On paper, OL Reign had the advantage. A three-game winning streak with an offense humming along. Laura Harvey returns to team. Of course, soccer is not played on paper and with Kansas City very hungry for their first win on the season, there’s a level of intensity that even one of the hottest teams in the league can fall victim to. That’s what happened Saturday night in Kansas City as OL Reign saw their winning streak snapped, and Laura Harvey’s return to coaching in the NWSL spoiled, losing to Kansas City, 0-1. The lone goal came from Victoria Pickett in the 73rd minute, off a set piece.
Pick that one out, @hellopickett‼️#KCvRGN | https://t.co/0LtSAUK1Jw | #NWSL21 pic.twitter.com/QsLO7K1Zql— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 15, 2021
WHAT WORKED: THE DEFENSE CONTINUES TO WORK
The lone goal from KC’s Victoria Pickett aside, OL Reign’s defense held firm for most of the match. The centerback pairing of Alana Cook and Sam Hiatt continued to shut down most goal scoring opportunities. Most of the action happened on the right side as Kansas City came forward and plays ran through Kristen Hamilton, but Lauren Barnes and Celia had good spells in their outside back positions
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: PHYSICALITY
Kansas City came into the match to play their style of football against OL Reign. They chose to play a physical match, playing tight to the Reign’s attacking players and knocking midfielders off of the ball. I will touch on those tactics in the next section, but Kansas City was not afraid to risk a yellow card or two in this match to thwart a red-hot OL Reign offense. Bethany Balcer was kept from her runs and winning duels in the air and, prior to her likely concussion, Eugenie Le Sommer was pushed out wide with no one able to get on the end of her crosses. A highlight of KC’s physicality was the battle between Kiki Pickett and Tziarra King, which neither won consistently, but King was thrown off of her game and rarely posed a threat on her runs out wide.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: PASSING & FINISHING
OL Reign, who had been one of the best passing teams in the league during their winning streak, struggled to connect passes and play quick touch passes through the KC midfield. Credit rightfully should go to Kansas City and their tactical switch to a 4-4-2 diamond midfield set them up to effectively cut off passing and running lanes. This frustrated OL Reign and prevented them from finding the finishing crosses. A lucky yellow awarded to Kiki Pickett of Kansas City for a clumsy challenge forced Eugenie Le Sommer from the match and the game shifted for OL Reign after that moment, with the team never able to find their rhythm on offense.
“IF YOU DON’T WIN (THE) FIRST & SECOND BALLS, THE GAME OF FOOTBALL IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE DIFFICULT”
Harvey started her post-match press conference basically alluding that this could have been a trap game for OL Reign. With Kansas City coming into the match without a win, OL Reign needed to be able to respond to that and play their game. Unfortunately that was not the case and both Harvey and Jess Fishlock conceded that.
“Well, I think we didn’t deserve anything much out of that game, which is unfortunate for us right now because we have been doing and playing so well. KC gave us a different game today, very physical, very long ball, and we just didn’t really react to that fast enough,” said Fishlock.
The loss puts OL Reign down to seventh in the standings. Next for Laura Harvey’s squad is a return to the comforts of home, as the Reign will host Gotham FC next Saturday, August 21. OL Reign will look to avoid a regular season sweep, as Gotham FC won both of their previous meetings this year against OL Reign. Harvey said as part of her post-match press conference that the team’s remaining Olympians (Quinn, Megan Rapinoe, and Rose Lavelle) should be available for selection. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 PM PT and the match will be broadcast on Paramount+ for US viewers, while international viewers can watch on Twitch.