As the ball was sent in by Phoebe McClernon, Lumen Field held its breathe as it seems like the cross was headed for Bethany Balcer’s head. That’s not an unknown tactic by OL Reign FC, Balcer’s introduction (via an unfortunate injury to Jordyn Huitema) meant that Angel City FC had to account for her whereabouts at all times. After all, Balcer’s known for popping up at opportune moments to head home a winning goal for the hosts. This time however, another more unlikely source took advantage of Angel City’s focus on Balcer. Veronica Latsko made a similar run to that of Balcer’s and while Paige Nielsen and Sarah Gorden looked to stop the ball reaching Bethany Balcer, Latsko crushed into the box and found the back of the net instead.
As the stadium erupted and she jumped into the arms of a celebrating Balcer and Rose Lavelle, you couldn’t help but think that no one deserved that goal more at that point than Veronica Latsko.
After the match, Latsko had this to say about her goal. “Honestly, I don’t really remember when I score goals, it’s just like every game is kind of like a blank slate.” She might not remember the goal but those who were in attendance last night, and those watching across the world most certainly will. It gave OL Reign their first playoff win since 2015 and after a tense, tight affair, gave the hosts a deserved win.
OL Reign knew that in order to make the next round of the playoffs, they had to limit Angel City’s attack particularly down the left hand side where MA Vignola and Claire Emslie had decimated Portland a week earlier. Laura Harvey decided to hand Veronica Latsko the start to do just that; keep an eye on Vignola and support Sofia Huerta in defense. It was the right move as Angel City never got going and in the second half, began to drift further and further back due to not having an outlet. The visitors ended up with four shots but none on target, proof of how well OL Reign’s defensive strategy worked. Latsko’s constant runs in attack and back in defense where key to all that. The No. 24 produced a performance that wasn’t entirely reliant on skill, instead it reflected her willingness to do the so-called “dirty work” that a lot of attacking players don’t always do. Whether it was a lung-bursting run to support Huitema up top or a lung-bursting run to track Vignola, Latsko was always there when called upon.
The first half didn’t go quite accordingly to plan for OL Reign. Angel City dominated the possessions stats (a theme that remained throughout the match) but couldn’t quite unlock the hosts as much as they would’ve wanted. Instead, the ball would get stuck in midfield once the likes of Sarah Gorden had advanced it and then, the ball would be turned over to OL Reign. It was a slog to watch but from a tactical perspective, the lack of attacking prowess by Ange City would’ve pleased Laura Harvey.
The second half was a different story.
Half-time adjustments may have been made by Angel City too but it was OL Reign that found the key to success. Within two minutes of the restart, Megan Rapinoe forged some space for herself but put her effort just a little too high. Less than ten minutes later, a block by Nielsen and the post stopped OL Reign from opening the scoring. The hosts had upped the tempo and Angel City had no answer for them. While Veronica Latsko continued to stop Vignola’s influence on the game, on the other side, some big saves by Angelina Anderson were the reason why Rapinoe hadn’t opened the scoring yet throughout the second half.
It’s easy to look at a player like Rapinoe and her growing influence in the game in that second half, and the introduction of Balcer and Lavelle gave Angel City even more to think about. It meant that not too many of their defenders were focused on Latsko, a player who had spent most of that game looking to be more of a defensive forward than a creative one. That lapse in concentration, led to Veronica Latsko inching further and further up the field once she realised that Angel City were no longer looking to attack as much as they did. It’s that momentum swing that led to the goal.
OL Reign were pushing late in the game to try and find that winning goal and Angel City were deep in their own half, defending as much as they could and looking for long balls over the top in transition. The Reign’s defensive shape continued to snuff out those counters and when they recycled the ball to McClernon, the hosts still had plenty of players forward to try and get on the end of her cross. Veronica Latsko was there at the right time to do.
Players don’t always get rewarded for the amount of work off the ball they contribute to a team. On another day, Megan Rapinoe would cap off her swan song with a goal that put OL Reign to the semi-finals but last night it wasn’t meant to be her night. It was all about Veronica Latsko and she got the goal that sent her team through to a big showdown against San Diego Wave FC.