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Match Preview: OL Reign v. Kansas City

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It’s the first game for OL Reign under Laura Harvey. Can they build on their three-game win streak?

Kansas City v OL Reign Photo by Jane Gershovich/ISI Photos/Getty Images

It’s the first match for OL Reign under the leadership of Laura Harvey, and she’ll be looking to maintain the momentum that assistant coach Sam Laity helped the club achieve in the last month. After back-to-back home wins, the Reign travel on the road to face Kansas City, a talented team that is still struggling to put all their pieces together (sound familiar)?

OL Reign’s match kicks off Saturday, August 14, at 5 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for viewers in the U.S. and on Twitch for international fans.

OL Reign currently sits in sixth place with a record of 6-6-1, while Kansas City have four points with a record of 0-9-4. But don’t let KC’s record fool you. This is a talented team that has come close to a win several times this year. They recently acquired Kristen Hamilton and Hailie Mace — two attacking talents — from North Carolina, Darian Jenkins scored her first goal last week, and they have a defense that can be hard to break down.

A number of Kansas City players are familiar to Harvey as well, since many of them came to KC when the club took over the roster of the Utah Royals, which Harvey coached from 2018-19.

“Sam and the staff have done a great job of pushing the team in the right direction, so I think my job is to just keep pushing it forward,” Harvey said in a pre-match press conference.

Here are three things we’ll be watching in Harvey’s first OL Reign match of 2021.

Keep feeding Balcer

Bethany Balcer has already racked up 6 goals this season, scoring two of those last weekend and earning another brace in the Reign’s first regular-season match against Kansas City. For her second goal that game, Balcer did well to sneak between Kansas City’s centerback and outside back to pounce on a Sofia Huerta cross.

Balcer also leads the league in shot accuracy, putting 75% of her attempts on target. That’s a pretty ridiculous number, and OL Reign should look to take advantage of Balcer’s run of form right now and get her some looks in the box.

We should acknowledge that the Reign have a ton of goal-scoring talent right now, with Eugenie Le Sommer and Tziarra King each earning Player of the Week honors before Balcer did last week. That’s a great thing! But Balcer’s goals have often come at the most important times, and her ability in the air is better than anyone else in the Reign attack. Let’s get her some early looks to set the tone.

KC’s vertical play

Kansas City uses their centerbacks and outside backs for possession, and they often bypass the midfield to try to get the ball to their forwards. Here’s the pass network for their July 11 match against the Reign, for example. They got a bit more time on the ball after Sarah Bouhaddi’s red card in the 70th minute, but still tried to play vertically.

This style of play has worked much better for Kansas City recently, even if the points don’t reflect that. Right back Kiki Pickett, drafted this year from Stanford, has the potential to be a future U.S. Women’s National Team outside back — showing lots of speed and crossing skills on the flanks. Kristen Edmonds has moved from outside back to centerback, providing some additional stability on the backline. And newly acquired forward Hamilton has been close to scoring a number of times, and if not for this ridiculous save from Bella Bixby, she would have notched her first goal for KC two weeks ago against Portland.

For the Reign, in addition to pushing on the offensive end, they need to be well organized defensively to cut off these long balls or win them if they come their way. That’s been the focus for Harvey this week, and she credited Laity for helping the team play with more freedom and organization at the same time.

“I can’t keep crediting Sam more than I want to because he’s done such a fantastic job of just giving them the reins to go and play. Go play, go play what you see, but let’s be organized when we don’t have the ball and be difficult to break down, and I think we just have to continue on that path.”

Second half dominance

OL Reign have scored 15 of their 17 goals in the first half. That works out well when, like against Houston last weekend, they get into halftime with a four-goal lead. But not every game is going to be that way.

Even against Racing Louisville two weeks ago, OL Reign went up 2-0 before half — and struggled to get another goal or create dangerous chances. They also allowed Louisville enough chances to get back into the game, but fortunately stayed organized enough to earn the clean sheet.

That will be especially important against Kansas City, a team tied for the lead in the number of goals scored in stoppage time (three). If OL Reign wants to continue to build momentum and move further up the NWSL ladder, they’ll need to find ways to stay goal-dangerous in the second half and close out matches.

“We can’t rest on where we’re at now. This league is unforgiving, so we have to make sure that we keep trending upwards. And I think that that’s been sort of the philosophy of the week,” said Harvey.

Injury Report / Absences

OL REIGN

OUT: Ally Watt (R knee), Rosie White (illness)

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Rose Lavelle (USA), Megan Rapinoe (USA), Quinn (CAN)

KC

OUT: Arielle Ship (R lower leg-SEI), Taylor Leach (L foot), Michelle Maemone (R foot), Rachel Corsie (R ankle), Jordyn Listro (R lower leg)

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Desiree Scott (Canada), Chloe Logarzo (Australia)

How to Watch

The match kicks off at Legends Field in Kansas City on Saturday, August 14, at 5 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and on Twitch for international viewers.