OL Reign begin their quest for an NWSL Championship trophy on Friday evening when they host Angel City FC at Lumen Field in Seattle. The quarterfinal match kicks off at 7 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on the NWSL website for international viewers.
Both teams are coming off convincing wins in their final regular-season matches. Angel City beat the Portland Thorns 5-1 at home, while OL Reign defeated the Chicago Red Stars 3-0 on the road.
Angel City has only lost one of their last 11 league matches since interim head coach Becki Tweed took over. One thing that's made them tougher to beat is how much better they are at controlling a game after scoring. Momentum and belief is also a powerful driver.
"Since the coaching change, they've been on a roll," head coach Laura Harvey said ahead of the match. "They play very expansively and create opportunities a lot – which they obviously took their chances last week."
While OL Reign hasn't won a playoff match since 2015, the team knows that they need to play with joy and energy if they want to break that streak – and they enter this game on a three-match undefeated run. But streaks mean nothing in the playoffs.
"This is the most important game of the season now," forward Megan Rapinoe said. "It's about putting a good performance out there and leaving everything out there. That would be my message to the team. Just enjoy it. This is the best part of the season."
Head to Head
This is the fifth meeting between OL Reign and Angel City this year.
- In addition to two Challenge Cup games, the Reign beat the LA club 4-1 at home earlier in the regular season before losing 2-1 on the road last month.
- The Reign are 6-1-1 all-time against Angel City and undefeated against them at home.
- Angel City has scored 31 goals and conceded 30.
- OL Reign have scored 29 and conceded 24.
- Both sides have tallied eight goals in the final 15 minutes of play.
- Eleven of OL Reign's 16 goals all-time against ACFC came in the second half.
- Savannah McCaskill and Alyssa Thompson are tied with four goals apiece for Angel City, leading the team.
What to Watch
If you've read one of our many previews ahead of an Angel City match, you probably knew this one was coming. Angel City loves to cross the ball. They've attempted a league-leading 533 crosses, which is 101 more than Racing Louisville in second and 123 more attempts than the Reign have made. That averages out to 24 attempted crosses per game. That, my friends, is a lot.
Winger Claire Emslie leads the league in crosses attempted with 142 – 27% of her team's total. She has a team-high five assists as a result and has the fourth-most key passes in the league. Limiting her chances will be key for the Reign.
It can be a bit of volume over accuracy at times for Angel City, as the Reign actually lead the league in completed crosses into the penalty area (51, compared to 48 for ACFC). And did you know: with Emslie not starting in their August match against the Reign, Angel City had just eight crosses? The game ended in a 2-1 Reign loss, but that was due to a few errors by the Reign's defense and Claudia Dickey.
As always with Harvey, prevention is better than cure – and that means not allowing Angel City into dangerous spots where they can cross frequently.
"For them to put crosses in the box, they've got to be in an area of the field where they're able to do that first and foremost. So we were trying to prevent that as much as possible. But I think the hard part of crossing and dealing with that is they're putting it in an area of the field where it's dangerous and dominant. We work a lot on how we structure ourselves to defend those moments."
Luckily for the Reign, because of the danger they present on crosses, they focus on preventing their teammates from doing these things every single day in training. So they'll have that in mind as they work to prevent Angel City from getting into dangerous positions.
A speedy attack
If their crosses don't connect with a teammate, Angel City still likes to play expansive and force opponents to scramble to clear the ball. That often results in corner kicks – and Angel City also leads the league in this category, earning 161 corners compared to a league-low 84 for the Reign. Angel City also has a league-leading eight goals from set pieces.
And Angel City moves the ball vertically with speed. They have the second most progressive passes in the league, which are defined as completed passes that move at least 10 yards toward the opponent's goal. And Opta says their direct speed – how quickly a team progresses up the field – is the second fastest in the league.
With players like Emslie, Scarlett Camberos, and Alyssa Thompson trying to beat defenders out wide, while left back M.A. Vignola often makes overlapping runs high up the field, they can really do some damage in transition.
Like the Reign, Angel City's midfield likes to get on the ball a lot and move it around. The addition of Amandine Henry has given them more experience in the midfield and allowed them to do more of what they want: play very fluidly.
"I think most games in this league, midfield battles win the game," Harvey said when asked about this midfield matchup. "I think being able to stop them, being able to force them to do things they don't want to do, and our midfield being able to get on the ball and dominate – when we can do that, we always feel like we can dominate games."
With attacking midfielder Savannah McCaskill given more freedom to roam and find space, the Reign will have to keep an eye on her and also look for those moments when she and the rest of her teammates are out of shape. And then, as Harvey told reporters earlier this week, they'll need their midfield to move the ball and transition quickly.
"I think the key to playing them is that you've got to be defensively solid and you've got to get after them with the ball, move the ball quickly, create opportunities in transition, which I think is a huge threat of ours."
The team has done those things well in their last two matches, and they should be key to the matchup again on Friday.
Injury / Availability Report
OUT: Simone Charley (SEI – achilles), Brittany Isenhour (concussion), Merritt Mathias (knee), Christen Press (SEI – knee)
How to Watch
OL Reign kicks off against Angel City FC at 7 PM PT on Friday, October 20. The match will stream on Paramount+ (U.S.) and the NWSL website (international).