On Sunday, OL Reign did exactly what they needed to do: earn 3 points at home against the Orlando Pride. Jordyn Huitema scored the lone goal for the Reign, who had an extra player for most of the match after a 3rd-minute red card to Pride goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse.
It wasn’t necessarily a perfect or pretty match for the Reign, but they found a way to break the Pride down and get an important win that propelled them into fourth place in the NWSL. With just four matches now remaining in the regular season and every team still in contention, every point matters.
Here are three stats that help tell the story of their 1-0 win against the Pride.
Emily Sonnett won 12/14 duels (ground and aerial), helping control the midfield on Sunday afternoon. Sure, the Reign were a player up for almost the entire match, but Sonnett was a big reason the Reign were able to control the game, seal the win in some tense late moments, and prevent the speedy Pride from transitioning. She completed 48/52 passes (92%), completed the most passes into the final third (8), won the most tackles (3), and had the second-most recoveries (12).
Harvey was asked about Sonnett’s performance after the match, and she spoke about how consistent she’s been in the midfield this season.
“I think she’s been our best player all year. Consistent performer. Sonnett’s consistently good. When we looked at playing her as one of the 6s, one of the reasons for that was just her defensive mindset.” Harvey added, “Outside of Nikki (Stanton), we really don't have that real, brute 6.”
Early in the preseason, Harvey said Sonnett was a little skeptical about the new role. Then she saw what the game gives her from that position, and it’s similar to how she already plays as a centerback.
“Her willingness to control the game is a game-changer for us. Now, there’s occasions she gets it wrong, there’s occasions she waits a little bit too long. But I’ll tell this story, I don't think she’ll mind me saying it – in the World Cup, when she wasn’t starting, she texted me and said, ‘I want you to make me the best 6 in the country,’ and I was like, ‘Sweet,’ because buy-in is huge. It doesn’t matter if I wanted to play her there, if she thinks she has a real shot at doing well at it, then the buy-in is even better.”
Harvey has been clear that trading for Sonnett wasn’t necessarily planned. But after seeing how she trained with the national team, and knowing what she’s accomplished with other club teams, Harvey jumped at the opportunity when she knew the Reign could get her.
“One of the reasons why I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ is because she's a winner. And I think she showed that today, because in these really gritty moments where you’ve got to see a game out, you want an Emily Sonnett on your team. Hopefully, she can keep doing that.”
It’s no surprise that the Reign had more touches in their attacking penalty box than in any other match this season (38). Unfortunately, the Reign were not precise with their movement and passing when they got into these positions – and only had one goal and fairly limited chances to show for it.
That’s evidenced by the 1.3 expected goals (xG) total for the match, which is in the middle for the Reign this year.
It’s been a consistent theme for the Reign, who haven't scored multiple goals since July 1. They had a perfect opportunity – at home, a player up – to do that, but a combination of great goalkeeper saves, a pack-it-in approach from Orlando, and inconsistency in the final third prevented it.
“I think, for us, when a team drops off like that, we have to play what they give us and I didn’t think we did that in the first half,” Harvey said. “The game could’ve been over and done with after the 60 minutes, but we need to take more of our chances and create more opportunities.”
Throughout the match, even down a player, Orlando targeted Rose Lavelle – trying to prevent balls into her. When Orlando went down a player they dropped into a 4-4-1, and the compressed field made it even more difficult to find Lavelle in pockets.
When the Reign focused on creating width, however, they were able to get Lavelle in more dangerous positions. Lavelle had a season-high 31 touches in the Reign’s attacking third, though she’s played just four matches for the Reign so far this year. She also had a team-high five key passes. Sofia Huerta also had a season-high 25 touches in the Reign’s attacking third.
Here are just a few examples of where things worked – and where they didn’t.
In the 10th minute, Pride left midfielder Julie Doyle drops to cut off the option to Lavelle, while left back Kylie Strom anticipates the ball from Alana Cook to Huerta and picks off the pass.
The Pride did well to cut off this kind of option in the first half with their compact 4-4-1 formation. The game was still 0-0 when the red card was given, so the Pride focused on preventing goals, making it hard for these passes to break through.
But the switch to Huerta was on, as Phoebe McClernon saw in the 18th minute. With Lavelle now on the other side of the field pulling defenders, McClernon switched the attack to Huerta on the right – leading to a shot for Jess Fishlock.
“When it went 11-v-10, it sort of naturally closed those spaces off for [Rose Lavelle], but they still kept a high line,” Harvey said after the game. “So that ball in behind was definitely on and we spoke about that at halftime. We showed clips about it and kindly said, ‘Can you please put the ball behind the back line?’”
The Reign had a lot more luck finding Huerta when Veronica Latsko subbed into the game in the 66th minute, moving Lavelle into the middle. There was suddenly a lot more room on the right side of the field.
The Reign got three important points, but the match was still more difficult than it needed to be. If the Reign can continue to improve the little things and find some real cohesion in the final third, this team has all the components to be dangerous to close out the season.
They have a chance to do that on Wednesday when the team hosts Racing Louisville at Lumen Field in the Challenge Cup semifinals. The match kicks off at 7 PM PT and will air on CBS Sports Network.