After putting together a fantastic team performance in their NWSL Challenge Cup semifinal, but falling just short on penalties and a missed handball call at the end of regulation, OL Reign are now hungry to get their regular season off to a great start. The club will host its regular-season home opener at Lumen Field on Sunday, May 8, kicking off at 3 PM PT against Racing Louisville. The match will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.
Racing Louisville, a 2021 expansion club, struggled in their first season. They ended in 9th place, scoring the second-fewest goals while conceding the most. They also took the fewest shots per match and faced the most. The club is looking to make some advancements in 2022, and they added key players to help them do that.
Here’s a deeper look at OL Reign’s weekend competition.
Racing Louisville, under new head coach Kim Björkegren, plays in a 4-2-3-1 formation. They have rotated during the Challenge Cup, so it’s a little difficult to predict their ideal starting lineup for the match. However, there are a few key players to be on the lookout for.
Captain Gemma Bonner, a veteran player from England, is a core anchor at centerback, with 24-year-old Julia Lester often starting next to her and 25-year-old Katie Lund behind her in goal.
Rookie Jaelin Howell, who has already earned appearances on the U.S. Women’s National Team, won two MAC Hermann Trophy awards and two Division I titles in college. She’s been primarily utilized as a holding midfielder in a double-pivot system, often playing alongside Freja Olofsson. Howell is a great ball winner, strong passer, and can be dangerous in front of goal. She’s already becoming a critical cog for Louisville.
Louisville acquired the always-dangerous Jess McDonald from North Carolina in the offseason. McDonald, a 2019 World Cup champion, is a smart forward who times her runs well in the box and is dangerous in the air. She’s much more than that, however. McDonald leads the league in all-time assists and can create space for herself on the dribble.
CeCe Kizer was arguably Louisville’s most dangerous player last year in the attack. The 24-year-old scored seven goals and notched three assists in 2021. She can play on the front line but has been utilized more often in the attacking midfield role, as Kizer has good vision and is a skilled passer. Ebony Salmon is a young England international who has mostly been coming off the bench at forward and can cause defenses lots of problems. Savannah DeMelo is a rookie box-to-box midfielder who played on the wing in Racing’s opening regular season match. She works hard, helps the team maintain possession, and along with second-year player Emina Ekic, has some dangerous set-pieces in her.
Style of Play
Unlike last year, when they played rather direct, Louisville so far in 2022 has looked to build play through possession. They averaged 416 passes per game and 51% possession in the Challenge Cup, although they’ve only played against Chicago, Houston, and Kansas City, three teams that are more transitional and like to cede possession. This trend might not continue against the Reign or throughout the season, but it looks to be the style of play that Louisville are going for.
While they did not rely extensively on crosses during the Challenge Cup (averaging 15 compared to 17 for the Reign), they whipped in a massive 43 open-play crosses last week in their opening regular-season match against Chicago. Forty. Three.
A graphic for your viewing pleasure pic.twitter.com/ffHWkWYSFo— Tony ⚡ (@xGisfornerds) May 1, 2022
Ultimately, while it forced Chicago to make 39 clearances, Louisville couldn’t finish enough of their chances and fell 2-1 — a bit of an unfair scoreline to them. Racing finished with 14 shots, six of which were on target.
A lot of play flows through U.S. Women’s National Team defender Emily Fox at left back, who often leads the team in touches along with centerback Bonner. But Fox is out for Sunday’s match, so this Louisville side is going to look different against the Reign. What remains true is that Louisville has a lot of young players who are quick and like to dribble up the field. While they aren’t necessarily a transitional side, they can create a lot of chaos with their fitness and pace, along with that ability to carry the ball into space. The Reign will need to hit them with some early pressure on the ball to eliminate this threat.
With that young energy, Louisville are a team that like to press high, just like the Reign. Fortunately, that’s something the Reign have dealt with recently.
“I think we’re expecting two teams that have similar sort of philosophies, and they’ve played some decent games and had some decent performances,” head coach Laura Harvey said ahead of the match.
What to Watch
More rest for the away side
OL Reign enter this match having faced a relentless Washington Spirit side twice already this week — on Sunday and again on Wednesday. Louisville, meanwhile, haven’t played since last Saturday and will be the more rested side. How can the Reign make sure they aren’t the ones chasing this game?
How the Reign respond
The Reign made some important tactical adjustments in their midweek match against the Spirit — the Challenge Cup semifinal — and were the better team on the night. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find the back of the net, and a missed handball in the final play prevented the Reign from having a chance to go ahead in regulation. After bowing out of the Challenge Cup after 10 strong rounds of penalties, the Reign are, quite frankly, a little pissed and rather motivated.
“That game definitely didn’t necessarily go the way we wanted it to, and I think that left a bad taste in my mouth that probably won’t go away for a while,” defender Sam Hiatt shared in a pre-match press conference. “But the nice thing is that we get to play another game so soon, because when something happens like that, you can’t do anything about it except look toward your next game. And luckily for us, it was only a couple of days away, so we have a chance to go back out there and try and get a different result. I think that will definitely be motivating us for some time to come.”
Finish their chances
The Reign created some dangerous chances midweek against the Spirit, but couldn’t put any of them away. If they want to dominate teams in league play, they will have to become more clinical in front of goal. What better time to start than their home opener?
Injury / Availability Report
OUT: Megan Rapinoe (right calf)
OUT: Emily Fox (left leg), Nadia Nadim (right leg)
How to Watch
OL Reign kick off against Racing Louisville at 3 PM PT. The home match at Lumen Field will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.