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Match Preview: OL Reign v. Gotham FC

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After a mid-week win, OL Reign is looking to build some momentum.

OL Reign v NJ/NY Gotham City FC Photo by Howard Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

After an entertaining win over Chicago on Tuesday, OL Reign continue their homestand on Saturday, June 26, with a match against NJ/NY Gotham FC. The game kicks off at 1 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.

The game will serve as the final match for Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle, and Quinn before they report to national team camps ahead of the Olympics. Head Coach Farid Benstiti said that Lavelle is still day-by-day, but did train with the team on Thursday. Rapinoe is healthy and will likely get the start.

It’s supposed to be a hot, hot affair on Saturday — around 92°F at kickoff and 96°F by the game’s conclusion. At this time, the league has not indicated any plans to adjust the start time of the match. With Gotham FC avoiding a midweek game, they’ll be more rested — although this OL Reign squad has plenty of depth at this point.

OL Reign (2-3-1) will be looking for redemption after falling 1-0 to Gotham (2-1-2) a few weeks ago. The Reign created plenty of chances and got six shots on goal, but they couldn’t get anything to fall. Here are four things they’ll need to do to get that redemption and earn three points.

Balanced in transition

While they didn’t allow a single shot on goal in the second half, the Reign gave Gotham a few chances in the first half of their June 5 match, especially after a 13th-minute goal from Gotham’s Ifeoma Onumonu. A lot of that chance creation came from Gotham’s play on the flanks and some imbalances the Reign had in the midfield when Gotham was in transition. It’s something Farid Benstiti is focused on this week heading into the match.

“The last game in New Jersey, we were a little in trouble in the side defensively. They many times came at us two against one. Secondly, when they went through our pressure, they found some players behind Jess Fishlock and behind Shirley Cruz, and we were a little in trouble with their transitions.”

After a lot of midfield rotation, it feels like the club is closer to solving this problem. OL Reign’s Quinn — who had a massive game against the Red Stars — called out the balance of the midfield as a positive in the team’s mid-week match against Chicago.

“We were really balanced. I think at times in other matches, we’ve not have the discipline of making sure that we have a player holding so we can kind of extinguish their counter, and so I think we have that discipline and then as well, we were confident and brave to get on the ball and start leading the attack.”

Keep the intensity high

One surprise for OL Reign’s match against Chicago was Dzsenifer Marozsan starting in the No. 9 spot instead of in the midfield. You know what? It worked. Benstiti shared after the match that he thought Maro’s movement would help create space for Bethany Balcer and Sofia Huerta. He was right, with Huerta having her best performance in a Reign jersey and Balcer getting on the scoresheet and having a few other chances on goal.

The other thing Maro brought, along with Fishlock, was an understanding of when and how to press high against Chicago. It’s something that the frontline is still working to perfect, but that pressure was a big reason for the early goals against the Red Stars.

In fact, Tuesday marked the first match this year that the Reign scored first. And, if you didn’t know already, goals change games. One reason for the team’s early chances was their focus on crosses. The team never wants to cross without a purpose, but with players like Huerta who can whip in a ball, it really put Chicago on the back foot.

If the Reign can again come out with that kind of intensity and pressure early — and get a goal — they should cause all sorts of trouble for Gotham.

Possession with purpose

Benstiti has talked a lot about the team’s possession-focused approach, and fans saw more of what he meant in the team’s performance earlier this week. For Benstiti, possession is about three steps. “Possession in the first time is to keep the ball, in the second time to imbalance, and in the third time to make accelerations — and we got only the first and the second time. We need the third time to be faster.”

Benstiti believes now that the forward line is figuring out that third step. “This third step to go forward, they are faster — decisions faster, driving faster, and moving faster.”

Here’s one example of how that looked against Chicago. The movement on the backline is important, and Madison Hammond — who had 92 touches against the Red Stars — sends a great ball over the top for Rapinoe. But look at Balcer’s movement also to pull extra defenders and create space.

Gotham is a team that likes to keep possession, but as Benstiti notes, the Reign don’t need to dominate this category. They need to focus on how they use possession to accelerate the game when needed and imbalance opponents. Marozsan has helped do this smartly in the last two games — switching play quickly and using through balls to split lines. There are other players on the squad who can do the same. Will we see that again on Saturday?

Playing for pride

Saturday’s game is the club’s annual Pride Match. While it’s been something the Reign have always supported, gay and trans rights are personal for a lot of Reign players.

“Having a pride match and being able to celebrate a pride match is so fundamentally important,” said OL Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock. “We saw this week just how important it is to be visible. The most important thing we can do as athletes, as organizations, is to be present and visible for all. I cannot wait for our Pride Match.”

The club will sell their match-worn, player-signed jerseys — with rainbow numbers on the back — to raise money for Tacoma’s Rainbow Center. The jerseys will be available for purchase starting at halftime of the Pride Match.

The match also comes during a year where an unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQx measures are sweeping through state legislatures across the country. In fact, 2021 is on the cusp of becoming the worst year for anti-LGBTQx legislation in recent history.

Sports are just a game, but we have to remember that they wouldn’t bring us joy without the people on the field. While OL Reign plays for pride every match, it will mean just a little more to win in front of their fans during their Pride Match.

Injury Report / International Absences

OL REIGN

OUT: Ally Watt (Right Knee), Karen Bardsley (Left Thigh – SEI), Rosie White (Illness – D45), QUESTIONABLE: Rose Lavelle (Left Ankle)

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Nicole Momiki (JPN)

GOTHAM FC

OUT: Sabrina Flores (Bilateral Hips), Paige Monaghan (Left Hamstring)

How to Watch

The match kicks off Saturday, June 26, at 1 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.