After a week without games due to the FIFA international window, OL Reign is back in action on Saturday. They head on the road to face Kansas City in their final regular-season match, with a playoff spot already secure. The game kicks off at Legends Field at 5 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.
OL Reign head to KC with a 12-8-3 record (34 goals for, 24 goals against), while KC are at the bottom of the 10-team league with a 3-13-7 record (15 goals for, 33 goals against). However, Kansas City hasn’t lost a home match since late June. OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey is aware of that challenge and thinks it will be a good test for the team heading into the playoffs.
“I think Kansas at home is one of the hardest games that we will play no matter who our opponents are, no matter what our journey is throughout the playoffs. They are a very, very difficult side to play at home, which obviously recent result results have shown. So I think, for us, after the week that we had with Chicago, Portland, and Washington, putting some of those things right is important. But also getting us in a position where we understand what it takes to win games at this stage.”
A win or a draw guarantees the Reign a second-place finish and a first-round playoff bye, while a loss makes things a little more complicated (see link directly below!).
The most important thing for OL Reign will be to play the way they want to play — against a tough opponent on the road — to build some important momentum heading into the postseason.
After unveiling plans for the first NWSL purpose-built stadium on the KC riverfront earlier this week, Kansas City will be unveiling their official name and crest at halftime of Saturday’s match.
NEWS: KC NWSL and @portkc finalize plans for the first NWSL purpose-built stadium at Kansas City Riverfront.— KC NWSL (@KCWoSo) October 26, 2021
Here’s what else you need to know about KC ahead of the match.
This KC team has been trying to figure out its identity and the best set of 11 players to start for a large part of the season. As a result, they’ve worked through a number of formations and lineups. That makes it hard to predict their starting XI against OL Reign, but their formation has been more consistent as the team found some momentum later in the year.
KC most often plays in a 4-1-3-2 formation — relying on a holding midfielder that stays home to shield the backline and three active midfielders who help create width and overloads on one side of the field and disrupt plays.
They aren’t a team that uses their outside backs to whip in crosses. In fact, they have just 44 successful crosses in 23 games this season, with only the Washington Spirit and Racing Louisville having fewer. Instead, the team tries to send direct balls to their rushing forwards — with Kristen Hamilton and Darian Jenkins getting the most starts up top right now.
What to Watch
Stop KC in transition
With a lot of attacking players out during the international break, Harvey was able to focus in training on a key part of the team’s game that she thinks will be important against Kansas City and in the playoffs: how to defend in transition.
“It was a problem for us against Washington — the transitional moments when you lose the ball and how dominant you can be to prevent what they’re trying to do. And I would say that’s probably what we focused on the most in the past 10 days,” Harvey said.
Fortunately, the entire starting backline stayed with the team, which gave them a lot of time to build this muscle together and do repetition work with the backline. “I like consistency in the backline, I think it helps them to be able to work collectively together. And we’ve been able to do that ((knocks on wood)) without anything interrupting that.”
Harvey continues to preach her philosophy of making the Reign a hard team to beat. And right now, especially against a team like Kansas City that likes to disrupt and transition quickly, she is hoping the Reign will be “hard to beat in our own half.”
Find those finishing boots
After scoring three goals in three games in a row between September and October, the Reign scored just one goal, a penalty, in their last two games. They created plenty of chances — managing 15 shots against Portland and another 15 against the Spirit — but seem to have hit a rough patch when it comes to conversions.
As Harvey likes to say, “Goals change games,” and an early goal against put the team on the back foot in their last three matches.
As Bethany Balcer chases the Golden Boot, and with so much attacking talent in Eugenie Le Sommer, Jess Fishlock, Rose Lavelle, Sofia Huerta’s assists, and Dzsenifer Marozsan, this is going to be a good test to see if the Reign can rediscover their offensive spark.
Some of these players might be rested as they return from international duty, with Fishlock and Maro traveling to Europe and back during the break. But this is a deep squad with a lot of desire to prove that it wasn’t a fluke for the team to work their way from 9th place at the start of July to a potentially 2nd place finish in the league.
KC plays vertical
Among those who have played at least 10 games this year, Kansas City has four players in the top 20 in the league for the average vertical distance of completed passes (minus goalkeepers). Simply put, this means they send a lot of long balls straight up the field. Not to the corners, since that would limit the vertical nature of the pass. Straight up the field.
Centerbacks Elizabeth Ball and Rachel Corsie are in the top 10, while fullbacks Mallory Weber and Kiara Pickett round out the top 20. While it isn’t surprising to see centerbacks, in particular, playing vertical balls, no other team in the league has this many players in the top 20.
With a speedy frontline, this direct style has worked well for KC — especially at home on a more narrow field (also a converted baseball stadium) and unpredictable pitch. OL Reign will need to make sure they’re able to defend in front of the ball and clear the ball cleanly.
OUT: Sam Hiatt (Covid Protocol)
OUT: Jordyn Listro (excused absence), Chloe Logarzo (right knee-SEI), Hailie Mace (concussion), Arielle Ship (right lower leg-SEI)
How to Watch
OL Reign’s final regular-season match kicks off on Saturday, Oct. 30, at 5 PM PT. It will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers (search NWSLOfficial).