This weekend marks the final matches of the NWSL Challenge Cup group stage, with OL Reign heading on the road to take on the San Diego Wave on Saturday evening. Their game kicks off at 7 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.
OL Reign have already clinched a spot in the Challenge Cup semifinals, but seeding has not yet been determined, with five teams still competing for the other three spots knockout round spots. A win will ensure the Reign end up as the top seed, while a loss or draw could allow other teams to surpass them. The top two seeds will host their semifinal matches on May 4, with a specific plan for the final on May 7 still to-be-announced. Unfortunately, the league confirmed on Friday that teams with a stadium conflict on May 4 — the Seattle Sounders host the Concacaf Champions League final that night — will have to play their semifinal match at the lower seed’s stadium.
But there’s plenty of soccer to play before that semifinal kicks off. OL Reign enters this match with a 4-0-1 record, while the expansion club from San Diego are 1-3-1. The Wave have scored eight goals in their five matches while allowing 10. The Reign have a +6 goal differential, scoring 10 and allowing just four.
What to Watch
While San Diego has only won a single Challenge Cup match, they have actually been among the more dangerous teams in the tournament on the offensive end. They are second in the league — behind the Spirit — in expected goals, with 8.84 xG compared to 5.11 for the Reign (according to American Soccer Analysis).
What has haunted the Wave in their last two matches has been allowing early goals. Last Thursday, OL Reign set a record by scoring three goals in 11 minutes (which was broken by North Carolina just a few days later). On Sunday, the Wave allowed Portland to score three goals in the first half. But in both matches, San Diego also showed they are willing to fight back. Despite a brutal first half against Portland, San Diego scored two in the second — and could have had a third. They outplayed the Thorns greatly in the last 45 minutes, which shows up in the xG plot for the game.
The Wave play a similar style to the Reign, which starts with defensive organization. When they are in control of the match, they are a team that builds play from the back and is hard to break down. In fact, despite giving up the three early goals to OL Reign, the Wave only allowed Reign players to create four chances that match. The three goals the Reign scored had a combined xG of .12.
On the offensive side, they play a little more vertical than the Reign — often looking for long balls to their attacking line. Two Wave players have been causing a lot of problems recently for opponents. Midfielder Taylor Kornieck has contributed to a goal in back-to-back games, scoring against Portland and assisting on Alex Morgan’s tally against the Reign. At 6’ 1” she’s an aerial threat at all times — scoring with her head against the Thorns. But Kornieck is also becoming a great disruptor in the midfield, picking off passes to spark counters.
Alex Morgan is rounding into excellent form with the Wave as well. The forward has scored three goals in the Challenge Cup, including this one — which she may have trapped with the arm — against the Reign.
While OL Reign has been very organized defensively, allowing just four goals, they would be the first to tell you that they need to create more chances on the offensive end. Some of that is expected, as the Reign doesn’t have Eugenie Le Sommer or Dzsenifer Marozsan this season — and haven’t had Megan Rapinoe yet — which means they’re still finding the combinations that work with this updated roster. At the end of the day, however, the team is hoping to continue to control matches for all 90 minutes.
“We spoke after the Angel City game on how potentially dominant we were in the first half, and we didn’t really take full advantage of that,” Laura Harvey said ahead of this match. “So the knock-on effect of that is we allowed them to stay in the game, then score. So we just need to learn from that and get better.”
With the semifinals and final overlapping with the NWSL regular season, which kicks off next week, Harvey is proud that her team has demonstrated their depth. “We don’t just have a starting 11 that’s hard to play against. We have a whole roster that’s hard to play against.”
Injury / Availability Report
OUT: Angelina (right ankle), Tziarra King (right ankle), Megan Rapinoe (right calf)
OUT: Kayla Bruster (left thigh), Abby Dahlkemper (COVID Protocol), Mia Gyau (right thigh), Kristen McNabb (suspension – card accumulation)
How to Watch
OL Reign kick off against San Diego at 7 PM PT on Sunday. The road match at Torero Stadium will air on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.