Reaching for Glory
With the NWSL Challenge Cup now at the halfway mark, teams get to evaluate where they stand among their opposition. The Challenge Cup takes some time off for the international break and will begin back up again on Thursday, April 14, 2022, when the San Diego Wave head up to Luman Field to battle the West Division leaders, OL Reign.
Former Arsenal manager Laura Harvey took over one of the most consistent franchises in the NWSL in mid-July of 2021. It has only been four matches that she has been in charge, but OL Reign has run through its schedule like it is on a mission this season. The team based out of Seattle, Washington sits atop the West Division even though they have played the fewest games out of all the teams so far in the competition. The defense anchored by USWNT defender Sofia Huerta, and former University of Miami goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce has allowed the fewest goals in the Challenge Cup so far at two.
In the last match against the Thorns, OL Reign did not pose a threat to Abby Smith's net until the 68' through Bethany Balcer’s chance. Nevertheless, the brilliance and vision of Jess Fishlock proved to be the difference as she played a marvelous pass between the defense to Rose Lavelle who slotted it home for the game-winner. While OL Reign may not dominate every single match in terms of chances, its patience is what makes them great. Fishlock, Lavelle, and Quinn are without question the most dangerous midfield combination the NWSL has to offer. The quality from the back to the front is like no other in the NWSL. It is a balanced attack where there is no superstar at the helm like Angel City has with Christen Press.
Despite all of this greatness, OL Reign is still searching for its first Challenge Cup and NWSL Championship. Last season, the Bold finished with the second-best record in the league behind only their rivals, Portland Thorns. After scoring the first goal within the first three minutes of the match, Washington Spirit netted two unanswered goals from Trinity Rodman, and Ashley Sanchez to propel Washington to the final against the Red Stars. The franchise has won the NWSL Shield twice in its history, but in both of those instances, the squad finished as the runner-up to FC Kansas City.
Having the three-time NWSL Coach of the Year back in the fold in Seattle makes it an even stronger possibility that OL Reign finally reaches the pinnacle of the NWSL. Harvey has won the top flight in England a total of three times but is still searching for a championship in women's American club football. The Bold have the most complete team out of any in the league this season with world-class players in every layer of their formation.
The squad has some time apart before it returns to the pitch for three more Challenge Cup group stage matches. All that is left for OL Reign is to beat the two expansion sides, and it will be the top seed in the playoffs of the Challenge Cup on May 4, 2022. The win against Portland on the road in Providence Park demonstrated the focus, and experience this team has at its disposal. In 2021, Ol Reign netted the most goals in the NWSL regular season with 37 goals, four more than second-place Portland. Four players on that Reign team in 2021 scored more than five goals, and three of them are back with the team this season. Jess Fishlock is the engine that makes the Bold run, but she is not alone in terms of quality in the attack.
The 2022 team is full of plenty of veteran club, and international experience combined with promising young players like Angelina, and 24-year-old centerback Sam Hiatt. It may not have been OL Reign's year in the past even though many thought it would, but with Harvey as manager, and the elite midfield, this OL Reign team has a chance to be something special in 2022.