After securing their first win in the NWSL Challenge Cup, OL Reign head on the road to close out the tournament. The team faces Kansas City (0-2-1, 1 point) in a match that kicks off Monday, May 3 at 5 PM PT. The game will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.
OL Reign (1-1-1, 4 points) have a chance to jump into second in the West Division with a win. That would not advance them to the Challenge Cup championship match — Portland already secured the West Division top spot — but it would give the team a boost heading into the regular season.
And that’s really what OL Reign fans should be watching for in Monday night’s match. With most of their starters back and healthy (Megan Rapinoe is out with a back injury), how is this team starting to click? Is their passing more efficient and their attack more dynamic? In the words of Jess Fishlock during a pre-game press conference, the team is focused on being “ready when it matters” — toward the back half of the regular season when there will be absences due to the Olympics and European international competitions in September and October. It might feel like a long way off, but that preparation starts today.
By the Numbers
1-1-1, 4 points
Goals for: 3 | Goals against: 4
0-2-1, 1 point
Goals for: 3 | Goals against: 6
Kansas City’s Formation
Kansas City, a team that moved this year from Utah and is now coached by Huw Williams, has rolled out three slightly different formations in their opening Challenge Cup matches. They’ve played a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, and 4-4-2.
That’s mostly been the result of injuries and absences at the start of the tournament. As our friends at The Blue Testament note, “Throughout the tournament, KC missed 13 out of the 26 players, either through injuries, international duty, suspensions.”
This is a team that’s still moving people around to manage their injuries and find each player’s best position on the field. I’d expect them to roll out a 4-3-3 that might look more like a 4-2-3-1, with Amy Rodriguez at the top. And speaking of Rodriguez...
What to Watch
Amy Rodriguez: The Kansas City forward is so good at making well-timed runs behind defenses. She also applies defensive pressure when you least expect it, which means the Reign’s backline is going to have to be alert all match. Rodriguez already has two goals for Kansas City in the Challenge Cup. OL Reign’s centerbacks haven’t dealt with a player like ARod yet this tournament. Can they keep her contained?
Efficient Possession: So far, Kansas City has struggled to connect their passes. They are second to last in the league in pass accuracy and last in passes per 90 minutes. Of course, things could change for the club in this final Challenge Cup match, but OL Reign will likely be looking to control this match through possession.
Another graphic here: Passes per 90 and accuracy. What are you doing KC pic.twitter.com/9XSO029SoJ— NWSL Analitica (@NwslAnalitica) April 23, 2021
Reign head coach Farid Benstiti has talked a lot about wanting the team to be efficient with the ball. Quick movement and no wasted passes are fundamentals for the new Reign head coach, and we’ve seen that play out at times on the field. KC could be a good test to see how Reign players are able to implement this style of play for 90 minutes. They put in three goals against Chicago, but should still be creating even more chances. Can we see that tonight?
Limit the controllable mistakes: Against the Red Stars, 19 of Chicago’s 20 shots came from OL Reign losing the ball. Benstiti shared in a pre-game press conference that the team focused a lot on this component during training this week. It’s not simply about cleaning up the passing, it’s also about the team’s shape and positioning when they lose the ball. “We really want to see against Kansas City something change in this aspect defensively.”
Fishlock agreed, noting that, “If you take those mistakes away, then it means that Chicago really didn’t have that much. So, we’re just going to focus on us and cleaning up those things. I think personally our group is more than capable of cleaning up those situations because our players are good enough to do that.”
If they manage to accomplish this, OL Reign should be able to stay in control this match.
Injuries / International Absences / Disciplinary
KC: OUT: Elizabeth Ball (right lower leg), Diana Matheson (left foot), Arielle Ship (right lower leg), Abby Smith (right thigh); Mariana Larroquette (one-game suspension for unsporting behavior); QUESTIONABLE: Darian Jenkins (left thigh)
REIGN: OUT: Kelcie Hedge (ACL), Sam Hiatt (head), Megan Rapinoe (back), Ally Watt (ACL-SEI)
How to Watch
The match tonight kicks off at 5 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for viewers in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers. We’ll have a separate gamethread with lineups, highlights, and extra analysis.