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Five things to know when OL Reign face Chicago

The revamped Red Stars are finding their style.

NWSL: Preseason-Chicago Red Stars at OL Reign Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

After a seven-point week at home, OL Reign are heading on the road for a weekend match against the Chicago Red Stars. The game kicks off Saturday, June 4, at 12 PM PT and will stream exclusively on Twitch for both U.S. and international fans.

In the Midwest, an afternoon match can sometimes pose a heat and weather problem, but it should be a fairly comfortable 70 degrees at kickoff at SeatGeek Stadium.

While the Reign have to travel to Bridgeview — where they’ve struggled to get results in the past — they will still be the more rested side on Saturday. Chicago is returning from a Wednesday night road match against the Washington Spirit, although some key players were left out of the starting lineup for that game.

OL Reign enter the match with a 2-1-3 record and have scored five goals while letting in four. Chicago is 2-1-2, having played one fewer match, and has scored 10 goals while conceding eight.

Here are five things to know before the Reign’s road match against Chicago.

Combining youth and veterans

Like the Reign, the Red Stars are starting a unique blend of veteran players and young talent. The three starting centerbacks for Chicago right now are all 24 years old. Their goals are being scored or created by rookie Ava Cook, Ella Stevens, Bianca St. Georges, and Mallory Pugh, who is still only 24 despite being a veteran in the league. These young players bring a lot of energy to the lineup, which as we’ll get to below is a key part of how the Red Stars like to play.

At the same time, the team relies on the steady presence of veterans like midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo, who has been with Chicago since 2014; midfielder Danny Colaprico, who has been there since 2015; Yuki Nagasato, an MVP candidate with Chicago in 2019; and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Which team deploys the right mix of veteran savvy and young energy? You’ll have to tune in to find out.

Chicago packs the midfield

The Red Stars line up in a 3-4-2-1 formation. Fortunately, the Reign have faced three-back formations — which often morph into five-back setups defensively — a couple of times already. Portland and Kansas City played this way against the Reign, and the team was still able to create quality chances.

Against the Spirit on Wednesday, Chicago’s attacking band of two dropped defensively — limiting Washington’s ability to move the ball through the middle of the field. The Spirit found more success in the second half when they passed inside and back out quickly. Look for the Reign to try something similar by allowing players like Rose Lavelle and Angelina — should they start — to roam freely and find those pockets. And just like the club did against Portland’s three-back, the Reign will look to their outside backs to create width and get on the ball often.

“I think we’re prepared for what that could look like and where we can hurt an opponent when they play with that formation,” OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said in a pre-match press conference.

Winning duels will be critical

One of the things that make the Red Stars hard to beat is just how hard they work for 90 minutes. As Reign defender Sofia Huerta shared in the club’s pre-match press conference, Chicago has always been a team that fights hard for one another.

“I played on Chicago and now have played against Chicago for a few years, and one thing that they always have is they’re a really hard-working team — a blue collar team. I think really dominating in the first and second ball is super important whenever you play Chicago.”

The numbers back this up. After five regular-season games, Chicago has won 54.7% of their duels and 69% of their tackles — the highest percentage in the league for both categories. The team also sits at or near the top of the league in interceptions (13.6) and clearances per match (28.2). The Reign are a side that prides themselves on being hard to beat, and on Saturday that will mean working hard to win first and second balls and individual duels.

Precision versus volume

The Reign lead the league in shots per game, averaging just over 13 shots a match compared to nine for the Red Stars. But when you look at shots on target and goals per shot, Chicago is clearly the team with more precision. The Red Stars are averaging five shots on target per match, compared to six for the Reign. And 22% of Chicago’s shots result in goals, while the Reign are converting on just 6.5% of their shots.

While the Red Stars may not create as many chances as the Reign, the visiting side will still need to make sure they aren’t giving up shots in dangerous areas. That means containing an in-form Pugh, who is extremely dangerous on the dribble — and really anywhere in or around the box.

Set pieces may be critical

Of the eight goals that Chicago has conceded in the regular season, six have come from set pieces or penalties. They gave up two corner-kick goals against Portland a week ago and conceded an 86th-minute free-kick goal in their midweek match against Washington.

The Red Stars also conceded two set-piece goals in the Challenge Cup. This can happen when trying to integrate a lot of new players, and with a new coach who is working on the fundamentals first. The Reign have players who can deliver and get on the end of set pieces. Let’s see that happen on Saturday.

Injury / Availability Report

OL Reign

OUT: Jess Fishlock (left leg), Megan Rapinoe (back)

Chicago Red Stars

OUT: Tierna Davidson (SEI –right knee), Morgan Gautrat (left calf), Casey Krueger (maternity leave), Bianca St. Georges (illness), Kealia Watt (left knee), Sarah Woldmoe (maternity leave), Arin Wright (right hip)

How to Watch

OL Reign kick off against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, June 4, at 12 PM PT. The match will stream on Twitch for all fans (search NWSLOfficial).

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