OL Reign kicks off a four-match regular-season run at home on Sunday when they host NJ/NY Gotham FC. The match at Lumen Field begins at 3 PM PT and will stream for free on CBS Sports Golazo Network, in addition to streaming on Paramount+ (U.S.) and the NWSL website for international viewers.
After finishing at the bottom of the table in 2022, first-year Gotham head coach Juan Carlos Amorós has propelled his team to third on the league table after seven matches this year. Gotham is currently even on points with OL Reign. Both have 4-2-1 records, but OL Reign has the edge on goal differential with 12 goals scored compared to seven for Gotham.
These two sides met at the start of the season, with OL Reign earning a 2-0 road win with goals from Bethany Balcer and Jess Fishlock.
Both teams are coming off disappointing performances last weekend. The Reign fell 1-0 to North Carolina on the road, while Gotham was outplayed by the Orlando Pride but held on for a scoreless draw thanks to an NWSL Player of the Week performance from goalkeeper Abby Smith.
Here are three things to know about Sunday’s afternoon matchup.
Strong defensive numbers
Gotham and the Reign have both conceded just six goals in seven matches, which is the best in the league. Gotham also has allowed the fewest shots after seven matches, at 72, with OL Reign allowing a close 74 shots. And Reign goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce and Gotham goalkeeper Smith have each recorded a league-leading three clean sheets.
At the same time, similar to Chicago before their match against OL Reign, while Gotham is allowing a league-low number of shots, they are giving up more high-quality chances. Gotham has allowed the fifth-highest excepted goals (including 7.44 xG against in open play compared to a league-leading 4.63 for the Reign). And 35 of the shots they allow are on target, which is the fourth highest in the league.
Gotham has also given up two set-piece goals, including this corner-kick goal against Chicago, while OL Reign has scored a league-leading three goals from set plays.
The cross— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) May 7, 2023
The finish pic.twitter.com/hRNuT0xHXi
If OL Reign can find some attacking rhythm, they should be able to create chances. When OL Reign faced Gotham in early April, they had Rose Lavelle on the right wing partner with Fishlock to isolate holding midfielder Allie Long — finding the space on either side of her. While Lavelle is out, the Reign may try a similar strategy on Sunday.
Be on the lookout for what Megan Rapinoe does, as the forward has scored 13 goals in her career against Gotham (formerly Sky Blue) — second most in the league against a team.
An effective high press
With a lot of speedy and athletic players, Gotham currently leads the lead in pretty much every pressing category. They have forced the most turnovers high up the field in the league (118 compared to 79 for the Reign). Gotham has also converted the most shots from those turnovers (19 compared to 15 for the Reign).
And, finally, Gotham has the lowest PPDA rating (passes per defensive action), which highlights the intensity of their press. That means they allow the fewest passes in the league for each defensive action Gotham makes (foul, interception, challenge, tackle). Their PPDA is 9.3. OL Reign’s is 11.9.
Similar to how OL Reign like to press, Gotham’s forwards put a lot of pressure on backlines, with their attacking midfielder pulling up to help press the centerbacks. Their outside backs also pull high to try to win the ball on the wing. Here’s just one brief clip that shows how effectively and quickly Gotham closes down on the ball. This resulted in a Kelley O’Hara foul, but she was close to pressing Chicago into a mistake.
Here’s just one more stat to highlight Gotham’s defensive pressure. American Soccer Analysis tracks something called expected pass, which looks at the difficulty of a player’s pass and what the pass completion should be for that kind of pass. Gotham is the best in the league when it comes to opponents underperforming their expected pass completion. The good news? The Reign over-performs in this category.
In addition, when teams press high, they can also leave space behind. Gotham hasn’t done that often, but if the Reign move the ball a little faster when they start to build, they could catch their opponent out of shape.
“I think we’ve just got to recognize when the opportunity is on to switch the point of attack and try and get in behind them whenever we possibly can. I think they do a good job of getting bodies behind the ball quickly, so I think we’ve got to try and expose them early and get in behind them,” head coach Laura Harvey said ahead of the match.
The Lynn Williams show
After missing all of last season due to a hamstring tear that required surgery to re-attach it, Lynn Williams is back with a vengeance. She’s scored four goals already for Gotham in regular-season play, along with two more in the Challenge Cup. Williams is second in the league, behind Sophia Smith, in shots and shots on target per match.
She’s scoring from outside and inside the box as well. She’s a menace.
LYNN WILLIAMS CANNOT STOP SCORING FOR @GOTHAMFC.— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) May 7, 2023
That's now 6 goals in all competitions for @lynnraenie. pic.twitter.com/uB0fjxEjqM
74' Lynn Williams doing Lynn Williams things— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) May 4, 2023
The match ends in a 1-1 tie against the North Carolina Courage‼️ pic.twitter.com/iHwo9XbeRY
90+17' LYNN WILLIAMS WAS NOT DONE pic.twitter.com/2VrE7MWnUq— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) April 16, 2023
The best way to contain Williams is to cut off service to her. The second best way is to ensure she doesn’t get behind. OL Reign will have to do both on Sunday.
Injury / Availability Report
OUT: Angelina (SEI - knee), Rose Lavelle (leg), Phoebe McClernon (D45 – back)
OUT: Michelle Betos (hand), Imani Dorsey (excused absence), Midge Purce (hip) Taryn Torres (SEI - knee)
How to Watch
OL Reign hosts Gotham FC on Sunday, May 21, at 3 PM PT. Tickets are still available for the home match at Lumen Field. The game will stream for free on CBS Sports Golazo, in addition to streaming on Paramount+ (U.S.) and the NWSL website (international viewers).