While OL Reign had what some might call a rollercoaster of a season, with highs and lows at different points, it was a highly productive year. The Reign earned the highest seed in the NWSL Challenge Cup playoffs, advanced to their fifth straight NWSL playoff semifinal, and made it to the NWSL Final for the third time in club history.
Along the way, they broke the NWSL single-game attendance record, when more than 34,000 fans came out to celebrate the life and career of Megan Rapinoe.
The season didn't end how Rapinoe or the Reign wanted, but there were a lot of great moments along the way.
Here are three stats that help summarize this OL Reign season:
(All data, unless otherwise specified, is from FBref)
Be prepared, because I'm about to throw a lot of numbers at you. I hope I'll be able to provide proper context for all of them. In short, these numbers all have to do with the Reign's struggles in their attacking third.
In 2023 league play, OL Reign averaged 134 touches in their attacking third per match. They also averaged 20 touches in the opposition penalty box per match.
Last year, when the Reign won the NWSL Shield and had the third-highest xG output in the league (36.6 xG), the team averaged 158 touches in their attacking third and 27 in the penalty box.
The Reign had an average of 24 fewer touches in their attacking third this year compared to 2022. This doesn't include the postseason or Challenge Cup.
It should be noted that the Reign had fewer touches overall in 2023 – averaging 48% possession compared to 50% last year. However, the big difference is where that possession occurred.
This season, 22% of the team's touches were in the final third. In 2022, that came out to 27%.
Now, simply having possession in a specific spot on the field doesn't mean a lot. It's what a team does with their touches that matters. Unfortunately, OL Reign lacked the attacking prowess they'd enjoyed in previous years. The Reign had the fourth-lowest expected goals (xG) total during the season (27.5 xG).
The numbers show that the Reign struggled to find the same creative cohesion they had in their NWSL Shield-winning season. A lot of that can be attributed to injuries in the midfield, along with fatigue with a lot of early season cross-country travel. Rose Lavelle – the team's main creative force – was out for almost the entire regular season, Jess Fishlock was hurt for a large portion, Quinn was injured early in the year, Olivia van der Jagt missed a similar portion of time, Megan Rapinoe was injured early, and several of those players were also away for the World Cup.
Here's to a healthy midfield, more consistency, and perhaps another creative weapon or two in 2024.
Now, when the offense isn't working as you'd like, you hope your defense can do the job. And OL Reign's defense was able to do that well throughout the year. The team didn't give up a single goal during its six NWSL Challenge Cup group stage matches.
During the season, the Reign conceded 25.4 expected goals – the second lowest in the league behind the San Diego Wave, who won the NWSL Shield. The Reign also allowed a league-low 3.9 xG against in their six Challenge Cup group stage matches.
Across the team's three playoff matches, the Reign averaged 0.77 xG against and conceded two goals (both in the final).
This came despite significant rotation on the backline, with all three goalkeepers getting minutes in the Challenge Cup, Claudia Dickey replacing Phallon Tullis Joyce in the latter half of the regular season, Phoebe McClernon being hurt for the start of the season, and both Sofia Huerta and Alana Cook departing for the World Cup. That's the sign of a team that knows its collective defensive responsibility.
Stingy teams have a much higher chance of winning matches, and OL Reign's defense put them in a position to win a lot of games in the regular season and playoffs. The Reign also have a relatively young backline, which should make fans excited for the future.
While the Reign press felt a little less intense this year, it was still incredibly effective. According to Opta, the Reign created 52 shots off of high turnovers, second in the league behind Portland. In 2022, the number was only slightly higher at 59.
The Reign finished behind just Gotham and Angel City in the overall number of high turnovers the team forced. Gotham created 376 high turnovers with their consistent high press, while Angel City created 311 and the Reign had 303.
The team scored four goals off of high turnovers, which was the third highest in the league. OL Reign also won possession 792 times in the midfield – second-best behind Gotham.
Where the team differed in 2023 was their press intensity. In 2022, OL Reign was second in the league in PPDA, which stands for Passes Per Defensive Action. PPDA captures the number of passes a team allows in attacking areas before they make a defensive action. The lower the PPDA, the higher the intensity of a team’s press. OL Reign’s PPDA was 10 in 2022.
The Reign's PPDA was 11.6 in 2023, which was tied for the second-highest in the league behind the Chicago Red Stars. Remember that the higher the number, the less intense a team's pressure was.
What does that mean? The Reign seemed to be more strategic about when and how they pressed rather than relying on consistent defensive pressure. It made the team incredibly hard to break down while still leading to several good opportunities in transition.
Next up for OL Reign is the NWSL Expansion Draft, which takes place on December 15. Some new signings and hopefully re-signing of the team's free agents should also come after that. OL Reign should be operating under more stability in 2024 as well, as the sale of the club should be completed by the end of the year – concluding a process that began at the start of the season in April.