The quest for the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup begins on Tuesday for OL Reign, who open the tournament with a 7 PM PT match against Sky Blue FC. The game will stream live on CBS All Access for viewers in the U.S. and Canada, and will be available on Twitch for international viewers.
This is the first match of the year for OL Reign, who like every other NWSL club is entering the Challenge Cup without a single preseason match under its belt. Still, several Reign players have commented in the last week how grateful they were for the opportunity to train in Montana — allowing them to start full team training earlier due to the state’s low coronavirus case load, and to have the opportunity to bond while in isolation together.
While the Reign will be without Megan Rapinoe, they still have plenty of exciting attacking talent. That includes Rookie of the Year Bethany Balcer, who is flexible enough to line up on the wing, as a striker, or in the center attacking midfield role. Newly acquired players like Japanese international Nicole Momiki and Sofia Huerta bring additional creativity and instinct in front of goal.
Sky Blue, meanwhile, is without two key U.S. internationals: Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh. Both picked up injuries that are keeping them out of the tournament. The team also lost Madison Tiernan and Caprice Dydasco, a staple on the backline, to injuries. While Sky Blue has acquired key players like Midge Purce to give them more flexibility in the attack, they enter the tournament as rising underdogs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win some big games, but the common belief among those covering the league is that Sky Blue is a team building for great things in the future — maybe not right now.
It’s extremely difficult to predict how this game will look, what kind of lineup the Reign roll out, and more importantly, what the final scoreline might be. The Reign will likely try to dictate the flow of the game and manage possession. Sky Blue will probably look to disrupt and use their speed on the counter. Will either be successful? You’ll have to tune in to find out!
Here are five things we’d like to see in the match:
- Clear style of play: While OL Reign won’t come out of the gates playing perfectly, we’ve heard for the last month that new Head Coach Farid Benstiti is driving them toward a technical, creative, possession-based style of play. If they want to win this tournament, they’ll have to hone that style quickly. Can they establish that approach in the opening game, even if it’s not 100% quite yet?
- Goals, plural: The Reign didn’t score many goals last year. They survived thanks to a lot of 1-0 matches. They have more attacking power this season, and more players are healthy once again. In addition, players like Darian Jenkins and Morgan Andrews are coming off of fantastic W-League seasons where they found their scoring form. Can the Reign manage to spread out the goals across the team — and put more in the back of the net?
- Midfield cohesion: If the team wants to dominate possession, they’ll need the right midfield makeup to do so. Looking at the roster, it’s clear they have some significant depth in the midfield. But did these players have enough time to work together in preseason? Watch how the midfield performs this match — it could be telling of how the team does this tournament.
- Organized backline: While the Reign have plenty of returning players in defense, they lost Theresa Nielsen and Steph Catley, the two starting outside backs last year, along with centerback Megan Oyster. The starters in the first match on the backline will need to be organized to keep Sky Blue’s speedy attack at bay.
- Time for new players: With FIFA and the league allowing 5 subs, the ideal scenario for the Reign would be that they are tied or ahead going into the final 30 minutes of the second half. Not having to come from behind at that point would allow Benstiti to rotate in some new or younger players — giving them some time to integrate into a game environment and get a feel for the pace of the league.
OUT: Jess Fishlock (Right lower leg)
Jess Fishlock shares that her injury is some tightness, and it’s mostly a matter of being careful about how she returns after her long injury recovery pic.twitter.com/P7zE9A7kBT— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) June 29, 2020
Sky Blue FC
OUT: Caprice Dydasco (Right knee), Carli Lloyd (Left Knee), Mallory Pugh (Right hip), Madison Tiernan (Right ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: Imani Dorsey (Head)
How to Watch
Date/Time: Tuesday, June 30, 7 PM PT
Location: Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah
Streaming: CBS All Access (USA/Canada); Twitch (International)
This is your OL Reign gamethread. Head to @rovalks on Twitter for real-time updates, or join the conversation in the comments below.