It was 47 degrees and rainy in a quintessential Oregon winter day. OL Reign dominated the USWNT U23s through 90, ending with a 3-nil win. Bethany Balcer ended the match with a brace, Alana Cook and Sofia Huerta assisting in the 16th and 32nd minutes respectively. The Reign’s third goal came in the second half with an unfortunate own goal by the U23s in the 57th minute.
Last year, the Reign attack was synonymous with a high press and as head coach Laura Harvey said before a late regular season match against Orlando, “I hope they let us press. Not sure if they will. I always prepare for both if we can or not… I think it’s becoming renowned that we’re good at pressing, so I want to try and keep that a little bit of a secret, if we could, that would be great.”
The secret is definitely out by now, but considering the tight turnaround for the U23’s coming together as a team and playing in this tournament, it’s no surprise that they slightly struggled to handle the press in the first half. During halftime the U23s made some good adjustments to better absorb the pressure, and other than the devastating own goal, held their own against the Reign attack. Overall, the high press was able to keep the U23s pinned back in their own half for the majority of the match.
A surprise in the Reign’s starting XI was Emily Sonnett playing the six. The even bigger surprise was how natural she looked in the position. As a defender whose versatility has her usually playing centerback in league-play and outside-back with the USWNT, the move to the six isn’t that big of a leap. One other interesting thing that happened was that when one of the outside backs pushed super high, Sonnett cycled back to cover.
There were a few moments of miscommunication between Reign members whether that be two defenders, two people on the attack, or between defender and goalkeeper, but those are normal for preseason and ideally by the end of the tournament, those are minimal. The Reign will have a bigger test in their final two matches of the preseason tournament when they take on Racing Louisville and the Portland Thorns.
Although the Reign contained most of the U23’s attacks with the high press, allowing just 2 shots, there was some success from the U23s using their speed along the wings to get in behind the Reign backline. The strength of the Reign backline and the ability of the defenders to work as a team kept the U23s from being a bigger threat. There were definitely a few moments where extra touches were taken, or a second too long on the ball led to the Reign being able to react and recover. Ayo Oke was pivotal along the U23s right side and made some nice def
The other big thing it looked like surprised the U23s was just how physical the match was going to be, part of this might be just because that was how the referee called the match, or it could be in part due to the level difference between college and professional.
Former Reign Academy player, Neeku Purcell had 5 saves on the night and some impressive punches to get the U23s out of trouble.
OL Reign:30-Claudia Dickey; 11-Sofia Huerta (22-Ryanne Brown, 82), 4-Alana Cook, 21-Phoebe McClernon (17-Sam Hiatt, 46), 3-Lauren Barnes (Capt.) (14-Jimena López, 74); 2-Emily Sonnett (13-Marley Canales, 74), 16-Rose Lavelle 24-Veronica Latsko, 60), 10-Jess Fishlock (12-Olivia Athens, 59) ; 8-Bethany Balcer (33-Olivia Van Der Jagt, 46), 9-Jordyn Huitema (31-Natalie Viggiano, 82), 23-Tziarra King (34-Elyse Bennett, 59)
USWNT U23s – 12-Neeku Purcell; 7-Ellie Wheeler (6-Kate Wiesner, 46), 8-Lauren Flynn, 10-Ayo Oke (9-Quincy McMahon, 66), 19-Eva Gaetino (20-Talia Staude, 46); 5-Talia DellaPeruta (Capt.) (22-Annie Karich, 66), 11-Jillian Shimkin (21-Sunshine Fontes, 46), 17-Sarah Weber (18-Felicia Knox, 58); 3-Reilyn Turner (24-Brittany Raphino, 66), 13-Taylor Huff (16-Lexi Missimo 77), 14-Simone Jackson (2-Avery Patterson, 33)
The Reign will take on Racing Louisville on Wednesday March 15th at 5pm PT, while the U23s will be playing the Portland Thorns at 7:30pm that evening.