On the heels of an emotional week that included the cancellation of matches, OL Reign return to play this Sunday. They are back at home to take on the Chicago Red Stars. The match kicks off at 4 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.
In what seemed like the most unlikely of scenarios back in June, OL Reign are now in full control of their playoff destiny these last four games. If they win all of them, they’d not only secure a spot in the playoffs, they’d finish the regular season at the top of the table.
But that’s getting way too far ahead of ourselves. Immediately in front of OL Reign is the Red Stars. The club will then head to Portland on Wednesday for their rescheduled match before returning to Cheney Stadium for a game next Saturday against the Washington Spirit. That’s a lot of soccer during a difficult time for the players.
For now, however, all eyes are on Chicago, and OL Reign defender Lauren Barnes said the team is excited to be able to focus on the match. For fans looking to support these NWSL players as they fight for more power and protection, head to Cheney Stadium to make your voice heard in person. It should be an exciting match, as well. OL Reign will be facing a tough-to-beat Red Stars side this weekend. While the Reign have won eight of their last 10 matches, the visitors are currently on a three-match unbeaten run away from home. The two sides combined to have a total of 7 players in the September NWSL Team of the Month.
It’s also an important match for both teams with playoff ambitions. OL Reign are three points off the top spot with an 11-7-2 record, while the Red Stars are currently fifth with a 8-7-5 record, and only three points separate 4th through 8th place.
Chicago plays in a 4-2-3-1 formation, although they do well to adjust the roles of each player based on their opponents. On the frontline are Mallory Pugh, Kealia Watt, and Rachel Hill. Against teams like the Reign with a strong midfield, Pugh often pulls into the center to add numbers in the midfield, while Hill is asked to do a lot of running and defensive work on the right wing.
In the midfield are Sarah Woldmoe and Morgan Gautrat as a defensive double-pivot, with Gautrat often playing a bit higher. The on-and-off USWNT midfielder has been having an MVP year and was recently third in voting for NWSL Player of the Month in September. Vanessa DiBernardo is used as the most advanced midfielder. She is a steady playmaker who can also rip a shot from distance.
Chicago’s strength in recent months has been its defense. They conceded only 7 goals over the last two months, including a recent 2-1 win over Portland. In addition to Woldmoe and Gautrat, the backline has been a big reason for their success. Casey Krueger and Arin Wright, at fullback, can get up and down the line faster than almost anyone else, while USWNT defender Tierna Davidson plays alongside Sarah Gorden at centerback.
Pass Networks for #MKOT and #BAONPDX! pic.twitter.com/ptO71OChVD— Arielle Dror (@arielle_dror) September 26, 2021
What to Watch
- Contain Mallory Pugh: The USWNT forward is having a resurgent year after struggling to recover from injuries in prior seasons. She has 3 goals and 4 assists and has been the team’s big creator this year. Pugh has more of a free-roaming role for the Red Stars, which makes her unpredictable. She could pop up on the wing or in the box. OL Reign will need to keep her close — and they can’t let her have space to dribble at the defense. She’s crafty and that’s when she’s able to create separation and get a shot or cross off.
- Prevent balls into the frontline: Chicago is another team that likes to play vertical, with 45% of their passes going forward compared to 37.7% for OL Reign. That comes from balls over the top, but also through balls from the midfield to Pugh and Kealia Watt, who also has 3 goals this season. OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey always talks about her philosophy that prevention is better than a cure, which means she’ll be asking her players to prevent these balls into Chicago’s attackers.
- A clean, disciplined defensive shift: In July, OL Reign lost 3-1 to Chicago on the road — one of the only frustrating performances during Sam Laity’s interim head coaching run. Two of those goals were own goals and a third was scored by Pugh off a throw-in. All three goals came down to the fact that the Reign didn’t cleanly block or clear a ball, something that’s quite preventable. The Reign will need to be disciplined in their defensive half — keeping the ball when they have it and getting it out of danger when they are on the backfoot.
OUT: Megan Rapinoe (right thigh)
Chicago Red Stars
OUT: Julie Ertz (right thigh), Alyssa Naeher (right knee)
How to Watch
OL Reign kicks off against the Chicago Red Stars at 4 PM PT. The game, which takes place at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.