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Reign FC v. Orlando: Taming the Pride

Orlando’s coming off a tough mid-week match. Reign FC is looking to make its mark at home.

Reign vs. Pride Photo by MikeRussellFoto

After a hard-fought second half that helped the team earn a point on the road, Reign FC return home to face the Orlando Pride in the club’s first match at Cheney Stadium. The game kicks off on Sunday, April 21 at 7 PM PT.

The Pride are coming off a tough midweek match, where they fell 5-0 on the road against the North Carolina Courage. They also lost their home opener to the Portland Thorns, making them even more hungry for their first points of the season.

Reign FC, meanwhile, is determined to make its mark at the club’s third home in Tacoma. “Your first match at home is always a special one,” Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “We want to put in a good performance for our supporters in our first match at Cheney Stadium.”

A Look at the Roster

Orlando is one of the few teams that didn’t do much to improve its roster this offseason. Their most significant change was bringing in former Birmingham City manager Marc Skinner to replace Tom Sermanni.

The Pride backline returns all four starters from last year, with former Reign FC defender Carson Pickett slotting in at left back and Ali Krieger serving as her partner on the right side. At centerback are two other international starters: Australia’s Alanna Kennedy and Canadian defender Shelina Zadorsky. This is a fairly strong defensive line when all things come together, but they’ve been particularly vulnerable on crosses and set pieces in their first two matches.

Up front, Orlando has historically gotten some killer production out of Brazil’s Marta and Alex Morgan, who scored her 100th goal for the U.S. Women’s National Team in early April. This pair was unstoppable in the second half of the 2017 NWSL season, but they haven’t been able to make as much of an impact so far this season. These two are bolstered by other attacking talents like Chioma Ubogagu and Rachel Hill, but they’re facing similar challenges in the attack.

One significant reason for struggles on both the offensive and defensive end is that Orlando doesn’t have the midfield core it needs to battle with NWSL opponents. Dani Weatherholt has probably showed the best for the Pride, playing simple passes to keep possession and staying home in the midfield on defense. Around her, however, the team has struggled.

Style of Play

Both North Carolina and Portland were effective pressuring Orlando’s backline and midfield, terrorizing them into bad passes high up the field. The Pride midfield hasn’t been able to find the spaces to get open for their defenders when they’re pressured, and they get pulled out of position as a result. North Carolina’s best chances on Wednesday were often the result of picking off a pass and quickly countering through the midfield.

Reign FC are another team that likes to press and win the ball back quickly, and this is going to be a match where that could pay off. However, they’ll need to be sharp defensively. In their first two matches, the Pride have played direct out of the back, perhaps the result of their midfield still struggling to put everything together. That has proven dangerous at times. Against Portland, Orlando had a series of strong chances when they sent the ball long and to the corner for an on-rushing Morgan or Ubogagu. The Reign backline will be busy working to keep Morgan in front of them.

Both Portland and Orlando also had luck with late runs into the box and shots from just outside the 18. While Reign FC haven’t been a team to test opponents from distance, this is a match where they shouldn’t hesitate to try a few long shots early. The same goes for set pieces: the Courage scored two because Orlando couldn’t clear the ball on a corner, and could have notched a few more. The Reign will want to take advantage of any set piece opportunity they get.

Skinner said coming into the season that the defense gave up far too much in transition. He wants the team to play a possession-based game where they are aware of their positioning on the field. The team hasn’t shown they are quite there yet in 2019, but they also went up against two teams that played in the NWSL championship last year. Reign FC shouldn’t sleep on this Pride side. In the NWSL, anything can happen.

Players to Watch

  • Emily van Egmond: The midfielder is one of Australia’s most important midfield players, helping dictate possession on the field. She struggled to integrate into Orlando’s midfield last season — and hasn’t quite found her groove yet this year. When she’s on, however, she helps improve the whole team around her.
  • Alex Morgan: The forward has expanded her game in recent years and is difficult to push off the ball. She’s still got the speed, strength and goal acumen to be dangerous at any time. Her at Marta haven’t linked up in quite the same way this season. If they do this match, look out. However, it’s also possible she gets rested after starting two matches in four days for the Pride.
  • Chi Ubogagu: The winger, who can also slot in at outside back, is dynamic on the ball. She’s strong in tight spaces and is skilled with her left foot. Ubogagu alone can’t change a game, but she can be a challenge to defend. Her versatility is a big reason she’s in consideration for a spot on England’s World Cup roster this year.

Injury Report

Orlando

OUT: Toni Pressley (left hamstring strain)

Reign FC

OUT: Jasmyne Spencer (Left knee), Taylor Smith (Right Knee) | QUESTIONABLE: Megan Rapinoe (Right calf strain), Steph Catley (Right calf strain)

How to Watch

Date/Time: Sunday, April 21, 7:00 PM PT

Location: Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, WA

TV: None

Online: Yahoo! Sports (U.S. viewers), NWSLsoccer.com (international viewers) — How to stream NWSL matches in 2019

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