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Five things we’d like to see when Reign host Utah

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A win is at the top of the list.

Nikita Taparia

It’s the middle of a busy week for Reign FC, as the club takes on the Utah Royals on Wednesday evening. The 7 PM home match was originally scheduled for last Wednesday, but the game was postponed due to field issues after a downpour hit the region the night prior.

This match is huge for both sides. The Reign and Royals are tied on points, and whoever wins on Wednesday will have sole possession of fourth place — the final NWSL playoff spot — with two matches remaining.

The stakes are about as high as you can get. Here are five things we’d like to see in the match.

1. More diversity in the attack

The Reign whipped in 23 open-play crosses against Sky Blue, which might have been the game plan but is more likely the result of how Sky Blue defended. While the Reign had some quality chances from those balls into the box, it was frustrating to see cross after cross without a goal to show for it. Utah defends well in the box, with Becky Sauerbrunn and Rachel Corsie holding down that space. The Reign will need to diversify their attack against a Royals team that has only allowed 20 goals in 21 matches.

2. Don’t give Christen Press space

In the Reign’s 3-1 loss to Utah a month ago, Christen Press didn’t get on the scoresheet — but she was the most dangerous player on the field. You can’t give her space at the top of the box, or she’ll cut quickly and whip a shot on goal. You can’t give her space in the midfield, or she’ll beat you on the dribble and look for a shot or a teammate. And you can’t let her slip behind the backline for a through ball. Basically, keeping Press away from the ball is a good idea.

3. Score multiple goals

If the Reign want to head to the playoffs this year, they’re going to have to convert their chances. Goal-scoring momentum will be huge to close out the year. The Reign’s xG total for last weekend’s match was 3.30. How many goals did Reign FC score? ZERO. Utah is not likely to give the Reign as many chances as Sky Blue did, so they have to put shots on frame. The Reign also have the lowest corner-kick accuracy in the league. Wednesday would be a great day to right that ship and score off a corner or set piece.

4. Use the team’s speed

The Reign now have plenty of speedy players who contribute to the attack, from left back Steph Catley to forwards Bethany Balcer, Ifeoma Onumonu and Darian Jenkins. Utah isn’t a team that often loses the possession battle, which makes quick restarts and transitions a useful way to counter them. From fast throw-ins, to counter attacks, to winning the ball high up the field, to quick switches ... the team needs to use speed to its advantage.

5. Finish the game strong

On Sunday, Reign FC take on rivals Portland Thorns FC. They’d love to head into that match with momentum. I don’t just mean three points, I mean a well-earned three points against the Royals where the Reign dominated until the final whistle. The team hasn’t closed out matches strongly in recent months. Can they hold on against Utah? Let’s hope.

Predicted Starting Lineup

Mid-week matches are hard to predict. With that caveat, here’s our best guess at the starting lineup on Wednesday.

Forwards: Ifeoma Onumonu, Jodie Taylor, Bethany Balcer

Midfield: Kristen McNabb, Morgan Andrews, Bev Yanez

Defense: Steph Catley, Lauren Barnes, Rebecca Quinn, Celia

Goalkeeper: Casey Murphy

Injury Report

Reign FC

OUT: Taylor Smith (SEI - R Knee), Jasmyne Spencer (SEI - L Knee), Michelle Betos (SEI - R Achilles), Jaycie Johnson (SEI - R Knee), Scout Watson (SEI - Concussion), Jessica Fishlock (SEI - L Knee)

QUESTIONABLE: Bethany Balcer (R groin), Megan Oyster (L knee)

Utah Royals

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), Sydney Miramontez (Right Foot)