Super excited about Shirley Cruz's NWSL debut and the return of Jess Fishlock after a year off for injury. The starting lineup reveals that Caprice Dydasco is out with an injury and Fishlock won't be starting today. Even without those two, OL Reign has quite the star studded lineup and despite the new recruits for Sky Blue, without Lloyd and Pugh, it's hard to see them making a dent on OL. After the earlier golazo fest during the Dash v Royals game, it will be interesting to see if Sheridan can keep the firepower out.
The anthem plays and almost everyone takes a knee. The whole team, bench and support staff are out on the field for it. The issue of whether to stand or kneel had becomes incredibly divisive with the fans so I won't enter into who stood but now that all teams have played and we've been through it, it would be much better if they removed the anthem from the game and did the silent time with the knee at the beginning instead. Seeing the comments on every game full of threats to not watch again or directing hate at players is becoming very unpleasant and it's coming from both sides of the argument. Standing doesn't mean you don't support BLM and kneeling doesn't mean you hate your country. These things aren't black and white, figuratively or literally, and as far as I can see every player, including those that have stood, has pledged support for BLM and their black teammates.
Sky Blue is looking fire in their new lightning bolt kit. I wasn't initially impressed with the new OL plain, plain, plain white kit but, on, it looks great. Bright white with red flashes, it's very reminiscent of the much loved USWNT home kit from the recent world cup and looks smart and sexy.
Starting line up for Sky Blue is Nahome Kawasumi, Ifeoma Onumonu and Paige Monaghan up front, Domi Richardson, Sarah Woldmoe (nee Killion and captain) and McCall Zerboni in midfield, Sabrina Flores, Gina Lewandowski, Estelle Johnson and Midge Purce in defence with Kailen Sheridan in goals.
OL Reign are starting Darien Jenkins, Jodie Taylor, Bethany Balcer as forwards, Allie Long, Rebecca Quinn and Shirley Cruz in the midfield, Kristen McNabb, Lauren Barnes (captain), Alana Cook and Steph Cox in defence with Casey Murphy in goal.
Reign kick off as the sun sets over the Wasatch Mountains. Jenkins takes an early run down the left and Lewandowski puts it out for the first corner. Cox sends it to the far post but it's straight out for a goal kick. A Purce interception takes it through the midfield to Monahan on the right who crosses it to Onumonu but it's out. An incursion down the left by Kawasumi is sent out for the first Sky Blue corner. Woldmore plays it short but it goes out and amounts to nothing. We're told that both Huerta and Fishlock are being rested and won't play today.
There's another corner on the left for OL. Cox sends it to the back post but Quinn is unable to control it and it's out again. Purce is playing quite high and causing problems for the OL defence. A shot on goal by her goes wide. The setting sun is causing lots of flaring in the camera work, particularly in the midfield. Purce makes another nice run through the centre but Monahan is not ready to take the pass and chases it over the goal line. The first 15 minutes is pretty even with the ball up and down the field and possession shared. There's a lot of turnovers. Long sends a pass to Jenkins who crosses to McNabb for a shot that is saved easily by Sheridan. This is the first on target shot on goal. It soon comes back to OL again and Jenkins has a go herself that bounces out of Sheridan's arms but it's safely cleared by the defence. Next up Quinn takes a long shot which is deflected for a corner. Cox sends it to the far post and rear of the box and Cruz takes a shot that goes well over the cross bars. After some intense OL pressure, Sky Blue are back in possession and Zerboni launches a long rocket from the left sideline that goes straight into Murphy's safe hands.
Quinn is having a good game with lots of interceptions causing trouble for Sky Blue. Zerboni tries another long shot on goal from the left which is also stopped. Can't blame a girl for trying.
We're at the water break now, 30 minutes in and while OL has had a few more shots on goal, it's still pretty even. Play has been up and down the midfield mostly, with the occasional cross.
Back on the field and Purce sends it out for an OL corner. Cox lobs the ball in front of the goal but it's headed away. Onumonu takes it down the centre and is chased by Barnes and gets clear to take a long shot from outside the box but she skies it over the crossbar. That was a genuine opportunity in front of an open goal gone begging.
There's been pretty solid defence by both teams that have restricted any scoring opportunities. A cross from the left to Kawasumi sees her with a clear shot on goal. She delays by seconds and Barnes leaps across to block with her body and it's deflected away. Great save by Barnes but Casey was directly behind her.
So it's a scoreless first half with no dominant team and I have to say I'm surprised. Possession had been shared fairly evenly with OL having 52%. There's solid performances across the pitch with good defence but not too much attacking brilliance. Not so many on target shots and all have been handled by the keepers easily.
After half time Eddy is on and Monaham is off for Sky Blue. She's been pretty quiet so this makes sense. We're quickly down in front of goal with a lot of people in the box and when a header comes across, Long gets a foot to it right in front of goal but is safe with Sheridan in a bit of a mix up in front of goal. Balcer takes a long run down the right flank and sends it to Taylor who spins but then lays it off to no-one in front of goal for a missed opportunity.
There's a couple of corners for OL which all come to nothing and then Balcer is in the clear but has an off target shot. The sunset had been quite spectacular during all this. Balcer crosses to Jenkins for a header that goes wide.
Balcer is now off despite having a good game and Taylor Smith comes on. A 1-2 between Cruz and Smith in the box goes over the goal line. Cook gets a yellow card for pulling down Onumonu. The free kick by Woldmore is headed away safely by Long. Cudjoe is on and Richardson, who's had a fairly quiet game, is off for Sky Blue. A Kawasumi cross finds Eddy open but she shoots straight into the chest of Murphy. For OL, Jasmine Spencer comes on and Jodie Taylor comes off. Spencer's first touch sees a good crack on goal but it's blocked.
There's a flurry of replacements and Purce is off, Viens on, Onumonu off, White on. Jenkins gets a great shot on goal but a diving save by Sheridan saves it. Up the other end and Viens has a tussle beating Barnes in the box but can't get a shot off and it's cleared. Nicole Momiki is on, not sure who is off.
Spencer gets a run down the centre and is dragged back but passes Flores into the clear for a shot. Sheridan does a massive dive to save it, in probably the save of the match. But then, in what could have been a disaster, her kick out rebounds behind her and nearly goes into goal. A quick run back saves it but there's been a few mistakes of this ilk so far in the tournament by the keepers.
There's four minutes of extra time but no real chances and we end the match with a scoreless draw and two clean sheets.
So after the first round we have two wins and two draws and four close matches. It just goes to show how closely matched all teams are. I wouldn't have predicted this score for this match though. On paper, Reign looked a lot stronger. Some stars didn't play and Cruz and Taylor had uneventful games. This match impressed more for the defence than the attack. Jenkins, Balcer and Purce were standouts in attack and Barnes and Purce again were killing it in defence along with both keepers, Sheridan having to do more. Barnes for me was probably player of the match, with a goal saving tackle, sold defence and great distribution. But Purce was right up there too, being all over the field making her magic. By Kris Goman