OL Reign play their second road match in a row on Saturday, when they take on the Orlando Pride at Exploria Stadium. The game kicks off at 4 PM PT on Saturday, July 24, and will stream exclusively on the NWSL Twitch account.
After a hot start to the season which had them in first place early on, Orlando have not found the same success in recent weeks — losing three of their last four games, with a draw in the middle. They have a 4-3-4 record, while OL Reign are 3-6-1.
The Pride will have an additional hurdle — one familiar to the Reign — as Orlando announced today that head coach Marc Skinner was stepping down for another coaching opportunity (which appears to be with Manchester United). The move was immediate, with assistant coach Carl Green stepping into the head coaching role — at least for this game. He’ll depart the club with Skinner after this weekend’s match.
Despite the added adversity, Orlando is a team this year that fights. Even against the Portland Thorns last weekend, who now stand at the top of the league, the Pride continued to fight — and found a last-minute goal to keep the scoreline close at 2-1.
Both teams will be without some key players due to the Olympics and injuries. And both teams will be especially hungry for a win after a disappointing set of matches. Here are three things we’ll be watching in this match.
An in-form Sydney Leroux
Sydney Leroux, who played for the Reign in 2014, has been out of the spotlight for a few years. She had two kids and didn’t get a chance to shine with the Pride last year when they missed the Challenge Cup. She’s making a name for herself this year and currently has a league-leading 5 goals.
Leroux is a fighter. She works hard to win the ball from defenders and get to loose balls in the box. She’s not afraid to put her body on the line to win a header. Even in the dying moments, when she has no legs left, she can come up big. Here’s the equalizing goal she scored a few weeks ago against Louisville:
Leroux isn’t afraid to take players on 1-v-1, either. She’s good on the dribble and can quickly get a shot off from distance. Case in point:
Orlando plays pretty direct to get Leroux the ball. After Skinner tried to implement his preferred style of play of possession-based, European-inspired soccer, he moved to a more direct and vertical style this season. It was working for Orlando when they had all their starters, and even still might.
For OL Reign, the defense will need to be organized and compact to avoid letting Leroux slip into tight spaces. And they can’t let her have space to turn like they did with Mallory Pugh last weekend. Leroux needs to be pressured when she has the ball.
The possession battle
This is going to be another match where OL Reign should dominate possession. OL Reign come into the game averaging 53% of possession while the Pride average just 46%. That’s what Chicago and Kansas City average as well, while Louisville is at the bottom of the league with an average of 45%.
What does this mean for the Reign? Just like last weekend, they’ll likely have the ball a lot. What they do with the possession will matter a lot against Orlando. In the first half when they faced the Red Stars, the Reign had moments of brilliance and found a goal through Bethany Balcer. They were also trying to move the ball faster, with one- and two-touch passing. But they didn’t consistently keep things clean — often losing possession through sloppy passes. This has been a constant battle for the Reign this year. If they want to truly turn the tide for their season, they need to be cleaner in possession.
One player who has done a tremendous job breaking up play for Orlando — and who will certainly try to do the same this weekend against the Reign — is Taylor Korniek. Essentially playing her rookie season in the NWSL, the 22-year-old midfielder stands at 6’ 1”. That means she can stretch for balls that a lot of players wouldn't be able to win. Playing in the No. 10 role, she is also a creator — notching three assists already this season. With that height, she’s also dangerous in the air.
Winning the Reign way
Earlier in the season, captain Lauren Barnes talked about her role in helping the new and young players understand what it means to play the Reign way. Ahead of the match against Orlando, she built on those comments and underscored how this team can win by playing the “Reign way” — with grit, focus for 90 minutes, and some consistency.
“I think just continuing to be consistent is a big one. Sam [Laity] and I have talked about roles and giving players responsibility and letting them learn and grow in that space that they can possibly do so.”
That’s going to be all the more important against Orlando, a team that has scored six of their 14 goals after the 75th minute.
With the team heading to Orlando straight from their Chicago match, they’ve had time to continue to bond and get to know each other. That could translate on the field on Saturday.
“Obviously, being on the road and being around each other is great, because you do see everyone 24/7, so it does give us a lot of time to you know reconnect refocus and continue to build on what we want here at the Reign, what we’re trying to implement right now.”
While their trip to Orlando to get a week of training was smart, they’ve been hampered by nonstop thunderstorms that have actually prevented the Reign from having a full training until today. But Barnes and Laity didn’t see that as anything but normal in the NWSL. Instead, the unpredictable nature of the league is only fuel for the Reign to gain some momentum.
“This league is so unpredictable, it can switch momentum so easily, so these next couple of games are really important for us. We know that, and I think we’re going to have that mentality to fight. We’re only as strong as our you know weakest link right now, so being able to get us all on board on the same page is what’s really important right now.”
Injury Report / International Absences
OUT: Carrie Lawrence (right ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: Jade Moore (left knee)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Erin McLeod (CAN), Alex Morgan (USA), Marta (BRA), Ali Riley (NZL)
OUT: Ally Watt (right knee), Rosie White (illness)
QUESTIONABLE: Bethany Balcer (left ankle), Jess Fishlock (right hamstring), Sam Hiatt (illness)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Nicole Momiki (JPN), Angelina (BRA), Rose Lavelle (USA), Quinn (CAN), Megan Rapinoe (USA)
How to Watch
The match kicks off Saturday, July 24, at 4 PM PT and will stream exclusively on Twitch (NWSLOfficial).