With plenty to play for, OL Reign secure second place and a first round bye with a 3-goal win over Kansas City in their final NWSL regular season match. On the night where Kansas City introduced their new permanent name (Kansas City Current) and crest, OL Reign bounced back from their loss against the Washington Spirit two weeks ago to put in a performance to remind other contenders that they are very much in the mix for the NWSL championship trophy.
This time, own goal helped out OL Reign as Kansas City’s Kiki Pickett was credited with one to start the scoring for OL Reign. Eugénie Le Sommer claimed another brace to give OL Reign breathing room and comfortably secure a top-two finish, ending their regular season with positive momentum for the NWSL Playoffs.
WHAT WORKED: TEAM DEFENSE
Today, OL Reign made a commitment to playing defense against the newly christened KC Current‘s 4-4-2, with the midfield 4 being a diamond. They used the entire width of the pitch on both sides of the ball but pressed high, particularly early, and won possession in their attacking half for most of the match. This created many opportunities in transition, though it took an Own Goal in the 35th minute off KiKi Pickett to open the scoring.
WHAT WORKED: UTILIZING SPACE AND SET PIECES
OL Reign used the entirety of the narrow pitch in Kansas City, and spent much of the match playing the ball inside out, particularly to the right side with Sofia Huerta. This allowed for many passes back into the box. The Reign also used this match to work on their one touch passing. Most of this was initiated by Dzsenifer Marozsan, who often played touch passes to her fellow attacking players, particularly midfield partners Rose Lavelle and Jess Fishlock. It was an intentional effort to utilize all of the space. The effort on defense and the movement in attack led to 11 corner kicks. One of those corners led to a goal for Eugenie Le Sommer in the 49th minute.
And here’s Le Sommer’s second goal in the 65th minute.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: FINISHING
OL Reign did many things well tonight, including creating 19 shots. However, their finishing in the final third left much to be desired. There were clear and obvious chances missed by Lavelle, Rapinoe and Le Sommer outside of her two goals in the second half. The pitch at Legends Park may have contributed to this, but overall, it is something the team can focus on going into the bye week. Shooting earlier in their sequences may yield better results, but the creation of chances is what is important, and they are doing that well. OL Reign play beautiful soccer and that style of play deserves a few more goals.
“I’M OLD, I ALWAYS WANT DAYS OFF”
Having played in the NWSL since the inaugural season along with all of those matches for the United States, Rapinoe knows how invaluable rest periods are between matches. Securing a top-two finish means OL Reign get a break from the first week of the NWSL Playoffs to recover from a long, and arguably the hardest, season on and off the field. Rapinoe was more than elated in her post-match press conference when asked about the importance of that bye.
In her previous run as head coach, Laura Harvey’s squad had secured the NWSL Shield for best regular season record and playoff spot roughly with a month left of the regular season still to play in both 2014 and 2015. In her second stint as head coach, the regular season finale was as high stakes as it could be for a team that already clinched at least a spot in postseason play. In her post-match press conference, Harvey said it was a welcome challenge, giving her a new perspective.
“We are a team that can thrive in this environment [chaos]...or we can be a team that turns up and it doesn’t quite go right for us and we have to solve that, and that was probably the Washington game.”
We have played our final match of the regular season. OL Reign have finished second in the league, in a season where they were out of the playoff picture for much of the first half of the season. Sam Laity and Laura Harvey have done a superb job getting this talented squad into a prime position to make a run to the final. All of the talent the club has acquired seems to be clicking at the perfect time, and their defense is one of the best in the league. Now, they rest up and wait to see who their opponent will be on November 14th in Tacoma.
OL Reign’s opponent in the NWSL Playoff semifinal won’t be known until after the first round of the NWSL Playoffs next weekend, but we do know for sure is that the match will be at Cheney Stadium on Sunday, November 14. Opponent and kickoff time pending, but the match will be on CBS Sports Network that day.