OL Reign Take Home the Trophy in the Second Annual Women’s Cup

Six teams came to Louisville, KY to test their mettle against clubs from three different continents in this year’s expanded Women’s Cup tournament.

By Bekki Morgan

Six teams from three continents arrived in Louisville, KY to compete, but when the confetti settled on Saturday night, OL Reign players were lifting the trophy as the second annual Women’s Cup champions.

The Women’s Cup, which ran from Sunday, August 14 to Saturday, August 20, is a women’s club tournament that takes place in Louisville, KY every August and pits two NWSL clubs against a bevy of international clubs in friendly competitions. Last year, the tournament only featured four teams when hosts Racing Louisville beat Bayern Munich to be named the inaugural champions. This year the tournament has expanded to six teams, including returning hosts Racing Louisville and eventual champions OL Reign from the NWSL (United States), FA Women’s Super League’s Tottenham Hotspur (England), Serie A’s AC Milan (Italy), Liga MX Femenil’s Club América (Mexico) and the WE League’s Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza (Japan). 

The Women’s Cup is one of only two annual tournaments that pit intracontinental club teams against each other in the world. The other is the Women’s International Champions Cup which is also United States-based and took place during the same week in Portland. In the absence of an official Women’s Club World Cup, these tournaments play an especially important role in expanding the global women’s game by exposing fans and players to teams they might otherwise never encounter.

Let’s take a look back at all the Women’s Cup action to see how OL Reign got to lift the trophy.

August 14th

Quarterfinal #1: AC Milan vs. Tokyo Verdy Beleza, 4 P.M.

29’ Martina Piemonte, assisted by Bergamaschi Valentina (1–0 AC Milan)

54’ Kosovare Asllani assisted by Lindsey Thomas (2–0 AC Milan)

80’ Kosovare Asllani, assisted by Silvia Rubio (3–0 AC Milan)  

81’ Risa Shimizu, assisted by Sana Kimura (3–1 AC Milan)

The tournament kicked off with a match between AC Milan and Tokyo Verdy Beleza that marked the first time in history an Italian club would be facing a Japanese club. Initially, Tokyo seemed to be the more deadly team and kept Milan on the back foot. However, their finishing wasn’t as solid as they’d likely hoped.

Ultimately, Milan worked themselves into the game and scored first with Martina Piemonte sliding a shot past Tokyo’s goalkeeper from the left side of the box in the 29th minute. Although Tokyo held Milan off for the rest of the first half, Milan—and especially star Swedish forward Kosavare Asllani—wouldn’t be stopped in the second. She scored in both the 54th and 80th minutes to put the game away completely for AC Milan.

Goal celebration for Kosovare Asllani and Milan against Tokyo / Image courtesy EM Dash Photos

Tokyo wouldn’t go out without a fight, however, and did come back to score a consolation goal in the 81st minute when Risa Shimizu finally got Verdy Beleza on the board with a strike from the right side of the box. 

All in all, it was a very well-matched competition despite the lopsided scoreline. Both teams had 10 shots although Milan did have better accuracy with eight on target compared to Tokyo’s three. Tokyo still threatened, however, earning three corner kicks while Milan earned none. Although both teams were still in preseason, this ended up being a fun match filled with very technical football that differed from the athletic, physically dominating play that’s typically found in the United States.

Quarterfinal #2: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Club América, 7 P.M.

10’ Kiana Palacios (1–0 Club América)

14’ Scarlett Camberos, assisted by Janelly Farias (2–0 Club América)

64’ Nikola Karczewska, assisted by Angharad James (2–1 Club América)

In the second match of Saturday’s doubleheader, history was made once again as an English club team faced a Mexican team for the first time in women’s football. This time, however, Club América was in midseason form while Tottenham was still in the preseason and that ended up being the difference maker.

Club América started out hot and got on the boards early to prove it. In just the 10th minute Kiana Palacios capitalized off a corner kick and put them up by one. Just four minutes later, Janelly Farias sent in a perfectly weighted long ball into the run of Scarlett Camberos who beat the charging keeper and put Club América up by two.

After the second goal, Tottenham would settle into the game and organize their defense better to keep their rivals off the scoresheet. In the 64th minute, they rallied to give Club América a scare when they finally got on the board off a goal from Nikola Karczewska. Despite this rally, Tottenham couldn’t find the equalizer, and the game ended in Club América’s favor.

Club America goal against Tottenham Spurs / Image courtesy Connor Cunningham

Although this was another fun match featuring two teams who had never before played in Louisville, Club América seemed to have the upper hand from the beginning of the match. Part of this is due to the fact they’re in-season while Tottenham is not and also because Tottenham rotated their squad quite heavily. As a result, Club América had 14 shots with eight on target while Tottenham only managed six shots and their one goal stood as their single on-target shot. 

