It’s been a fun start for OL Reign (1-0-1) against two difficult, high-pressure opponents in Portland and North Carolina. On Sunday, they face a different challenge with the Washington Spirit (1-1-1). The home match, which is sold out at current capacity limits, kicks off at Cheney Stadium at 4 PM PT on May 30 and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.
OL Reign have won three of their last four matches in all competitions this year. The Reign have started a season unbeaten in three straight matches just once (2014, a pretty fun season). Washington picked up its first win of the 2021 regular season, beating Houston 2-1 on Wednesday.
Sunday marks the OL Reign debut for Rose Lavelle, who is expected to get significant time against her former NWSL club. Reign head coach Farid Benstiti said in a pregame press conference that Lavelle has no minute restrictions from U.S. Soccer and that he expects her to play a big role over the weekend.
Here are three things to watch in Lavelle’s debut.
The Spirit should dominate possession
The Spirit, in many ways, play a similar style as the Reign — but they’ve had a bit more time to hone their approach under Richie Burke than the Reign. They like to have the ball. In fact, they’re averaging 55% possession so far this year and an 82% pass success rate.
They are patient, too, and aren’t likely to force a difficult pass when a simple ball is available. But don’t let that fool you into thinking the Spirit play a slow game. They’re constantly moving for teammates and looking to bring the ball forward with quick passes. If one side of the field is clogged, they’ll work it to the other side. Just look at this gorgeous team goal from the Challenge Cup as evidence of how dangerous the Spirit can be in possession.
The team will be without one of their more important players, who helps control the pace of the game. USWNT midfielder Andi Sullivan picked up two yellow cards on Wednesday against Houston, putting her out for the match. The Spirit have plenty of options to replace her — and will be rotating due to the tight schedule anyway — but her presence will, undoubtedly, be missed.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Washington once again dominate possession against the Reign. However, fans should hope to see the home side put lots of pressure on the Spirit in the Reign’s attacking half. The Reign had success against the Thorns doing this in the first half, especially when Portland’s full backs got the ball.
The other piece of good news for OL Reign? A smaller field plays in their favor, as it will limit the Spirit’s ability to stretch the field when they have the ball.
A young, speedy front line
Unlike North Carolina and Portland, the Spirit don’t rely on crosses. But they do use through balls and long balls over the top to create opportunities for the frontline. Case in point: this go-ahead goal from Ashley Hatch during Washington’s mid-week game. Her well-timed run kept her onside, and OL Reign defenders are going to have to be in sync to prevent a similar effort on Sunday.
The other two dangerous young players are Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman, who is just 19 years old. Sanchez can play on the wing or in the attacking midfield role, where she is given the freedom to roam, unbalance opponents, and find the open lanes. Oh, and score bangers like this.
Rodman has been playing on the wings and is a menace for opposing defenses. For a player so young, she’s got a lot of soccer IQ and is dangerous on the dribble. She’s going to be hard to contain in a 1-v-1 battle. Rodman has been involved in three of Washington’s last five goals going back to the Challenge Cup (1 goal, 2 assists). She’s still working to get more comfortable taking shots with her left foot, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Reign defenders to force her to her weaker foot on Sunday.
The Spirit just added another young attacker this week. Draft pick Tara McKeown recently joined the club after finishing up her college season with USC — adding another attacking threat up top.
While the Spirit only have three goals in their first three matches, they’ve been a little unlucky. Their xG total is closer to 5.5, and they’ve managed to put 20 shots on target already this season. They’re a dangerous team when their shots are connecting. The Reign can’t let that happen.
More rest for OL Reign
The Spirit arrive in Tacoma after playing a mid-week match in Houston, which they won 2-1 despite going down a player in the 50th minute. Expect plenty of rotation for the Spirit and a lineup that looks more consistent for the Reign.
With the tight set of matches for Washington, the Reign better start this match with a lot of pressure from kickoff. After all, they’re on more rest, coming off a huge win over Portland, and are playing at home in front of a sold-out crowd (at current capacities allowed).
And that’s been one of the Spirit’s biggest weaknesses so far this year. As our friends at Black & Red United point out, Washington has already given up four goals before the 15th minute:
The Spirit conceded a 9th minute goal, and it wasn’t Houston’s first dangerous service into the area either. It’s also part of a trend this year, and it’s not a good one. Washington has fallen behind in the 6th minute (preseason vs. Gotham), the 9th minute (last night), and the 11th minute (Challenge Cup at Orlando). They’ve also conceded a 10th minute goal, but at least at North Carolina they were already in the lead at the time.
OL Reign have yet to score first in a match this year. They’ve certainly shown resilience — coming from behind to win three matches already this year — but it would be fun to see how the Reign control a game after going ahead early.
OUT: Ally Watt (Right Knee), Celia (Right Thigh), Nicole Momiki (Right Leg)
QUESTIONABLE: Quinn (Left Leg)
OUT: Averie Collins (ACL-SEI), Bayley Feist (ACL-SEI), Paige Nielsen (right thigh)
How to Watch
The match will kick off at 4 PM PT on Sunday, May 30. Fans in the U.S. can view the game on Paramount+, while fans outside of North America can view the match on Twitch.