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Match Preview: OL Reign hosts the Chicago Red Stars

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OL Reign need points. Can they get 3 at home?

Chicago Red Stars v OL Reign Photo by Stephen Brashear/ISI Photos/Getty Images

OL Reign are back at Cheney Stadium for their second of three matches in an eight-day span. The Tacoma club will face the Chicago Red Stars on Tuesday, June 22, at 7 PM PT. The game will stream exclusively on Twitch.

While it’s still early in the season, this is feeling like a must-win match at this point for OL Reign, who have lost their last three games. The team is now close to full strength and have now had at least a few days of training with their latest addition, Eugenie Le Sommer. Additional OL newcomers, Sarah Bouhaddi and Dzsenifer Marozsan, have also had one game with the squad now.

OL Reign enter the match with a 1-3-1 (W-L-D) record. They’ve scored just three goals and have given up five goals. Chicago comes to Tacoma with a 2-2-2 record and have scored five goals and given up eight (five of those came in their opening-match loss to Portland).

Like the Reign, Chicago had a match last weekend and plays again this Saturday, so expect plenty of rotation for both squads. What else does OL Reign need to pay attention to? Here are three things to watch in their home match.

Mallory Pugh is dangerous

After struggling with injuries and rotating through a few NWSL teams, Pugh is finding her form with the Red Stars. She might not start due to squad rotation, but Pugh is goal-dangerous when she gets on the field. In five starts on the left wing in Chicago’s 4-2-3-1 formation, she has 1 goal, 2 assists, and has created 10 chances.

At times, Chicago plays more of a 4-4-2 with Pugh pulling up to the frontline alongside Kealia Watt. What makes Pugh dangerous is her versatility. She can take players on 1-v-1, can shoot from distance, is fast, and has good vision to find her teammates. Case in point, this solo effort against Houston:

OL Reign did fairly well to keep North Carolina’s speedy attackers in front of them, but the tradeoff was that the Reign rarely pressed and were on their heels a lot against the Courage. Pugh could force them into a similar approach if the Reign don’t come out with more aggression when they don’t have the ball. The smaller field at Cheney should play in their favor.

Limiting Chicago’s outside backs

Chicago’s midfield and wing players often play narrow, leaving space for the Red Stars outside backs to get involved in the attack. You’ll often see their pass maps near or beyond the halfway line, and they typically rack up the most touches on their squad. The outside backs are both a link in the attack — helping build play through dribbles and short passes with their midfield — and are asked to whip in crosses.

With Kealia Watt as the primary striker, Chicago isn’t particularly dangerous in the air on these crosses. But the Reign will have to pay attention to late runs into the box from midfielders like Morgan Gautrat, Vanessa DiBernardo, or whoever else may start in their absence.

This team is always looking to play forward as well. They lead the league in the percentage of passes that are forward, with 43.8% — compared to 39.1% for OL Reign. That means they can play pretty transitional and direct, similar to league-leaders Orlando Pride.

This model works for the Red Stars because their outside backs are very mobile, getting up and down the line with ease. They can get caught out of position as a result, but they have strong, smart midfielders in Sarah Woldmoe and Gautrat who help provide cover.

Early chances, early energy

OL Reign have a problem creating chances and scoring goals right now. A lot of that issue seems to lie in their ability to organize and create in the midfield. The Reign have plenty of creative playmakers in the midfield, but they still aren’t in sync with their forward line. There has been a lot of rotation in this band of three, so it’s expected. But it’s also getting old. Last weekend, the Reign did well to keep the ball and move it up the field, but the creativity and attack died right as they carried the ball into the final third.

The momentum changed when Jess Fishlock and Quinn came in — providing some balance in the midfield and a little bit of bite. Quinn’s ability to cover ground and keep the ball allowed Fishlock and Marozsan to focus more on the attack. The key now will be to get in sync with the forward line and their runs. We likely won’t see the same starting attackers that lined up against the Courage, although the Reign will again be without Rose Lavelle, who was injured while on international duty. Will this XI be more in sync?

As we’ve noted plenty of times already, the Reign have yet to score first in a game during the 2021 Challenge Cup or regular season. They managed to come from behind and put the ball in the back of the net three times against the Red Stars in the Challenge Cup, so we know they can score against this Chicago side. If they can get an early goal, the floodgates might open for this squad at a crucial time.

Injury Report / International Absences

Chicago Red Stars

OUT: Danielle Colaprico (right hip), Julie Ertz (right knee), Arin Wright (left thigh)

OL Reign

OUT: Karen Bardsley (left thigh – SEI), Kelcie Hedge (right foot), Rose Lavelle (left ankle), Ally Watt (right knee), Rosie White (illness)

International Duty: Nicole Momiki (JPN)

How to Watch

The match kicks off Tuesday, June 22, at 7 PM PT and will stream on Twitch for fans in the U.S. and abroad.