for the club to also pick up their first win of the NWSL Challenge Cup.
Farid Benstiti made two substitutions that would prove crucial in the second half for Reign. With the match still scoreless, he brought on 2019 Rookie of the Year Bethany Balcer in the 67th minute. She would go on to test Nicole Barnhart with a series of shots from distance. He also subbed on Yuka Momiki in the 81st minute and she connected twice with crosses from the right side to Balcer. One of those efforts ended up with a header just wide of the goal and the other was the match winner as the ball curled around to Balcer to nod it in as the match was into stoppage time.
Utah Royals FC were blanked in this one after only scoring once against Sky Blue FC in their last outing.
- Balcer was the definition of a game-changer for OL Reign. With the club needing a hero, she was willing and able to deliver.
- With the win, OL Reign move up to 5th on the table.
- Vero Boquete was still able to make some important passes going forward for Utah, but the attacking group just couldn’t figure out the final ball.
BGN Player of the Match: Bethany Balcer
Talk about an impact sub! The second-year pro came off the bench in the second half and registered six shots (three on target) and scored the winner.
Sky Blue FC 2, Houston Dash 0
Like OL Reign, Sky Blue FC entered their Wednesday matchup with zero goals on their NWSL Challenge Cup resume. Just like their predecessor in the early match, they broke out with their scoring and a win.
The story of this match was more of a cohesive unit in the attack. The previous Sky Blue matches have look disjointed going forward with the striker on an island, expected to make a perfect run in behind or take on the world with the ball at their feet. But, against Houston, they pressed the ball well and had multiple players in good spots. The opening goal was a perfect example as Ifeoma Onumonu played a great ball into Paige Monaghan, who continued her great run and got around Jane Campbell to tap the ball in.
Still in the first half, Nahomi Kawasumi caught Campbell off her line making a clearance and chipped her from distance for the second goal.
- After struggling to put anything on frame in previous action, Sky Blue FC had six shots on target vs. Houston.
- Sky Blue FC are now second on the table with four points and an edge due to goal differential.
- It’s important not to overreact to this loss for Houston. After fans and pundits praised them for some positive early results, there can’t be an overcorrection after one loss that they are now overrated or anything of that sort.
- Always a key player for Sky Blue FC, Midge Purce didn’t get a chance to create a lot of opportunities getting forward as she mentioned she wanted to, but the right-back did make seven tackles on the day and competed well defensively.
BGN Player of the Match: Ifeoma Onumonu
After being isolated in the first matches of this tournament, the Sky Blue FC striker showcased what she can do with a little help. She had the opening assist, tallied three shots, and completed 18/21 passes.