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Match Preview: OL Reign v. Gotham FC

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OL Reign are hoping for 3 points after suffering two tough losses to Gotham this season.

MikeRussellFoto / SounderAtHeart

After handing Kansas City their first win of the season, OL Reign will be hungry for a better outcome at home when they take on NJ/NY Gotham FC. That match kicks off at Cheney Stadium at 7 PM PT on Saturday, August 21, and will air on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.

Gotham FC currently sits in a three-way tie for third place in the NWSL standings with a record of 5-2-6 (21 points), while OL Reign is just two points behind in a tie for sixth with 19 points and an overall record of 6-7-1.

Note: If you’re heading to Cheney Stadium for the game, masks are required in all indoor spaces.

OL Reign lost its previous two meetings with Gotham earlier this year. Here are three things they’ll need to focus on to get their first win against the New Jersey/New York side on Saturday.

Possession and Transition

Gotham is one of the more interesting teams in the league. They often dominate possession, averaging 56% possession against opponents, but their scoring chances come in transition.

With a player like Allie Long in the midfield and centerbacks and outside backs that are good on the ball, Gotham uses short and simple passes to keep control of the ball — limiting the chances their opponent has to manage the flow of the game. It also ensures they aren’t out of position if they lose the ball — a big reason Gotham has given up just nine goals in 13 matches.

But while they like to have possession, Gotham’s best chances in the attack come when they win the ball and transition quickly. That’s when they prefer to send long balls up the wings or line-splitting passes to their forwards, trying to catch their opponents out of position (check out the three goals they scored against the Reign below for more evidence).

Ifeoma Onumonu has benefited most from this style of play in recent months. She has four goals and two assists in her last nine matches with the squad, and five goals on the season. Onumonu does well to get in behind defenses and has improved greatly in her ability to receive passes and turn and create shots.

As OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said in a pre-match press conference, it’s all about preventing their opponents from getting these opportunities in transition. And prevention means not giving up the ball in dangerous spots.

“I‘ve always believed prevention is better than cure. Preventing them from even getting in those positions is vital. A lot of what they do comes off transition, and that comes from us on the ball — transition moments that they get come from us giving the ball away. So we have to make sure that we’re very good at that. And then from how we set ourselves up behind the ball to make that really difficult for them, I think is going to be important too.”

Convert those chances

When OL Reign played Gotham on the road earlier in June, the team created a number of chances in the match — putting six of its 18 shots on target. But they couldn’t convert and fell 1-0 to Gotham off a Caprice Dydasco cross. The game finished with 1.74 xG for the Reign and just 0.71 for Gotham. If only expected goals mattered.

That was true again in OL Reign’s home match later in June, when they lost 3-0 to Gotham. The Reign got 21 shots off — and six of them on target — but couldn’t put a single one in the net. Gotham, meanwhile, found a goal in the 38th minute and rode the momentum from there. That game ended with 1.44 xG for Gotham and 1.37 for the Reign, indicating the game could have been much closer.

That’s been the key for the Reign this season — finish one of their early chances, and it’s a much different ball game. OL Reign has a 5-1-0 record when striking first, while Gotham is 4-0-2 when doing so. In this league, as Harvey likes to say, “Goals change games.” Can the Reign figure out a way to score first — finally — against Gotham?

“I think in both games, we created a lot of chances,” Harvey said. “One of the things that we said since I got here was we want to be really hard to beat, which obviously lends itself defensively but also offensively — how we keep the ball — because we have quality players who can play, but we have to give them a chance to show what they can do and we’ve just got to make sure that we’re really hard to beat. So, if we are creating 10 chances a game and we take one, we make it really difficult for them to even create that amount.”

A positive response

The Reign had a lot of momentum heading into last weekend’s match in Kansas City — riding a three-game winning streak. That was upended by a tough loss on the road. What’s important now, for the team to believe they can get to the playoffs, is how they respond on Saturday.

“I think that the reality of this game is, we need to respond. We need a response from the team,” Harvey said, acknowledging the disappointing performance last week. With the league table so tight right now, that kind of response will really matter. And the team will have to do it without Eugenie Le Sommer, who is out this week with a concussion — but should be healthy for their doubleheader against Portland. Sam Hiatt is also a late addition to the injury list with a back injury.

“If we can do the right things tomorrow and get a result, then the league table looks very, very different very quickly. And that’s why every game matters so much. Because it’s such a tight season between two and nine that anything can happen every week.”

Injury Report / Absences

OL REIGN

OUT: Sam Hiatt (back), Eugenie Le Sommer (concussion), Ally Watt (right knee), Rosie White (illness)

QUESTIONABLE: Dzsenifer Marozsán (Right Leg)

GOTHAM

OUT: Mandy Freeman (left knee), Paige Monaghan (left hamstring), Margaret Purce (left quad)

How to Watch

The match kicks off at Cheney Stadium on Saturday, August 21, at 7 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and on Twitch for international viewers.