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Match Preview: OL Reign face San Diego in home opener

The game kicks off Saturday, April 15, at 7 PM PT.

MikeRussellFoto / Sounder at Heart

On Saturday evening, under the lights at Lumen Field, OL Reign will be the last team in the league to host their 2023 home opener. If you ask any player on the squad about being in front of home fans again, their face will light up with excitement.

In fact, homegrown defender Sam Hiatt did just that when she went on FOX 13 to preview the home opener against the San Diego Wave.

“It’s so exciting. We really are looking to build off the great success we had at Lumen last year,” Hiatt said. “We ended on such a high note. We had record-breaking attendance at our last game of the year, so we really just want to try to build off that this year and set the tone, set that standard going forward.”

Home openers have historically been lightly attended for the Reign for a number of reasons. The league’s schedule is often late, giving people limited time to plan. They are sometimes competing with a Seattle Sounders match on the same day or on the same weekend, and the MLS season always starts before the NWSL — giving them a head start. International breaks often come right before too, which limits some of the Reign’s early momentum in the season. And their opening matches often overlap with Spring Break locally.

The attendance numbers reinforce this. In 2013, the league’s first season, the club had 2,618 fans in attendance for the home opener. That got as high as 3,987 when the team played at Memorial Stadium. The best regular-season home opener was in 2019, the Reign’s first season in Tacoma, where 5,323 fans showed up.

And it should be noted that the club’s first match of 2022 at Lumen Field — a Challenge Cup game against Portland — welcomed 7,343 fans.

The 2023 home opener will be a bright exception, as OL Reign expects to smash their regular-season home opener attendance record on Saturday. They should even beat that Challenge Cup attendance from last year.

“The energy that the fans bring definitely gives me energy,” Olivia Van der Jagt said in a press conference earlier this week. “Last year, we had a really good fan base ... so I think it will be really exciting to see everyone out there supporting us.”

Van der Jagt, who also grew up in the region and was a rookie last year, has appeared in every regular season match for OL Reign aside from the 2022 season opener. She’ll likely be an important contributor on Saturday when the Reign face a tough opponent in the San Diego Wave.

Despite facing each other four times last year, the two sides haven’t played against one another since June of last year. The Wave are 2-0-0 to start the season, while OL Reign are 1-1-0. The Reign have the historical advantage over San Diego, who are entering their second year in the league. OL Reign has won two matches and has two draws against the Wave — with both victories coming at home.

What can the anticipated record-breaking home crowd expect from Saturday’s match? A tactical battle between two organized and defensive-focused squads.

Van der Jagt is arguably OL Reign’s best midfielder in the air, and if she starts, she’ll have the task of containing the 6’ 1” Taylor Kornieck. Meanwhile, the backline will have their hands full with Alex Morgan and young attackers like Jaedyn Shaw and Amirah Ali, who both have goals this season.

With San Diego’s direct but purposeful style of play — which relies on causing a little chaos in and around the box — the Reign will need to win first and second balls. Head coach Laura Harvey thinks that the Wave will present similar threats as last year, but cautioned that both teams evolved a lot from the last time they played in June.

“We didn’t play them after June. So, it’s been a long time since we’ve actually played against them. I think we evolved a lot since then. I think they obviously evolved a lot since then. But, I still think their threats still tend to be the same.”

With Saturday marking the first congested week — with a Challenge Cup road match afterward on Wednesday and another home game next Saturday — Harvey will have to be careful about minutes management, but that rotation will likely come in their matches that follow the home opener. For now, the team is focused on what they can do to break down San Diego and give the home fans an entertaining match.

“We obviously have limited time to prepare for this kind of run now, so we really just have to get through tomorrow based off all the work that we did prior to the international break,” midfielder Jess Fishlock said in a pre-match press conference. “But we’re feeling good, the group is good, training was good today [Friday]. I know that the girls have been training really hard whilst everyone has been away and everyone is just looking forward to the home opener and kind of getting the season going.”

Injury / Availability Report

OL Reign

OUT: Angelina (SEI - knee), Phoebe McClernon (back)

QUESTIONABLE: Rose Lavelle (leg)

San Diego Wave

OUT: Abby Dahlkemper (back), Meggie Dougherty Howard (thigh), Giovanna DeMarco (knee), Emily van Egmond (back), Melanie Barcenas (illness)

QUESTIONABLE: None

How to Watch

OL Reign’s home opener kicks off Saturday, April 15, at 7 PM PT. The match against the San Diego Wave will air on FOX 13+ in Western Washington and will stream on Paramount+ (U.S.), TSN+ (Canada), and Watch.NWSLSoccer.com (International).

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