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Match Preview: OL Reign at Angel City

It’s the Reign’s first match against the LA expansion club.

NWSL: San Diego Wave FC at Angel City FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

OL Reign head on the road for their second Challenge Cup match, taking on expansion club Angel City FC. The match kicks off at 1 PM PT on Saturday, March 25, and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.

The LA club is hosting their Challenge Cup matches at Titan Stadium in Fullerton, California, but will play their regular-season games at Banc of California Stadium. In their debut match last weekend, Angel City saw a near-capacity crowd of 10,000 — although the official attendance number was much lower, as the stadium stopped scanning tickets after organizers dealt with significant backup as fans tried to enter the stadium. It should be another loud and energetic crowd on Saturday.

Both opening matches in the West division for the Challenge Cup finished in 1-1 draws. The Reign currently sit at the bottom of the table due to the yellow card tiebreaker — as OL Reign were given four yellows in their match against Portland.

It will be a battle of anthems for the two sides, as Angel City released their official club anthem this week, performed by Grammy winner Brittany Howard and Tia P. Little did they know, however, that Reign player Tiffany Cameron created an unofficial Reign anthem in the inaugural 2013 season. While the Angel City anthem might have bigger names, it doesn’t have a player behind the mic. Points for the Reign.

Scouting Angel City

It’s a little hard to scout a club that only has one official match to their name, but we’ll give it our best shot. The team is coached by Freya Coombe, who most recently was the head coach at Gotham FC, which went 10-8-11 under her leadership. After many predicted Angel City would roll out a three-back formation, and the club even claimed to be in their lineup graphic, Coombe opted for a 4-3-3 for the club’s opening match against San Diego Wave.

Three former Reign players made their way into the starting lineup for Angel City. DiDi Haracic, who Angel City acquired from Gotham FC, started in goal. New Zealand international Ali Riley lined up at left back, while Vanessa Giles and former Reign defender Madison Hammond slotted in at centerback. Jasmyne Spencer, who played in the attack for the Reign before heading to Houston last year, started at right back. She made a few appearances there for the Dash in 2021 as well.

In the midfield, another Reign player, Dani Weatherholt, started alongside Cari Roccaro and Savannah McCaskill. Up top was Christen Press on the left wing, Tyler Lussi in the center, and 21-year-old Japanese international Jun Endo.

Both Angel City and San Diego were feeling each other out in the first half of the match, although Press got some good looks early on — and came within inches of scoring Angel City’s first goal in the 7th minute. San Diego goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan came up with a huge save to keep Press off the scoresheet. While she didn’t score, the Angel City and USWNT forward ended the match with seven shots, four of which were on target. Press was feeling it, and the Reign should be a little scared by that.

Angel City used their backline to build play, especially the two centerbacks and left back Ali Riley, who all led the team in passes. But the creative play came when the team was able to find McCaskill in the attacking midfield role. Coombe seems to have found the best role for the midfielder — who has hopped between teams the last three years — allowing her to push high up the field. McCaskill completed 81% of her 21 passes in the final third and created five chances. She also scored Angel City’s lone goal, heading in a cross from Riley.

Endo on the right wing was also a dangerous player, and her skill was evident in her first NWSL start. The forward created three chances and had three shots. In a game that was fairly transitional — and highly entertaining — Angel City finished with 1.37 xG, 17 shots, and 381 passes with a 71.4% pass completion rate. While they scored on a cross, the team didn’t rely on them — putting in just eight during the match.

When McCaskill is high, Angel City can be vulnerable in transition. Weatherholt and Roccaro were asked to do a lot in the midfield. At the same time, both squads (San Diego in particular) kind of bypassed the midfield in their play. Their narrow centerback play also left a lot of space for San Diego Wave midfielder Taylor Kornieck to sneak into.

Angel City was also particularly vulnerable in the box. In fact, 16 of San Diego’s 17 shots against the LA club were inside the box. A corner kick put into the 6-yard box is how the Wave scored their only goal, but Angel City gave up 2.91 xG — an indication that the scoreline could have been much different if not for some great goalkeeping and a few first-match-of-the-year shots from the Wave.

What to Watch

Transition moments

OL Reign have the kind of players who could punish teams in transition — with speedy attackers and skilled midfielders who can win the ball high up the pitch. Angel City have the same kind of talent and a player like Press who can score from any spot in and around the 18-yard box. The Reign will need to be well organized to limit the home side’s transition opportunities, while also taking advantage of their own chances.

Testing depth

Coombe only made one sub for Angel City in their Challenge Cup opener, and that came in the 89th minute. To test her squad before the regular season, Coombe should make some changes. Harvey has already promised to do that with her team during this tournament. Saturday’s match will be a great opportunity to see the depth that both teams have.

Final-third composure

Both the Reign and Angel City created chances in their home openers last weekend. And both teams can be more creative and cleaner in the final third. Both sides only had 13 touches inside their opponent’s box, and the Reign only had 144 of their 566 passes in the final third. On the defensive end, however, the Reign only allowed Portland 12 touches in the box, while San Diego had 29 touches inside the 18 against Angel City. Can the Reign find more creativity in their attacking third? We’ll find out on Saturday.

Injury Report

OL Reign

OUT: Megan Rapinoe (calf), Alyssa Malonson (knee)

Angel City FC

OUT: Megan Reid (concussion), Paige Nielsen (illness), M.A. Vignola (right hip), Katie Cousins (right hip), Sarah Gorden (right knee)

How to Watch

OL Reign’s road match against Angel City kicks off Saturday, March 26, at 1 PM PT. It will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.