Well, here we are. NWSL Decision Day. If OL Reign wins on the road against the Chicago Red Stars, they are in the playoffs and could possibly even host a game. If they lose or draw, they'll be relying on other results to get in.
The match kicks off at SeatGeek Stadium on Sunday, October 15, at 2 p.m. PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and the NWSL website for international viewers.
With all six NWSL games kicking off at the same time, things are going to be wild.
Now, in their last match of the regular season, they'll have another change. The Red Stars announced this week that they parted ways with head coach Chris Petrucelli. Assistant coach Ella Masar will lead the team. A new coach can bring new energy, and with nothing on the line for Chicago to close out the season, they'll be able to play with some freedom – which could be dangerous.
OL Reign should have some renewed energy of their own, however, as Sofia Huerta and Rose Lavelle were both in full training with the team this week, and OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey confirmed everybody should be available for selection.
Here's what you need to know ahead of the match.
OL Reign played to a scoreless draw at home against the Washington Spirit last week. The Reign are 1-2-2 in their last five matches.
The Red Stars fell 6-3 on the road against the Kansas City Current last weekend. Chicago is 2-1-2 in their last five regular-season games.
OL Reign sits in sixth place (8-8-5, 29 points) heading into NWSL Decision Day. The Red Stars (7-11-3, 24 points) are out of playoff contention and enter the weekend in 12th place.
Head to Head
The Reign are 10-10-8 all-time against the Red Stars, but have struggled to get results on the road – going 2-8-2 in away matches at SeatGeek Stadium.
The last time the two sides met was on April 22, a 5-2 home win for the Reign that featured braces from Bethany Balcer and Jess Fishlock.
- In the last match of the regular season, eight teams are still in contention for the final four playoff spots.
- The Red Stars are 4-4-2 at home.
- Chicago has scored 28 goals while conceding a league-leading 47 goals.
- The Reign have scored 26 goals and conceded 24.
- Bianca St-Georges and Ella Stevens lead the Red Stars with 4 goals each.
- OL Reign has a league-best eight goals scored in the final 15 minutes of a game this season, while the Red Stars are tied for the most goals conceded (7) during the final 15 minutes.
What to Watch
Defend with numbers behind the ball
Chicago does not typically deploy a high, intense press – opting instead to collapse into the middle and put numbers behind the ball. They've forced the fewest high turnovers in the league (193, compared to 258 for the Reign), and have the fewest shots (25) from high turnovers.
That doesn't mean the Red Stars won't pressure the Reign. They started their last game against Kansas City with more pressing energy, and will likely do the same to start the match against the Reign.
After switching from a three-back to a 4-2-3-1 later in the season, this defensive approach has worked fairly well for Chicago. They have solid defenders who can keep danger away, and if they get just one goal they've been able to hold on for a shutout win. In fact, three of their last four wins have been 1-0 affairs.
"They're very hard-working, blue collar, really hard to break down, never give up mentality," Harvey said about Chicago's defensive mindset. "It's probably what I would say if you were to write their DNA out."
But when it doesn't quite sync for the Red Stars, when they can't get set defensively, they are vulnerable. Chicago allows the most shots on target (6) per game. That should mean the Reign's backline has a lot of the ball, and hopefully, they can find their wide players consistently to progress the ball.
To further illustrate their deeper defensive positioning, Chicago has the second-most touches in their defensive penalty area and the second-most clearances.
The Reign should use their width
The Red Stars put a lot of bodies in their box when defending, which can leave the wide spaces open. Below is a look at Kansas City's successful crosses, set-piece passes, key passes, and assists against Chicago last weekend. Several came from wide positions or the corner of the penalty box.
When Kansas City could find their wing players higher up the field, they were able to progress quickly and in dangerous spots.
Because they allow teams more possession on the wings, the Red Stars concede the second-most crosses in the league.
They typically have a lot of numbers in the box to contest those crosses – but that doesn't mean a player like Bethany Balcer can't sneak in and get on the end of something. In fact, she did that last time against the Red Stars.
Opponents have the most touches in their attacking third and attacking penalty area against Chicago. Simply put, around the box is going to be a critical spot on the field for the Reign – and they should get more touches in this area than they have lately. But can the Reign be more precise than they have over the last few months? That's the key question. Huerta does lead the league in completed passes and crosses into the penalty area.
Don't let them move the ball around
The Red Stars have found some great attacking rhythm to close out the season. When they are able to move the ball quickly, they can break down opponents. Just look at this goal they scored against the Spirit.
The Red Stars are third in the league in short passes completed and have completed the fewest progressive passes. If the Reign can pressure Chicago higher up the field, they should be able to disrupt some of this quick-passing build-up.
The Red Stars also have the speed up front to counter against teams when the opportunity arises, so the Reign will need to be in good defensive shape to limit those opportunities.
And they are dangerous on corner kicks and set plays. Chicago has seven goals from set pieces this year – and four of them have come from midfielder Julia Bianchi's corner kicks.
"They always have many chances in games, and you always see how good the finishers are," goalkeeper Claudia Dickey said about Chicago ahead of the match. "Every team we've been playing against is so good going forward, and I think that we've highlighted more defensive tactics and shape and everything more in training to try and counter that a little bit."
There's a lot on the line for OL Reign on Sunday afternoon – and in a location that's been tough for them to get results. But they control their playoff destiny. Win and they're in.
Injury / Availability Report
QUESTIONABLE: Rose Lavelle (leg)
Chicago Red Stars
OUT: Tierna Davidson (face), Samantha Feller (hip), Sarah Griffith (illness), Mallory Swanson (knee)
How to Watch
OL Reign kicks off against the Chicago Red Stars at 2 p.m. PT on Sunday, October 15. The match will air on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and the NWSL website for international viewers.