After a short break in NWSL play due to a FIFA international window, OL Reign are back in action on Friday, September 9, when they host the Chicago Red Stars at Lumen Field. The home match kicks off at 7 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers.
OL Reign enters the match fifth in the league table with a 7-4-6 record. The club has scored 22 goals while allowing 16. Chicago is right behind them in sixth with a 7-5-5 record and has scored 26 goals while conceding 22.
With a tight playoff race, where just six points separate first and seventh place at the moment, the Reign are focused on taking a one-game-at-a-time approach.
“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,” OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said earlier this week after a training session. “You know, 12 can beat 1 at any moment in time. And that's what draws people into [the league], because it is so competitive.”
Here are five things to know about OL Reign’s home match against Chicago.
No Jess Fishlock
Harvey confirmed that Jess Fishlock will not be available for Friday’s match. While the midfielder is on the injury report with an “excused absence,” she reportedly took a knock in training with Wales and was unavailable for either World Cup qualifier. We’ll have to wait for an update after the match to know the extent of her injury.
A 3-4-3 formation
Due to a number of injuries, the Red Stars switched into a three-back formation at the start of the season. Relying on a young backline was a risk, but the gamble has paid off for Chicago. With athletic wingbacks who like to push high, the Red Stars can get numbers into the attack and overwhelm opponents. Their wingbacks have the fitness to also ensure that Chicago is hard to beat defensively, but they can leave holes in transition. Will OL Reign be able to exploit them?
Will the national team players start?
Chicago is led by attacker Mallory Pugh, who has eight goals and five assists. The attack runs through her. She, along with Alyssa Naeher, were both with the U.S. for two matches against Nigeria during the international break — with Pugh going 64 minutes on Saturday and 90 minutes on Tuesday. Bianca St. Georges, a dynamic right wingback, was also with Canada for their two matches in Australia.
Pugh has dealt with minor injuries throughout the NWSL season, but when she’s 100%, she’s incredibly hard to stop. With a lot of minutes and travel in the last two weeks, she could start on the bench for this game. She could also start. Neither option would be a surprise.
OL Reign, meanwhile, had eight players on international duty. Harvey confirmed that many would be on minutes restrictions, as all but Fishlock played earlier this week.
A team that values possession
The Red Stars are third in the league in average possession (52.4% compared to 50.7% for OL Reign). They’re also second in accurate passes per match (334 compared to 316 for Seattle). Typically, the Red Stars drop deep to defend and use their midfield and centerbacks to build out of the back and find their wing players — and Pugh in particular. Just look at how deep their passes came in their 1-0 win over the Reign back in June.
Pass Networks for #MKOT and #BoldTogether! pic.twitter.com/vcznZkMuBK— Arielle Dror (@arielle_dror) June 5, 2022
Harvey expects Chicago to use a similar approach on Friday to try to stifle OL Reign’s attack. She also expects the Reign to have a much stronger offensive performance than they did in June, when OL Reign produced a season-low five shots.
“I think it was structurally a little bit off, just where we had people,” Harvey said about that match. “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.”
A mixed set of recent results
Chicago started the season really strong before struggling at times in July and August. They’ve gone 2-4-0 in their last six games — beating Gotham and Louisville while losing to Houston, San Diego, Angel City, and North Carolina.
Availability / Injury Report
OUT: Angelina (SEI - right knee), Jess Fishlock (excused absence), Tobin Heath (left leg), Sinclaire Miramontez (right leg), Jodi Ulkekul (right knee)
Chicago Red Stars
OUT: Tierna Davidson (right knee), Casey Krueger (maternity leave), Kayla Sharples (left knee), Kealia Watt (maternity leave), Sarah Woldmoe (maternity leave), Arin Wright (right ankle)
How to Watch
OL Reign kicks off against the Chicago Red Stars on Friday, September 9, at 7 PM PT. The match will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and Twitch for international viewers (search NWSL Official).