As a result of this match, Club América advanced to the semifinals on Wednesday alongside AC Milan. Club América would take on OL Reign and AC Milan would play defending champions Racing Louisville. Tottenham Hotspurs and Tokyo Verdy Beleza, on the other hand, would also play on Wednesday, but in the fifth-place match as their quest for the trophy had ended.

August 20th

Fifth-Place Match: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Tokyo Verdy Beleza, 2 P.M.

20’ Riko Ueki, assisted by Momoka Kinoshita (1–0 Tokyo Verdy)

56’ Rosella Ayene, assisted by Jessica Naz (1–1)

82’ Azusa Iwashimizu (2–1 Tokyo Verdy)

Wednesday brought a triple-header to Louisville’s Lynn Family Stadium.

First up was the fifth-place match between Tottenham and Tokyo. Both teams were eager not to fall to the bottom of the rankings which led to some exciting back-and-forth play.

Tokyo got on the board first with Riko Ueki scoring in the 20th minute. Although things stayed level until the end of the first half, Tottenham responded quickly in the second with a goal by Rosella Ayene in the 56th minute. Just when it seemed likely the games would go to penalty kicks, Tokyo’s Azusa Iwashimizu put her squad ahead in the 82nd minute.

Tottenham Spurs versus Tokyo Verdy Beleza in the fifth-place match / Image courtesy USA Today-EM Dash

Both teams changed their style this match and chose to play much more directly. It seemed to work for both of them—and particularly Tottenham—as they looked more dangerous than they had in previous matches. Once again, Tottenham chose to rotate their squad and test their depth. Although they still only scored one goal, they improved strongly in producing shots on target with four compared to only one last match. Tokyo dominated in shots with 16 compared to nine, however, and earned eight corner kicks compared to Tottenham’s one.

Semifinal #1: OL Reign vs. Club América, 5 P.M.

60’ Kiana Palacious (1–0 Club América)

78’ Tziarra King (1–1)

81’ Olivia van der Jagt, assisted by Veronica Latsko (2–1 OL Reign)

In the second match of the day, OL Reign entered the tournament for the first time to take on  Club América. 

From the start, this was a tight match with neither side gaining a true advantage. Club América had a number of good chances but just couldn’t put them away. Finally, in the 60th minute, Club América did break through when Kiana Palacios scored her second goal in the tournament.

OL Reign would not take this lightly, however, and rotated some players to bring in some bigger names like Canadian star Jordyn Huitema. She had an immediate impact and helped trigger an attack that led to a deflection that Tziarra King was able to capitalize on and put OL Reign on the board. Just three minutes later, in a scrum in front of goal, Olivia van der Jagt was able to knock in a loose ball and put OL Reign fully on top. This is where the match would end 2–1 in OL Reign’s favor.

OL Reign versus Club American in the semifinals / Image courtesy Connor Cunningham

It’s worth noting that OL Reign did not start or even play many of their biggest starters this match. Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Jess Fishlock, and Rose Lavelle all stayed on the bench. Considering the team’s depth, however, they were still going to be one of the toughest teams in the tournament even if they primarily played non-starters. Even so, Club América played very well and dominated shots with 12 compared to OL Reign’s four. If they had just been slightly more clinical in their finishing, they might have been able to find an equalizer. But, instead, it was the NWSL side that would advance to the final.

Semifinal #2: Racing Louisville vs. AC Milan, 8 P.M.

12’ Nadia Nadim, assisted by Savannah DeMelo (1–0 Racing Louisville)

24’ Wang Shuang (2–0 Racing Louisville)

The final match on Friday featured the entry of the hosts and the returning champions, Racing Louisville, into the tournament. They would take on Saturday’s quarterfinal winners, AC Milan, in a battle to earn the final spot for the championship match.

From the get-go, Racing was in charge of the match. Early on, Emily Fox found the back of the net but it was called off due to Lauren Milliet being offsides. Shortly after, a corner kick from Savannah DeMelo was nodded in by Nadia Nadim to put Racing on the board at 12 minutes. About ten minutes later, Wang Shuang collected a second ball that had been deflected away and chipped it over the keeper to put Racing up by two.

Racing Louisville’s Wang Shuang celebrates her semifinal goal against AC Milan / Image courtesy Connor Cunningham

Although Racing had a couple more decent chances, including another goal that was called off, the score stayed at 2–0 with Racing on top. Interestingly, this was the only game out of the first five matches to feature a shutout. As the returning champions, Racing looked ready to put in a good challenge against OL Reign to keep the trophy in Louisville. AC Milan, on the other hand, would move onto the third-place match against Club América.

