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Five things to know when OL Reign face North Carolina

It’s the first of a three-match road trip for the Reign.

MikeRussellFoto / Sounder at Heart

With just four matches remaining in the regular season, it’s crunch time for OL Reign. They’ll kick off a three-game road trip on Saturday when they face the North Carolina Courage. That match begins at 4:30 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.

It’s a fairly brutal road trip for the Reign, as well. They face North Carolina this Saturday, NJ/NY Gotham FC on Wednesday, and the Houston Dash next Saturday. That’s a lot of travel at a crucial period in the season.

OL Reign enter the match in sixth place, the final playoff position, having played one fewer match than four of the teams ahead of them. The Reign are 7-4-7 and have scored 24 goals while conceding 18. The North Carolina Courage sit in eighth place and are just three points behind the Reign. They have a 7-7-4 record and have scored 39 goals while conceding 31.

Just seven points separate first and eighth place right now. The Reign have both a legitimate shot at the NWSL Shield and are at risk of missing the playoffs entirely. Every point matters.

Here are five things to know about OL Reign’s road match.

The dynamic Brazilian duo

The Courage have two dynamic Brazilian attackers in Debinha and Kerolin, and they are in peak form right now. Combined, they have 13 goals and seven assists. Both are incredibly good in transition, but they also combine well when the pace of the game is slower. Wing player Kerolin in particular is heating up, having scored in three straight matches, with five goals in that span. She typically lines up on both the right and the left and could push right back Sofia Huerta into a more defensive role.

North Carolina is good at home

While it wasn’t true earlier in the season, it’s very true now. The Courage are hard to beat at home. They’ve won four of their last five home matches. It’s a large field and often features hot and humid conditions.

“I personally have never won in Cary, so it’ll be nice to flip the script on that tomorrow,” forward Bethany Balcer said ahead of the match. “I feel like we’ve got a really good challenge tomorrow to go in and make a statement. We’ve said all season that we want to be just as hard to beat away as we are at home.”

A high-possession team that’s also good in transition

The Courage often dominate possession — leading all teams in the league in average possession and passes per match. But they’re also incredibly good in transition. That makes North Carolina a hard team to defend for 90 minutes. A lot of their attack builds from the back, and if the Reign are able to cut off some of their passing lanes, they could have some luck of their own in transition.

Defensive adjustments make them harder to break down

Earlier in the season, North Carolina was scoring tons of goals while also leaking goals on their defensive end. More recently, however, the Courage have been a little more difficult to break down — allowing five goals in their last six games. Carson Pickett addressed some of the team’s changes in a press conference earlier this week.

“In the beginning of the year, we were attacking a lot out of the back — and that’s what North Carolina does, we attack out of the back. Obviously, just with the changes in some personnel and things like that, we’ve had to become a little more cautious in the back. So instead of just flying forward, we’re a lot more organized now. We’re still able to attack but we have cover from the 6’s.”

OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said that the Courage haven’t made significant adjustments, aside from slightly tweaking their formation for opponents. But to her, it’s been more of a gradual build to get to where they’re at right now defensively.

Dangerous on set pieces

NC has nine set-piece goals this year, in large part due to the service of Carson Pickett, who is third in the league in chances created. Pickett has three players who like to get on the end of her service: rookie forward Diana Ordoñez, who is still in the Golden Boot race with 11 goals, and centerbacks Abby Erceg and Kaleigh Kurtz.

On the flip side, OL Reign has yet to concede a goal on a set piece. It would be great to see that trend continue for the Reign on Saturday.

Injury / Availability Report

OL Reign

OUT: Angelina (SEI- right knee), Tobin Heath (SEI- left knee), Sinclaire Miramontez (SEI- right foot), Jodi Ulkekul (right knee)

QUESTIONABLE: Lauren Barnes (right leg)

NC Courage

OUT: None

How to Watch

OL Reign kicks off against the North Carolina Courage at 4:30 PM PT on Saturday, September 17. The match will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.

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