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Match Preview: OL Reign v. Chicago Red Stars

The Reign head on the road, searching for their second win in a row.

Nikita Taparia

OL Reign will be looking for their second win in a row, as the club heads on the road to face the Chicago Red Stars. The match kicks off at 3 PM PT on Sunday, July 18, at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois. It will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.

OL Reign (3-5-1) and Chicago (4-4-2) are both coming off wins, with Chicago taking down Houston 2-1 without registering a single shot on goal. Yes, you read that correctly. The Dash gave up two own goals in their loss to the Red Stars.

The Reign have found success against Chicago this year, beating them twice already in 2021 — once in the Challenge Cup and again in the regular season. But this is a Chicago side coming into the match with some momentum, and a lot of smart veteran players. Here are three things to watch in the match.

Tough to break down

At full strength, Chicago is a tough team to break down. Earlier in June, they put in a masterclass performance against North Carolina, winning the game 1-0 and allowing the Courage just one shot on goal.

The Red Stars have an organized midfield, with Morgan Gautrat and Sarah Woldmoe doing a lot of defensive work to protect the backline. They also have a quick defensive line that can recover from positioning mistakes.

While Chicago is seventh in the league in shots taken, ahead of just Gotham and Louisville, they are fifth on the league table because of their defensive organization. They’ve been able to stay organized defensively and take advantage of any offensive opportunities to walk away with a few crucial recent wins. Two weeks ago, Chicago managed to defeat the Washington Spirit 1-0 thanks to some chaos on a corner kick — incredibly, thanks to yet another own goal. The Red Stars registered just two shots on goal in that game, while last week, they took down Houston with no shots on goal.

At the same time, Chicago is prone to some poor performances, like their 3-0 loss to Louisville in the pouring rain or their recent 2-0 loss to the Reign. How did the Reign break them down in that game? First, the Red Stars rested a lot of starters due to some fixture congestion. But more importantly, the Reign were able to cause some chaos in the box with good movement and strategic crosses.

When the Red Stars sit deep against the Reign, the wing play is going to be crucial in stretching Chicago. Can players like Sofia Huerta and the Reign’s outside backs recreate their success again? The movement of the forwards and attacking midfielder will need to be in sync as well. With the Lyon loanees having more and more time to integrate with this squad, this would be a great time to show what that connection can do.

Watch the long balls

Similar to Kansas City last week, Chicago likes to play vertically. They lead the league in the percentage of passes that are forward, with 44% — compared to 37.6% for OL Reign. You can see from some of their pass network maps from Arielle Dror that their outside backs and centerbacks often bypass the midfield and look for forwards Mallory Pugh and Kealia Watt directly.

While the Reign did well to prevent too many opportunities over the top against Kansas City, they gave one very good chance away on the play that led to Sarah Bouhaddi’s red card, which ultimately got rescinded. Bouhaddi wouldn’t have been in that position if the Reign backline was able to keep Jessica Silva from sneaking behind on a ball over the top.

They’ll have to be more buttoned-up against an experienced Chicago side that features Pugh and Watt up top — both players who can find the gaps behind defensive lines. And the Reign frontline will need to lead the club’s defensive effort high up the field to cut off those passing lanes and pressure the Red Stars backline into mistakes.

Be ruthless

While it was an entertaining win for the Reign last weekend against Kansas City, there were still plenty of moments where the Reign could have taken control of the game and didn’t. If they want to beat any club in this league on a given day, they’re going to have to be more clinical in front of goal and energetic in their press for a full 90 minutes.

“I think we got into some very good attacking areas that we identified as areas of strength for us. We allowed [Kansas City] to stay in the game. I think the game could have been more comfortable for us if we had been a little more ruthless,” said interim head coach Sam Laity.

In addition to scoring early and first, the Reign still need to put in a complete performance. Dzsenifer Marozsan is averaging nearly four chances created per game since joining the Reign, but she has yet to register an assist. Eugenie Le Sommer has been so close to getting her first NWSL goal. If the Reign can be ruthless against Chicago this weekend, one of them is bound to get on the scoresheet.

Injury Report / International Absences

Chicago Red Stars

OUT: None

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Julie Ertz (USA), Alyssa Naeher (USA), Tierna Davidson (USA), Casey Krueger (USA)

OL Reign

OUT: Ally Watt (right knee), Rosie White (illness)

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Nicole Momiki (JPN), Rose Lavelle (USA), Megan Rapinoe (USA), Quinn (CAN), Angelina (BRA)

How to Watch

The match kicks off Sunday, July 18, at 3 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.

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