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Five things we want to see in the NWSL Challenge Cup semifinal

OL Reign faces the Washington Spirit again. Here’s what they need to do to win.

NWSL: OL Reign at Washington Spirit Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday is an important day for both of Seattle’s professional soccer teams. Before the Seattle Sounders host leg two of the Concacaf Champions League final at Lumen Field, OL Reign “host” the NWSL Challenge Cup semifinals. Due to a scheduling issue created by the league, the Reign — who earned the right to host the semifinal as the #1 seed — will face the Washington Spirit on the road at Audi Field.

The Challenge Cup semifinal kicks off at 5 PM PT and will air on CBS Sports Network. Unfortunately, CBSSN matches do not simultaneously stream on Paramount+. The match is also available to stream on Twitch for international viewers.

We previewed the Spirit just three days ago, ahead of the Reign’s regular-season opener — also at Audi Field and also against the Spirit. As it turns out, a lot of the things we said in that preview came true. The Spirit are relentless in their press, they transition extremely fast, and their front four are quite dangerous. The Reign also played into the Spirit’s hands in this opening match, and ultimately fell 2-1 to the Spirit.

“I don’t think we were ourselves today really, especially the first half,” Reign forward Ally Watt said after the match. “We were kind of a little lost ... Now we can relax, really just focus on ourselves, and just put together what we need to put together to win the next game.”

The Reign now have a chance for some redemption in a match with more on the line: an opportunity to host the Challenge Cup final this weekend. According to head coach Laura Harvey, all players should be available for Wednesday’s match.

While this in many ways has felt like a “preseason” tournament, there is $10,000 on the line for each player if they win it all. It’s a big deal. Here are five things we’d like to see the Reign do in order to book a spot in the Challenge Cup final.

Solve Washington’s press

In their opening match last weekend, the Spirit press was pushing the Reign to the outside, with outside backs Jimena Lopez and Sofia Huerta leading the team in touches. Instead of trying to solve that pressure by finding their midfield, the Reign often went long. This played right into Washington’s hands, as they can transition quickly with vertical passes and quick movement after winning the ball back. It’s how the Spirit scored their first goal.

“The Spirit press very well, and we had some solutions to that, but we were playing into the one solution that wasn’t — playing into our right-hand side was not the solution. We did it three times, they scored a goal off it,” Harvey said after the match. “And that was my message to the girls at halftime: to stop playing what you think you should play and play what you can see you should play.”

The Reign have players who can switch the field and handle pressure in the midfield, like Quinn, who only came on in the 70th minute last weekend. They also have Rose Lavelle, who can bring the ball into space on the dribble. The team had success doing this at the start of the second half, but they must trust themselves to utilize these players the entire match this time around. — Susie Rantz

Avoid getting caught in foot races

Too often on Sunday, the Reign defense got caught in foot races with Spirit attackers on counterattacks. They’ll need to minimize that on Wednesday, even if it means ceding some space in midfield and not playing quite such a high line on defense. It’s critical to remove the space players like Sanchez and Rodman love to chase balls into. — Steve Voght

In line with what Steve is saying, constantly being mindful defensively — if one player is pulled up to deal with Rodman, other players need to track back, because the Spirit attack will most likely beat their defenders going forward. — Nikita Taparia

Lots of early fight

While the Spirit are a squad that seems unfazed at all times, opponents can set the tone for the game if they put some pressure on Washington early — and capitalize on those early chances. The Reign were nearly able to do that on Sunday, earning a penalty in the 8th minute. While they couldn’t convert that chance, that alone wouldn’t have been enough. The team was unable to grab hold of the match in the opening 30 minutes.

“Every time you start a game well and you score goals or you’re completing passes and you gain confidence, it’s always important,” defender Sofia Huerta said ahead of the match. More fight — combined with calm possession on the ball — to open the semifinal could make a big difference. — Susie

Shoot

Shoot! For the love of all things good & holy, SHOOT! — Jacob Cristobal

Stay healthy

The Reign are playing three games in a week, with cross-country travel in between. They were able to save the legs of some players in the first match against the Spirit. Let’s continue to utilize the team’s depth and ensure everyone stays healthy ahead of yet another match in Seattle this weekend. — Everyone


Injury / Availability Report

OL Reign

OUT: None!

Washington Spirit

OUT: Averie Collins (knee), Tori Huster (SEI - left lower leg), Tara McKeown (foot), Gaby Vincent (calf)

QUESTIONABLE: Andi Sullivan (calf)

How to Watch

OL Reign kicks off against the Washington Spirit in the Challenge Cup semifinal at 5 PM PT on Wednesday, May 4. This match will air on CBS Sports Network, which means it will not simultaneously stream on Paramount+. It will also stream on Twitch for international viewers.