It’s finally here. OL Reign has its first Challenge Cup match and competitive game in 2021. The team will face off against the Houston Dash on Friday (that’s tonight!) at 7 PM PT. The game will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Canada and Twitch for international viewers.
(Also, yes, you can join us in lamenting the fact that OL Reign and the Sounders have their opening match on the same day and nearly the same time. For the record, the NWSL schedule came out first.)
This is the first OL Reign match at Cheney Stadium that will feature fans in 565 days. While the club is only welcoming fans at 25% capacity, the players are certainly excited to have the energy of home fans once again.
Houston, the 2020 Challenge Cup champion, has already completed its first Challenge Cup match, a 0-0 draw with the Chicago Red Stars. That means they’ll have the advantage of a little time together in a real game environment, but OL Reign will be well-rested and raring to go. As multiple players shared in OL Reign’s virtual season ticket holder event this week, they are feeling particularly motivated to redeem themselves after a disappointing 2-0 loss to the Dash in the 2020 Challenge Cup.
Houston’s squad doesn’t look much different than it did in 2020. They lost forward Cece Kizer to Louisville, but picked up midfielders Gabby Seiler and Emily Ogle in a trade with Portland. Seiler in particular was a huge addition — bringing a steady calm and defensive threat to the team.
Both squads are expected to be missing a number of players who just wrapped up national team duties over the FIFA international break. While most of most of those players returned to their teams in the past day or two, that would still be a quick turnaround to feature in the match — and no need to risk injury so early in the year. With at least three more Challenge Cup games and a full season still to follow, there’s still plenty of time for them to make their 2021 grand entrance.
Injury / International Duty Absences
Houston Dash: OUT: Zandy Soree (left ankle); QUESTIONABLE: Cami Privett (back); INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Jane Campbell (USA), Allysha Chapman (CAN), Rachel Daly (ENG), Kristie Mewis (USA), Nichelle Prince (CAN), Sophie Schmidt (CAN)
OL Reign: OUT: Sam Hiatt (head), Ally Watt (ACL – SEI); INTERNATIONAL DUTY: While no players were officially listed on OL Reign injury report, the following just got back from national team duty: Karen Bardsley (ENG), Jess Fishlock (WAL), Nicole Momiki (JPN), Quinn (CAN), Megan Rapinoe (USA)
Challenge Cup Reminders
The 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup has the league’s 10 teams divided into two divisions. Each club will play in four matches across a three-week time frame. Two of those games will be at home. OL Reign is in the West division with the Houston Dash, Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, and Chicago Red Stars.
At the end of the preliminary round, the top team from each division will face off in the championship game on Saturday, May 8. The location for the championship match will be determined at a later date.
What to Watch
- Beware, the transition game: The Dash are a transition team that looks to pounce as soon as they recover the ball. Shape is going to be important for the Reign. They can’t get caught out of position if Houston tries to counter.
- Break the lines (it won’t be easy): In their opening match, Houston sat back against Chicago and invited the attack. They’ll likely do the same against the Reign, allowing the backline plenty of time on the ball while trying to prevent passes into the midfield. With Cheney Stadium being a smaller field, this could cause some problems and clog up the lanes. The Reign are going to need a player or two who can break lines — or this could be a slog.
- Find some cohesion: The Reign have a lot of depth, and in their first game it’s going to be needed as tired legs strike after 60 minutes. More importantly, however, the important step for the Reign will be to simply find some cohesion in a match environment. Regardless of how the points shake up at the end of 90 minutes, this will be the key to OL Reign’s long-term vision for the year.
Your starting XI tonight vs @HoustonDash ⚽️— OL Reign (@OLReign) April 17, 2021
Let's Goooo!!!#olreign pic.twitter.com/GtBWcHqO5x
Tonight's Starting XI in Tacoma.#HoldItDown | @MattressMakers— Houston Dash (@HoustonDash) April 17, 2021
How to Watch
Date/Time: Friday, April 16, 7 PM PT
Location: Cheney Stadium, Tacoma
Streaming (US/Canada): Paramount+
Streaming (International): Twitch
Join the Discussion
This is your OL Reign v. Houston Dash gamethread. Join the discussion in the comments. You can follow @rovalks on Twitter for real-time updates as well.