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OL Reign’s painful record in knockout games continues

Phot Credit: Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

The frustration and disappointment was palpable as OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey sat down in front of cameras and media for post-game availability Wednesday. Normally talkative and happy to give insights into her thinking, Harvey’s answers were short as she restrained some of her stronger feelings about the game.

“Honestly there’s no point in me even mentioning anything because I’ll just get fined. My level of frustration, you can tell, is very high. So I’m just gonna keep everything that I have to say to myself,” Harvey said of the refereeing in a game that saw the Reign lose an eighth straight knockout game.

There is no question that OL Reign is a team filled with incredibly talented players. Many consider it one of the deepest teams in the National Women’s Soccer League. But despite their talent, knowledgeable veterans, and consistent playoff appearances, their record in knockout games is quite abysmal. The club has won the Shield three times but has yet to capture a first ever championship in six playoff appearances.

Wednesday night the Reign lost yet another knockout game. In their home Challenge Cup semifinal matchup against Racing Louisville they lost by just one goal, scored off a horrendous mistake. The goal came when Sam Hiatt accidentally kicked a free kick straight to Kirsten Davis at the top of the 18 and the Louisville striker made good on her one-v-one opportunity.

It’s not as if the Seattle-based side played badly, far from it. They were undoubtedly the better team on the night. They had good chances to score. The problem is that they really need to win games when they are the better team. Harvey echoed this sentiment post-game.

“In regard to the game, we were the better team. But, we’ve probably played in however many semifinals and been the better team, but goals change games – I’ve said that for the longest time, it’s true. If you don’t take chances, if you don’t make saves, you don’t put the ball in the net, you’re not going to win games. It’s not just this game, it’s not just semifinals that’s happened, it’s consistent right now. So, we have to put that right, we have to acknowledge that.”

On the one hand, this could be nothing to worry about. This was an in-season tournament that the Reign always planned to use for development and that continued into the semis with young players and a-typical starters. 

Speaking to this after the loss, head coach Laura Harvey did acknowledge that they did not have their typical starters out there. Most players who played the full 90 minutes in their Sunday regular season matchup were not going to be able to play another 90, or even 60 minutes just three days later.

“I think the Challenge Cup for us, this year especially, has been something that we’ve utilized for our group. We did that again tonight because of the crazy schedule, we had no choice but to do that.”

This is not to discredit the players who did play throughout the Challenge Cup and the semifinal. As Veronica Latsko pointed out post-game, this is their chance to prove themselves. So when they go out there they play as if it is the most important game possible and they give it their all.

It is not quite tangible, but looking at their 2-9 record, and eight losses in a row, there is evidently something that happens with the Reign in win-or-go-home games. If you ignore the Challenge Cup semifinals they still lost with all their preferred 11. A quick look at some Seattle Reign FC, to Reign FC, to OL Reign history:

2013: Rough first season. Did not qualify for the playoffs.
2014: Won the NWSL Shield! Won their first semifinal match, defeating the Washington Spirit 2-1 at home. Lost 2-1 in the final to FC Kansas City at Starfire Stadium, now OL Reign’s training venue.
2015: Won the NWSL Shield! Won their semifinal match against Washington Spirit again, this time 3-0. Lost in the final, once again, to FC Kansas City on Amy Rodriguez’s goal in Portland.
2016: Finished in fifth, missing the playoffs.
2017: Finished in fifth, missing the playoffs.
2018: Lost their semifinal match against arch rivals the Thorns in Portland 2-1.
2019: Lost their semifinal match to eventual dominant champions North Carolina Courage. They did give the Courage a run for their money as Ifeoma Onumonu scored an equalizer in stoppage time to send the game to extra time. But the home team took over from there on, scoring three goals to win 4-1.
2020: Lost in the Challenge Cup quarterfinals to Chicago Red Stars in penalty kicks.
2021: Lost their home semifinal against the Washington Spirit. Another painful loss after they scored in the third minute but couldn’t stop the visitors from scoring two unanswered.
2022: Won the NWSL Shield! Lost their (supposed to be home but wasn’t) Challenge Cup semifinal to the Washington Spirit after ten rounds of penalty kicks. Lost their home semifinal yet again, this time against the Kansas City Current. The Reign struggled all game to look like themselves and lost 2-0 in front of a record crowd.
2023: Lost their home Challenge Cup semifinal to Racing Louisville.

Whatever it is, it is endlessly heartbreaking for fans and it was clear Wednesday night that the players and Harvey are feeling that same frustration and pressure. Veronica Latsko admitted simply “it hurts a lot.”

Sofia Huerta said “I think we’re both disappointed. You know, we mentioned as a team that we make it to so many semifinals and we really wanted to to win one finally, and especially in front of our fans.”

Huerta also admitted they don’t “have a good answer” as to why it is happening.

“You know, sometimes, I think when you talk about it too much then it’s just like you’re jinxing yourself. Something we have to figure out as a group, especially coming up on the playoffs. I believe that we’re going to make it to semifinals and we need to win that one. So, you know, we’ll come together the coaching staff will, you know, put things together, we’ll come together as a team. That’s how it always goes and hopefully we can just get over the hump.”

For right now the players are determined to move past this. “I think we had opportunities to score and it’s unfortunate but now we move on. That’s soccer. That’s life. We have to continue with the season and now need to push for playoffs,” Huerta told media after the game.

Rest assured, the Reign will do everything possible to win their next knockout game. They have endless motivation this season. Five U.S. women’s national team players looking to win something after a disappointing World Cup. Two Canadians with something to prove after their early World Cup exit. Veterans ready to contribute. Young players eager to make their mark. And a head coach eager to win her first championship. Not to mention wanting to send club legend Megan Rapinoe into retirement with a trophy.

The question is will the motivation be enough? Will this be the year they finally get over the hump?

Harvey is looking forward but won’t ignore this result. “I think as a collective group, we have to find a way to score some goals because if we don’t, it’s not going to be the Challenge Cup that we’re going to miss out on, it’s going to be bigger things that we probably care more about.”

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