Just a day before OL Reign kick off their first Challenge Cup match, we round out our preview of the roster with a look at OL Reign’s forward depth. And much like the midfield, OL Reign has a good problem on its hands — a lot of (perhaps too much?) depth on the frontline.
For the Challenge Cup, the club has seven players vying for three spots on the field: Bethany Balcer, Sofia Huerta, Tziarra King, Nicole Momiki, Leah Pruitt, Megan Rapinoe, and Jasmyne Spencer.
Ally Watt will be an option later, but she’s still recovering from an ACL tear. And the team loaned Miranda Nild for the season. And both Rapinoe and Momiki just got back after international play in Europe and Japan, respectively, which means they’ll likely be rested for the team’s opening match or two.
Let’s first take a look at the options the team has at center forward. In the last few seasons, the club has primarily relied on Jodie Taylor in this role, so there’s a bit of uncertainty about who might be best suited to serve as the primary starting number 9.
Here are a few players we could see in this role:
- Bethany Balcer has spent time at center forward in her last two years with the Reign. She’s smooth in the box and strong in the air. The benefit of putting Balcer in this position? She scores goals. Period. The downside? Balcer is also a creator, and if the Reign can’t get the ball to Balcer consistently as a target forward, they aren’t using her effectively. She’s also likely the preferred starter on the left wing when Rapinoe isn’t available.
- Leah Pruitt proved to be a menace as the center forward in OL Reign’s final 2020 Fall Series match. She was rewarded with a goal and had a few other great chances. Pruitt is physical and aggressive in trying to win the ball back and get herself into shooting positions. I love her willingness to take an ambitious shot, something that I’d love to see more with the Reign in general. She’s apparently showed well in preseason as well, and will certainly be looking to make a name for herself in her first full season with the Reign.
- Tziarra King: After a strong rookie season with the Utah Royals (RIP), King is stepping into a new team this year. She is great in the air — something you like to see in a target forward — and is a strong passer and likes to pressure from the front, both key priorities for the Reign in defense and in possession. King showed that she’s ready to earn a starting role in the Fall Series and has also been called out as a player who is making the case for a start during the preseason.
- Sofia Huerta mentioned last year that she had been training as a false 9, which is really interesting to think about. It would play to both her strengths — goal-scoring and creating. We haven’t seen her play there yet, and we haven’t been able to watch any pre-season matches, so it’s hard to know whether that experiment will come to life.
Who starts here consistently? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. We have heard great things about King and Pruitt from preseason, and Balcer is still a standout as well, but King and Balcer could still have an impact on the wings as well. And on that topic ...
Options on the Wings
- A healthy and available Megan Rapinoe still gets the start at left wing on any day. She’s proved during her time with the U.S. Women’s National Team this year that she can still be a difference-maker, and that will be true with OL Reign as well. Rapinoe is just wrapping up her international play, so she’s not expected to feature in the first match for the Reign, but we expect to see her back for the other Challenge Cup matches. We can’t wait.
- Nicole Momiki had just 136 minutes with OL Reign in 2020, so we didn’t get to see her true potential. She’s now had a real and long preseason with the club, and just found the back of the net twice with Japan on national team duty. She’ll probably be rested on Friday after some long travel back to Tacoma, but Momiki feels like a guaranteed starter in future games due to her ability on the ball and great crossing.
- We already mentioned Balcer, Huerta, and King. All three could and should be starters on any given day, but where they slot in remains the question. On the wings, Huerta and Balcer can get more touches and have some freedom to drift in and create. King is great on the dribble as well.
- Jasmyne Spencer, like Jess Fishlock, was recovering from an ACL tear as she entered the 2020 season. Having just a few limited games last year was certainly hard for her comeback, which means she’ll be hungry to make an impact in 2021. Spencer brings energy on the wings and speed, and she is a great disruptor. I’m not sure if she starts every game, but she could! Any player on this depth chart could, which is impressive. She’s the kind of player that can be a difference-maker off the bench, bringing needed energy if the Reign are searching for a goal.
A Good Problem
As you can see, this depth review isn’t particularly helpful because the Reign have a lot of depth at forward. Who steps up to score goals? We’ll have to wait and see. There is no shortage of options for the club, but it will be important for the frontline to establish some rhythm together.
Who would you start for OL Reign’s opening match again Houston?