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Five things we’d like to see when OL Reign face Utah

OL Reign’s Fall Series adventure begins Sept. 26.

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2020 NWSL Challenge Cup - Day 6 Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

OL Reign kicks off their NWSL Fall Series on Saturday, Sept. 26 in a road match against the Utah Royals FC. That 12:30 PM PT game can be viewed on CBS All Access (U.S./Canada) or Twitch (international).

If you want to get caught up on the OL Reign roster, check out our Fall Series roster story and read our roundtable chat where we make some predictions about the team’s starting lineup for this opening match.

While the OL Reign roster looks quite different from the Challenge Cup — with a number of players unavailable due to short-term loans in Europe — there’s still plenty of talent on this Reign squad. Here are 5 things we’re looking for in their opening match against Utah.

Playmaking from the midfield

New OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti wants this team to dominate possession, be creative, and be attacking-minded. We didn’t see enough of that this summer. To be fair, Benstiti didn’t have enough time with a new squad ahead of the Challenge Cup to implement this vision, but the players now have more time together and under his guidance. It’s a strange year — and we can’t take much from this season in general — but we’ll be looking toward the midfield to see if they can create more chances for the team.

A continued return from injury

Taylor Smith and Jasmyne Spencer got their first minutes in the Challenge Cup after recovering from ACL tears. That’s a hard injury in any year, but even more difficult in a year with sporadic matches and uncertainty. These lower-stakes matches give them both a great opportunity to earn some minutes and remind us all what they’re capable of doing.

Let’s score some goals

While a number of teams struggled to convert during the Challenge Cup — not just the Reign! — the goals have been flowing during these Fall Series matches. I hope that bodes well for the Reign. The team has plenty of attacking threats, including Bethany Balcer, who scored the team’s only goal in the summer tournament. If we don’t see a goal or two against Utah, it will be a bit worrisome.

A test of defensive depth

While goals were hard to come by this summer, OL Reign’s defense was one of the best in the league during the Challenge Cup. But the team will be without Lauren Barnes, Alana Cook, Quinn, and Celia Jiménez Delgado. Julia Ashley, who was unavailable for the Challenge Cup, is still out with a back injury, putting depth to the test even more. This is a real opportunity for some of OL Reign’s younger players to make an impact. Madison Hammond and Taylor Smith — along with new signings Kim Hazlett and Sam Hiatt — all have a chance to prove themselves.

Carrying their message

OL Reign players came together to speak out against racial injustice during the Challenge Cup — participating in a privilege walk and wearing OL Reign-branded Black Lives Matter shirt, with the logo of the sustainable clothing line created by Jasmyne Spencer, Jas it Up, on the right sleeve and the name of Tacoma’s Manuel Ellis on the left sleeve.

During the Challenge Cup, OL Reign players mentioned that a lot of important, systems-change conversations were taking place privately, but they were committed to racial justice work over the long-term. They have an opportunity to carry that message into the Fall Series. The club started with an announcement today of the Boeing Scholarship Program, which will cover the full cost of participation fees in OL Reign Academy for two players of color during the 2020/2021 season.

We’ll see how it continues in their match against Utah.

How to Watch

Time/Date: Saturday, Sept. 26, 12:30 PM PT
TV: None
Streaming (US/Canada): CBS All Access
Streaming (International): Twitch

Injury Report

OL Reign - OUT: Kelcie Hedge (SEI – right knee), Julia Ashley (back)

Utah Royals - OUT: Nicole Barnhart (left Achilles), QUESTIONABLE: Abby Smith (left knee)

Projected Reign Starting XI

Don’t worry, I’ll certainly be wrong about this.

FW: Bethany Balcer, Sofia Huerta, Jasmyne Spencer
MF: Shirley Cruz, Allie Long, Dani Weatherholt
D: Steph Cox, Kristen McNabb, Amber Brooks, Taylor Smith
GK: Casey Murphy

Reign Fall Series Roster

Goalkeepers: Michelle Betos, Casey Murphy, Carly Nelson

Defenders: Julia Ashley, Amber Brooks, Steph Cox, Madison Hammond, Kim Hazlett, Sam Hiatt, Taylor Smith

Midfielders: Morgan Andrews, Shirley Cruz (INT), Allie Long (FED), Kristen McNabb, Dani Weatherholt, Rosie White (INT)

Forwards: Bethany Balcer, Sofia Huerta, Miranda Nild, Leah Pruitt, Jasmyne Spencer

Unavailable Players: Lauren Barnes (LOAN), Celia Jiménez Delgado (LOAN), Jess Fishlock (LOAN), Machaela George (LOAN), Kelcie Hedge (ACL Tear), Darian Jenkins (LOAN), Yuka Momiki (LOAN), Quinn (LOAN), Megan Rapinoe (Voluntary Opt-Out)

Neeku Purcell (OL Reign Academy), Smith Hunter (OL Reign Academy) and Katie Benz are also training with the team, but unavailable to feature in matches.

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