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Training Notes: OL Reign continue their playoff push

First up: Hosting the Chicago Red Stars on Friday.

With eight players on international duty this week, OL Reign training was a bit lighter this last week as the club prepares for a home match on Friday, September 10, against the Chicago Red Stars. That made the focus of training sessions a little different for head coach Laura Harvey.

“With a smaller group, it’s been focusing on individual stuff a little bit. They’ve worked really hard, and then we’re starting to flip our focus toward Chicago now this week,” Harvey said after a training session on Monday.

The match against the Red Stars will be an important one. Chicago sits in sixth — the final playoff spot — and they are just one point behind OL Reign. The Reign are going to need to put in a much better offensive performance at Lumen Field than their road match against Chicago in June, where they lost 1-0 and produced a season-low 0.22 expected goals (xG) and just five shots.

To OL Reign’s credit in that match, they were organized defensively and held the Red Stars to just 0.78 xG and allowed nine shots — at a time when Chicago forward Mallory Pugh was arguably the league’s best player.

“I think we did a really good job against them when we were away defensively, but we weren’t an offensive threat, and that’s something that we’ve got to look at for Friday,” Harvey said after Monday’s training. “I think it was structurally a little bit off, just where we had people, and individual performances weren’t on the level that we would want them to be. I think it’s a good opportunity to put that right on Friday.”

With just six points separating first and seventh place at the moment, the playoff race is the tightest one Harvey’s ever been a part of at this point in the season. She credits the league’s parity for giving fans an exciting end to the regular season.

“You know, one can beat 12 at any moment in time. And I think that’s the way that we want the league to be. That’s what draws people into it, because it is so competitive. So for it to be going down to — they’ll probably go down to the last weekend, I would suspect — that’s great. It’s great for the league.”

OL Reign currently sits in fifth, with six teams qualifying for the playoffs. So in a sense, they control their own destiny. That’s not Harvey’s message to the team, however. In this league, you have to take a one-game-at-a-time approach.

“Friday. Yeah, deal with Friday, then deal with our lovely road trip that we’re going on again. We have to honestly just take every game as it comes really, because if you look past anything, then it can come back to bite you. So Friday’s the most important thing for us.”

That road trip involves three matches in seven days, first in North Carolina, then in New Jersey, and then in Houston. That’s a lot of travel, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s all about the Red Stars on Friday at the moment.

Other Notes

  • Jess Fishlock and Wales qualified for the UEFA World Cup playoffs in October during this international break. The top two teams from that competition will automatically qualify for the 2023 World Cup, while the third-place team advances to an inter-confederation playoff. Fishlock, however, didn’t feature in either Wales match after picking up some kind of knock in training — her status is up in the air for Friday’s match.
  • Alana Cook, Sofia Huerta, and Rose Lavelle started both U.S. Women’s National Team matches against Nigeria. Megan Rapinoe subbed onto Tuesday’s match and made an immediate impact — finding Lavelle for the game-winning goal.
  • Jordyn Huitema started both friendlies against Australia, as Canada won both games Down Under. Quinn subbed into the second match.
  • Jimena López started both matches for Mexico during the international break, including helping Mexico win the first-ever Copa Angelina against Angel City FC on Monday.
  • Harvey confirmed that all of her international players would likely be on minutes restrictions, as they all featured Monday and Tuesday for their national teams (aside from Fishlock).
  • Tobin Heath was not at training on Monday. While no formal injury update was provided, it appears she’s still dealing with the leg injury that kept her out the last few weeks.

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