Third-Place Match: Club América vs. AC Milan, 4 P.M.

4’ Katy Martinez, assisted by Montserrat Hernández (1–0 Club América)

38’ Linda Tucceri Cimini (1–1)

45’ Valentina Bergamaschi, assisted by Linda Tucceri Cimini (2–1 AC Milan)

58’ Kiana Palacios, assisted by Scarlett Camberos (2–2)

73’ Alison González (3–2 Club América)

75’ Alison González (4–2 Club América)

85’ Lindsey Thomas, assisted by Kosovare Asllani (4–3 Club América)

88’ Martina Piemonte, assisted by Linda Tucceri Cimini (4–4)

90’+2’ Alison González, assisted by Montserrat Hernández (5–4 Club América)

In a battle worthy of a championship, Club América and AC Milan clashed in an epic matchup that featured an hour-long weather delay at half-time, constantly flipping leads, nine goals, and a late stoppage time game-clincher.

Club América flew out of the gates fast with a 4th-minute goal thanks to a sliding shot by Katy Martinez. Shortly after this goal, things started getting chippy on the field with plenty of warnings for shoving and bickering between players. This came back to hurt Club América in the 38th minute when Milan’s Valentina Bergamaschi was impeded in a dangerous area at the top of the box. This set up Linda Tucceri Cimini to take a free kick that she sent into the back of the net to bring things level. Just before half-time, Cimini struck again when she deflected a ball to the feet of Bergamaschi who one-touched it in to put AC Milan on top.

Club America celebrate a win against AC Milan / Image courtesy Connor Cunningham

This is where things would stay at the half when a lightning strike delayed the match for a full hour before players could resume warmups. They certainly came out recharged because the second half was a non-stop goal-scoring bonanza that delighted everyone in attendance. First, Club América found the equalizer in the 58th minute, and then Alison González scored two consecutive goals in the 73rd and 75th minutes to hammer home the lead. AC Milan wasn’t finished, though, and responded with two back-to-back goals of their own in the 85th and 88th minutes to bring things level. And just when it seemed like a penalty shootout was unavoidable, Alison González came back to earn a hat trick with a goal in the second minute of stoppage time.

All in all, it was a thrilling match with two teams that really wanted to prove their worth and earn the bronze. Despite not being in-season, AC Milan put up a very strong fight that bodes well for their upcoming season. And as the winners, Club América can be proud of their goal-scoring prowess and ability to scrape out a win after giving up two equalizers and even falling behind.

Championship Match: Racing Louisville vs. OL Reign, 7 P.M.

34’ Kirsten Davis (1–0 Racing Louisville)

59’ Olivia Athens, assisted by Tziarra King (1–1)

66’ Jordyn Huitema, assisted by Jimena Lopez (1–2 OL Reign)

In the 2022 regular season, Racing Louisville and OL Reign have had two contentious meetings that both ended in hard-fought draws. There was always going to be a winner for the Women’s Cup final, though, so it was up in the air who would take the trophy home. Would the returning champions come out on top? Or would OL Reign finally break through and beat Racing after two close battles and steal the crown?

At first, the game was another even match-up between the two NWSL sides. Eventually, Racing got the upper hand, however, when Kirsten Davis fought hard to push through and earn the first goal of the night in the 34th minute. Racing stayed up by one until the end of the half so OL Reign made some major substitution changes to add fresh legs. They took off Megan Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock and replaced them with Tziarra King and Jordyn Huitema, and this made all the difference to OL Reign.

OL Reign are crowned Women’s Cup champions / Image courtesy Connor Cunningham

In the 59th minute, King was able to send a corner in that found teammate Olivia Athens. Racing’s keeper Katie Lund misread the ball and the Reign scored the equalizer. Just about five minutes later, OL Reign put the nail in the coffin when Jimena Lopez sent in a perfectly weighted ball to Huitema that was put away for the go-ahead goal. Racing wouldn’t stop fighting, but they wouldn’t find the equalizer and OL Reign would become the new Women’s Cup champions.

This was a heartbreaking loss for Racing who have had a tough regular season and, as hosts, clearly wanted to stay hometown champs. It was not to be, however, as OL Reign showed just how dominant they could be on the pitch. Tziarra King won player of the tournament for her game-changing contributions in both matches and as the confetti flew into the air, it was OL Reign who got to lift the trophy under the Lynn Family Stadium lights.

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