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A better offensive performance for OL Reign, but still room to grow

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Welcome back, Jess Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe.

Chicago Red Stars v OL Reign - NWSL Challenge Cup Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Not only did OL Reign score their first goal of 2021 this week, they managed to put all three of their shots on goal into the back of the net — winning 3-2 over the Chicago Red Stars. Tziarra King got her first goal and assist in an OL Reign jersey, while Leah Pruitt and Sofia Huerta bagged the other two goals.

It wasn’t a complete performance from the Reign, but the squad’s resilience paid off in the end. Young players continued to get tested and learn and grow, King made the most of her sub appearance and scored a banger of a goal, and veterans were able to keep control of the game. In a second half that was incredibly back and forth, it was OL Reign who managed to take control with two goals. And in the middle of a little chaos, there were plenty of little things that should give Reign fans some hope for the future.

Some partnerships are building

Tuesday’s match saw Megan Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock get their first OL Reign starts in 2021. Fishlock was a game-changer in the midfield, where she started in the No. 10 spot and brought some energy and different connections to the team. It was something the Reign definitely needed after two passive performances.

The player who perhaps benefited most from Fishlock’s arrival was Sofia Huerta. Those two were pressing together and combining throughout the match — including one combination that resulted in OL Reign’s first goal.

Huerta actually had fewer touches and passes against Chicago than she had in her prior two games, but she was able to do a lot more when she got on the ball. She logged three shots, her highest this year, scored a goal and created one chance. With Fishlock on the field, Huerta doesn’t have to do it all. She could focus on being a creator when needed while also on getting herself into more goal-scoring positions. That’s the role that best suits her.

While Rapinoe was limited to 45 minutes, she also brought a new dynamic to the attack. It took her some time to settle into the game, and she only completed about 54% of her passes, but Rapinoe was aggressive and unpredictable in the attack.

The work of Huerta, Fishlock and Rapinoe was evident as the first half was winding down, which you can see from this summary of plays during that timeframe:

  • 31’ - Huerta shoots from distance, but it goes well wide
  • 32’ - Fishlock chips it to Leah Pruitt in the box. Pruitt is called for a foul, although on replay it looked like Pruitt got her foot on a dropped ball from Alyssa Naeher before any contact
  • 34’ - After some good combining to move the ball up, Rapinoe takes a hopeful shot from distance that goes well wide and high
  • 38’ - Mallory Pugh scores for Chicago (furt) at a time where the Reign had the momentum
  • 39’ - Huerta wins a free kick on the right wing, where Stephanie Cox’s shot is blocked and a few players just miss a ball into the box
  • 40’ - Huerta wins a free kick in the attacking half, and a Rapinoe free kick just misses her teammates and goes out for a goal kick
  • 41’ - Huerta goal, assisted by Jess Fishlock (yay!)
  • 44’ - Huerta is fouled again trying to move the ball up the field
  • 45’ - Rapinoe’s shot is blocked and goes out for a corner — leading to a dangerous near-post ball that just can’t get put on frame

The Reign won 56% of their duels during this timeframe and had 61% of possession. Partnerships are building, and they are far from perfect at this point, but this game showed that the Reign have plenty more attacking punch in them.

Quinn continues to shine

After having some standout performances with Canada this year, Quinn has come back to the Reign looking like a player on a mission. The midfielder put in a strong performance against Portland, even if the team result didn’t follow. And they were everywhere again in OL Reign’s match against Chicago.

Quinn’s work probably won’t show up on the stat sheet that often, but they were constantly moving to get themselves into positions to receive the ball or create space for a teammate. They had 66 touches and a team-high 50 passes. Quinn also led the team in progressive carries up the field and passes into the final third.

While Dani Weatherholt helped apply defensive pressure in the midfield, Quinn was able to roam freely and work to connect the defense and attack. They showed they were up for the task, although we’ll get to one spot that broke down in the section below — not just for Quinn, but the whole squad.

Still must be better on the ball

Take nothing away from the steps of progress that OL Reign took, but the team still has to be cleaner on the ball if they want to limit their opponents’ chances. Here’s a great chart from our friend at NWSL Analitica, which notes that 19 of Chicago’s 20 shots came from OL Reign losing the ball — getting it taken from them, a bad pass, etc.

Look at where these giveaways take place. Those are some dangerous spots on the field. It could have been a much different game if the Red Stars finished more of these chances. In the words of our commenter CRRich in the match thread, while the Reign didn’t want to “close the barn door after the horses have been stolen,” they certainly looked like they were trying to do that a few times with giveaways.

On the flip side, think of how much OL Reign could have dominated this game if they were simply able to take better care of the ball. It’s something we’ll be watching closely in their match against Kansas City.

The team’s final match of the 2021 Challenge Cup is Monday, May 3. The road battle against Kansas City kicks off at 5 PM PT on Paramount+ (US/Canada) and Twitch (International).