OL Reign will be hoping for a much stronger performance and outcome in their third match of the NWSL Challenge Cup, which kicks off against the Utah Royals on Wednesday, July 8, at 9:30 AM PT.
The match will stream live — this time without any sun glare — on CBS All Access for viewers in the U.S. and Canada, and will be available on Twitch for international viewers.
Utah enters the game with a 1-0-1 record, having scored four goals and conceded three. Every goal has been scored by a different player, which means they have plenty of attacking threats to keep in check. The two players who have been most dangerous in their opening two matches are forward Amy Rodriguez (1 goal, 1 assist) and midfielder Vero Boquete (1 goal, 2 assists). However, both players have played essentially 90 minutes in their prior two matches (ARod only went 85 last weekend), so we should expect some rotation this game.
The Reign, meanwhile, are 0-1-1 and have scored zero goals while conceding two. While the Reign sit toward the bottom of the table (they’re ahead of Chicago!), a win could put them into a top four spot, which would be a real momentum swing before their final match ahead of the knockout rounds. That match just so happens to be against the Portland Thorns.
What to Watch
Here are four things we want to see in Wednesday’s match:
- How the team handles a different formation: Utah has rolled out a 3-5-2 formation for both of their Challenge Cup matches, and the style seems to fit them well. While it does overload the midfield, the formation also means that the Royals can be vulnerable in transition if their wingbacks get caught up too high. Houston was able to exploit that space in their tournament opener with long balls over the top and out wide. Might the Reign play a bit more direct and try this as well?
- Defending in the box: The Reign will certainly be watching plenty of tape to correct any mistakes from their last game. Defensively, they actually held Houston to very few chances, but the two goals they gave up hurt a lot because they were due to mental lapses. In the first two games, the Reign have looked most vulnerable when defending players making runs into the box. This is easy to correct with more game time, and Utah will present a good test for the club.
- More creativity and risk: I still think this team can succeed with a possession-focused game plan, even in a transitional league like the NWSL. But they absolutely must take more risks if they want to create more goal-scoring chances — or any at all! Where are the runs to find and open up space? Will the players make a few risky passes, even if it leads to lost possession? Until the games “matter” in the knockout rounds, they should be trying stuff right now. I hope and expect we’ll see that against Utah, especially around the box — which appeared to be full of hot lava against Houston. OL Reign forward Jodie Taylor shared that while the team was focused on defensive fundamentals first, “Now, I think we need to take more risks going forward.”
- Fight and grit: Last year’s Reign FC squad fought so hard for every single win. It was a team defined by grit and determination. We haven’t quite seen that yet from the team, but it doesn’t mean those elements aren’t there. In fact, OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti hinted that we might see more of this against Utah. “We must fight. We must first think about that. And that’s the way tomorrow we’ll approach it,” Benstiti said in a pre-match press conference. “Don’t give up. It is better to be strong together, to be very focused on recovering the ball together, strong in the man-to-man, more compact.”
OUT: Jess Fishlock (R lower leg), Sofia Huerta (R hamstring), Kelcie Hedge (R knee)
QUESTIONABLE: Morgan Andrews (L ankle)
OUT: Desiree Scott (Personal)
Lots of squad rotation for the Reign. Betos, Spencer, Weatherholt, and Celia get their first starts of the tournament. McNabb moves into the midfield after starting two games at LB.
Both Vero and A Rod get the start for Utah
How to Watch
Date/Time: Wednesday, July 8, 9:30 AM PT
Location: Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah
This is your OL Reign gamethread. Head to @rovalks on Twitter for real-time updates, or join the conversation in the comments below.