OL Reign are back at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma tonight for their third NWSL Challenge Cup match. They face the Chicago Red Stars at 7 PM PT, and the match will stream on Paramount+ (US/Canada) and Twitch (international).
Chicago often lines up in a 4-3-3 formation, although it can morph into a 4-2-3-1 when the team is trying to press higher up the field. A lot of their attacking creativity comes from wing player Kealia Watt, who is also someone you don’t want to let cut you in the box — as she’s got a lethal shot from the edge of the 18-yard box.
It hasn’t been a dream start to 2021 for the Reign. The attack has been lackluster in their opening two games. However, the team now has a few things working in its favor. First, OL Reign’s international players are back, and most of them should be in the starting lineup this time around. While she was limited to 30 minutes against Portland, expect to see Megan Rapinoe get a bit more playing time this game.
On top of that, with Portland already securing the West division’s Challenge Cup championship spot, all the pressure is off the Reign. These last two Challenge Cup matches are all about growth and development. Let’s see what the team can do heading into the regular season, which kicks off mid-May.
What to Watch
- Two teams struggling to score: OL Reign and Chicago both had zero goals after two games. With their international players back last weekend, the Red Stars managed to score their first goal in their third game of the tournament (highlight below). But like the Reign, Chicago’s attack is still struggling to fire on all cylinders. Both teams have a similar issue: right now, they don’t have a player who looks consistently goal-dangerous. Is this the game where the floodgates open? It’s certainly possible.
- Defend the crosses: With the important caveat that it’s a rather small sample size, the Red Stars have attempted the most crosses per game in the league, while OL Reign are close behind in second. It should be noted that the match against the Thorns skewed the numbers for Chicago. With the Thorns conceding width, they forced Chicago into more crosses. The Red Stars attempted 34 crosses that match, and just 8 were successful. They attempted 27 again against Kansas City a few days later.
A little more about crosses, this is a graphic of crosses attempted per 90 and accuracy up to today in the 2021 Challenge Cup. Louisville is...pretty effective when crossing. pic.twitter.com/NHwHSa0zNx— NWSL Analitica (@NwslAnalitica) April 23, 2021
The Reign haven’t gone up against teams too reliant on crossing so far, so this could be a new challenge for the club. How will they handle these balls into the box?
- Midfield control: I know I am on repeat here, but if the Reign want to manage a match from start to finish, that has to start with the midfield. They’ll be going up against some combination of Julie Ertz, Vanessa DiBernardo, Morgan Gautrat, and Dani Colaprico, so it won’t be a simple challenge. But with Jess Fishlock back, the midfield is suddenly a lot more dynamic. Keep an eye on how the midfield moves, attacks and defends around her — and how they are able to dictate the momentum of the game. The midfield will be without Allie Long again — and in the future — as she was just part of a trade today with Gotham FC.
Chicago: OUT: Emily Boyd (right knee), Alyssa Mautz (left foot), Bianca St. Georges (right knee), Arin Wright (left adductor)
Reign: OUT: Kelcie Hedge (ACL), Sam Hiatt (head), Ally Watt (ACL-SEI)
38’ - Darn. A few defensive mistakes and a solid solo effort from Mallory Pugh puts Chicago up 1-0.
41’ - Sofia Huerta equalizes! Great feed from Fishlock and pressure from Huerta to start the play.
70’ - Goal, OL Reign! Great ball movement there is rewarded in a goal from Leah Pruitt. 2-1 Reign now.
87’ - GOALLLL, Tziarra King! 3-1 Reign.
90’ - Still more goals in this game. A ping-pong situation in the box results in a Red Stars goal. 3-2 Reign lead now.
How to Watch
Date/Time: Tuesday, April 27, 7 PM PT
Location: Cheney Stadium, Tacoma
Streaming (US/Canada): Paramount+
Streaming (International): Twitch
Join the Discussion
This is your OL Reign versus Chicago Red Stars preview and gamethread. Join the discussion here in the comments, or follow the action on Twitter: @rovalks.