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Quarterly Hype Report: A Little Good, A Little Bad

A strong start for OL Reign has given way to some ugly struggles. So what’s next?

NWSL: Chicago Red Stars at OL Reign Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, OL Reign sat comfortably atop the table, looked good in the NWSL Challenge Cup, and, some foibles notwithstanding, looked poised to maintain their dominant form. Unfortunately, back-to-back losses — a frustrating 1-0 away loss to North Carolina Courage and an incomprehensibly poor showing in a 4-1 home loss to NY/NJ Gotham FC — leave the team in a far less comfortable position.

It’s a long season, and every team in every league has a hiccup somewhere.

But it’s not that long, and with eight matches played, the World Cup around the corner, and the Reign dropping points in deeply unfortunate fashion, the margin for error is small.

Still, the Reign have shown this season that they’re still a contender for the best side in the league, and we have plenty of reasons to feel good about the future. Here’s your quarterly hype report — what’s hype, what’s not, and what’s next.

Olivia Van der Jagt

What’s hype? Olivia hecking Van der Jagt is what’s hype. While she missed a number of games recently on an extended excused absence, the presence she brought to the early season was electric, and she showed real growth and maturation from an already very good debut season in 2022. Composed on the ball and adept at playing out of pressure, she’s shown she can hack it and then some at this level, and even found her scoring touch, popping up for a stoppage-time goal to hustle a win out of a hard-fought match against San Diego Wave.

As one unnamed, and somewhat inebriated, fan so memorably put it in the 96th minute of that match, you just got VAN DER JACKED!

With Olo back in training, and back on the bench for that awful Gotham match we’d all rather forget, we’re looking forward to a few more Van der Jackings to come. Get hype. She’s got the goods, and they’re only going to get better.

Alana Cook

The best centerback in the league is still the best centerback in the league, full stop. Alana makes it look easy, but what she adds on both sides of the ball can’t be overstated. Her positioning and awareness are consistently top notch, and her passing is next tier, especially at her position — she leads the league in long balls completed, and her passing is consistently dangerous, as attested both by the knows-it-when-I-sees-it analytic and the fine folks at American Soccer Analysis, who record her passing G+ (0.44) as comparable to Maria Sanchez, Vanessa DiBernardo, Trinity Rodman, and other players more known for their incisive passing. Only one other central defender (Sam Staab) appears in the top 30.

The Gotham match was bad, and Alana Cook was occasionally beaten badly in it, but she’s been here before and she’s been just this good for us for two seasons before.

She’s been the best centerback in the league since she joined us in 2021. She still is today. All indications are she still will be in 2024. Get hype, stay hype, and overload the hype. You can’t be hype enough about Alana Cook.

Seizing the Moment

We have three consecutive home matches coming up, against Angel City, Portland Thorns, and KC Current. There are no easy matchups in NWSL — the worst side on their worst day is still, likely, a top-25 side globally — and these games figure to be no exception, but they also present an opportunity to make Lumen Field a fortress, reclaim our place at the top of the table, and put some daylight between us and our biggest rivals. It’s a three-match stretch that could prove defining for the season. If we can take all nine points, we should fancy our odds against anyone, and for any silverware.

If we drop more points in winnable games, at home, the outlook is less positive.

The moment’s ours. It’s time to seize it. Take that cloudy outlook and make it Reign. Turn out for our team, bring the noise, and give it everything you’ve got. This is our home, too, and our time to show how much we — and our Reign — belong here. #TAO.

Stray Observations

  • No Emily Sonnett hate post here, but the trade remains a bit perplexing. Sonnett is a good to very good CB, but on the Reign, she’s — generously — fifth on the depth chart, behind Cook, Sam Hiatt, Lauren Barnes, and Phoebe McClernon. And she’s been a bit of a disaster as a holding midfielder. We need to figure that out with a quickness, and there’s really no reason she should be starting in midfield over Olivia Athens, Nikki Stanton, or Marley Canales, even accounting for the shock of absences we’ve weathered.
  • The past two matches have shown the Reign struggling with buildup, struggling to establish their own press in the attacking third, and struggling to deal with quick, vertical attacks. In both matches, Megan Rapinoe, in particular, struggled to provide defensive support to Lu Barnes, struggled to find the pass out of pressure, and struggled with the speed and quality of her opponents. She’s an absolute legend, and she still has plenty to give, but we have a ton of options attacking out wide, with Veronica Latsko, Elyse Bennett, and Tziarra King all hunting for minutes, and it’s probably worth letting them show their stuff, and bringing on Pinoe as a super-sub instead, at least a bit more often than we have.
  • After some real struggles early, Jordyn Huitema’s been rounding into her scoring form. While Bethany Balcer has a good argument to be starting at center forward, it’s still good to see Huitema with goals in three of her last four, and finding the back of the net with chances that had been going begging only a few weeks ago. With all the billing that came with her and the sometimes-exaggerated struggles under the spotlight, it’s easy to forget that, at 22, Huitema is the second-youngest player on the roster. Sometimes, it’s worth the wait for someone that talented to find the form we know they’re capable of.
  • Two disheartening matches in a row, but the cavalry is coming. Olo will be back. Angelina will be back. Rose Lavelle may be back. We still haven’t seen Luany play, but she’ll see the pitch for the Reign this season. We’ll lose players to the World Cup, but every team will have to face that struggle — and our depth chart remains tantalizingly filled with proven and promising talent, and we should be well-situated to pick up points even without the usual starters.
  • We’re still in good shape for the NWSL Challenge Cup, and while it is, itself, a bit of a perplexing tournament, there’s suddenly real money in it, so heck, let’s get that cash, am I right?
  • You’ve been waiting for it: all my homies fuckin’ love it when it Reigns. Here’s to a Reign forecast with fourteen more W’s and a fourth Shield.

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