UPDATE: Due to significant rainfall over the last several days, the field at Cheney Stadium has been determined unfit for play. The match has been postponed for a to-be-determined date.
The stakes could not be higher for Reign FC, who face off against the Utah Royals on Wednesday evening. The two sides enter the match even on points. The winner of Wednesday’s battle will step into a playoff position. The loser will have a lot more fighting to do.
The game kicks off at 7 PM PT at Cheney Stadium. Reign FC will have centerback Lauren Barnes back after her one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation. The Royals, meanwhile, have been hit with an injury bug (been there, done that), and key players like Christen Press, Vero Boquete, and Kelley O’Hara are doubtful or out.
The last time these two sides faced off at Cheney Stadium, the Reign were stampeded by the Royals 3-1. Will we see a repeat? Here’s a look at the latest Reign FC victim.
What to Watch
Christen Press — in or out? Christen Press is currently questionable for the Royals, and it sounds like she’s not expected to suit up. The Royals were close to kissing the playoffs goodbye before Press returned from the World Cup. After she got back, their attack was suddenly electric. The forward won Player of the Month honors in August and was their biggest threat on the offensive end. With Press, the Reign are going to be in trouble. They have to cut off balls to her — and close down quickly when she gets it. Without her, the Royals are going to have to step up in the attack.
Seize the moment: The Reign continue to put pressure on their opponents at the start of matches, but have little to show for it. They aren’t going to win the possession or passing battle against Utah, who leads the league in passes and sit just behind the Washington Spirit in pass accuracy. The Reign were able to pressure the Spirit into mistakes. They can do the same against the Royals — but will need to finish those chances when they get them.
Make the shots count: The Royals don’t typically out-shoot teams. They have 181 shots to the Reign’s 212. They are, however, the most accurate team in the league — the highest percentage of their shots are on target (49.7% versus 39.2% for the Reign). The Reign will have to keep Utah’s chances limited, and ensure the shots they get off are low-percentage chances. We saw what happened when they get even the slightest of looks (hello, 3-1 loss at home). Let’s not repeat that.
Amy Rodriguez: The forward has had a resurgent year after missing last season due to an ACL tear. She makes incredibly smart runs to get behind defenders. Reign can’t let her slip into space.
Outside backs: Utah likes to push their outside backs high into the attack. This leaves space on the flanks for Reign FC’s wingers. Can they take advantage of that room on the field like they did against the Orlando Pride?
Desiree Scott: We mentioned her the last time these two sides met. She’s difficult to get around as a holding midfielder and does a heroic job shielding the backline. If the Reign manage to pull her out of position — which isn’t easy — they’ll have space in the middle of the field to exploit.
Absences: Injury, international duty and suspension
OUT: Taylor Smith (SEI - Right Knee), Jasmyne Spencer (SEI - Left Knee), Michelle Betos (SEI - Right Achilles), Jaycie Johnson (SEI - Right Knee), Scout Watson (SEI - Concussion), Jessica Fishlock (SEI - Left Knee), Shea Groom (Rib)
QUESTIONABLE: Allie Long (Left Hip), Rosie White (Left Hip)
OUT: Brittany Ratcliffe (SEI - Left Knee), Taylor Lytle (SEI- Left Foot), Becca Moros (Right Leg), Kelley O’Hara (Left Ankle), Mandy Laddish (Right Hip), Makenzy Doniak (Left Foot)
QUESTIONABLE: Christen Press (Left Leg), Vero Boquete (Left Thigh)
By the Numbers
8-5-7, 31 points, 5th place | 21 goals for, 23 goals against
- Last 5: T, W, L, T, L
- Shots: 226 | On target: 91
- Bethany Balcer: 4 goals, 2 assists
- Casey Murphy: 52 saves, 17 goals against, 5 clean sheets
9-7-4, 31 points, 4th place | 21 goals for, 17 goals against
- Last 5: L, W, T, W, W
- Shots: 193 | On target: 94
- Amy Rodriguez: 8 goals | Christen Press: 6 goals, 2 assists
- Nicole Barnhart: 51 saves, 17 goals against, 10 clean sheets
Predicted Starting Lineups
If we had to guess, here is who I suspect will start for both teams:
Utah Royals: Nicole Barnhart; Mallory Weber, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rachel Corsie, Katie Bowen; Desiree Scott, Lo’eau LaBonta, Gunny Jonsdottir, Vero Boquete; Katie Stengel, Amy Rodriguez