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Match Preview: OL Reign v. Houston Dash

OL Reign concludes a three-match week at Lumen Field on Saturday, May 6.

NWSL: Houston Dash at OL Reign Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday evening, OL Reign concludes another three-match week when they host the Houston Dash at Lumen Field. The match kicks off at 7 PM PT and will stream on CBS Sports Golazo or Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. The game is also on TSN3 in Canada and streaming on the NWSL website for international viewers.

Houston is coming into the match with a 1-1-3 record, having scored three goals and conceded just three. OL Reign is 3-1-1 with 10 goals scored and five conceded.

The last time these two faced off at Lumen Field — in August 2022 — the Dash came away with a 2-1 win. That loss motivated the Reign and pushed them to win the NWSL Shield, and will likely still be on the players’ minds before they step onto the field on Saturday night.

The game marks the return of Sam Laity in Seattle. After 10 years as a beloved assistant coach with the Reign, Laity was named head coach of the Dash for the 2023 season. Houston is coming off its best season, having qualified for the playoffs for the first time since joining the league in 2014.

Laity’s club will be motivated for a result after earning their first loss of the regular season last weekend. That came against the North Carolina Courage after the match was called in the 52nd minute following a three-hour weather delay. Unfortunately for the Dash, they were down 1-0 at that point.

Here are three things to know about the Dash ahead of Saturday’s match.

Threats up top

While the Dash have only scored three goals in the regular season, don’t let that fool you. They have plenty of threats in the attack. Diana Ordóñez set a record last year for goals scored by a rookie, with 11. She’s fast and creative, good with her feet, and a real threat in the air at 5’ 11”. While she’s scored one goal, Ordóñez is third in the league in expected goals (xG), at 2.90 xG, according to American Soccer Analysis. She’s also just 21 years old.

On the left wing is María Sánchez, who has a very precise left foot and is the main creative force for the Dash. She isn’t expected to be Houston’s leading scorer but currently has the other two goals for the Dash.

Out on the right is Ebony Salmon, who scored 9 goals last season with Houston. She hasn’t scored yet in the 2023 regular season play but has collected 1.60 xG — so her goal is coming. Salmon is a threat in behind and on the dribble. Case in point:

You don’t want these three players clicking, that’s for sure. The Reign are going to need to defend Sánchez’s crosses into the box, and they’ll need to be cleaner on the ball than they were against Louisville.

“I think we just have to be good on both sides of the ball,” OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said when asked how the team stops Houston’s attacking threats. “I think the last couple of games, we’ve been not as dominant as we would like to be on certain aspects of the game, so I think tomorrow is a chance for us to put that right.”

Plenty of pressure

Houston is not always a high-pressing team. In fact, the Dash are at the bottom of the league in the number of high turnovers they force — they have 43, compared to 52 for the Reign and a league-leading 85 for Gotham. (Also, it should be noted that one reason for their lower number is the fact that they played 38 fewer minutes last week.)

On the flip side, they do like to put teams under pressure and try to win the ball back as quickly as possible. The Dash allow the fifth fewest passes per defensive action (PPDA), at 10.4 (OL Reign are at 11.3). A lower number indicates that the team’s press is more intense. This is calculated by looking at the number of passes made by the opposition outside of a pressing team’s defensive third, and then dividing that by the number of defensive actions made by the pressing team (tackles, interceptions, challenges, and fouls).

What do all these numbers mean? This could be another game where the backline has the ball a bit more, but the Reign could be put under some pressure when they try to advance the ball up the field. OL Reign will need to be much crisper with their passing this go-around.

A resilient defense

Houston has allowed the fewest goals in the league so far this regular season, with just three conceded in five matches. Their defense has been steady and they’ve had some big performances from goalkeeper Jane Campbell.

At the same time, they are currently outperforming their expected goals against total, which is at 6.40 xG against. They’ve also allowed 71 shots, which is the third most in the league. OL Reign will need to put a lot more shots on goal in an effort to try to balance the scale for Houston. It’s something they haven’t been as clean with these last two matches.

“I think, one, it’s just kind of keeping the ball and having that composure in the final third,” forward Veronica Latsko said in response to a question about this in the Reign’s pre-match press conference. “So, we’re able to get it up there but it’s just having that finesse while we’re up there and being able to connect with players in front of goal, whether that’s better-quality crosses or better-quality finishes.”

The Dash have experimented with a 3-5-2 formation or 3-4-3, including in a 1-1 draw on the road in Portland. That formation puts more bodies in the midfield and allows Sánchez to create from deeper as a wingback. It also opens up space behind on the defensive end, which may be why Laity shifted back to a 4-2-3-1 in recent matches. The Reign have faced both formations this season and feel prepared to respond to whatever is thrown at them.

“I think that we’re pretty ready for either a three-back or a four-back,” Lastko said. “I think each presents its own challenge but also each presents its own opportunity to exploit those types of systems and we’re really excited about it.”

Injury / Availability Report

OL Reign

OUT: Angelina (SEI – knee), Rose Lavelle (leg), Phoebe McClernon (back), Quinn (leg), Olivia Van der Jagt (excused absence)

Houston Dash

OUT: Annika Creel (knee), Emily Curran (SEI – knee), Ella Dederick (SEI - knee), Makame Gomera-Stevens (SEI - knee), Shea Groom (knee), Devon Kerr (excused absence), Nichelle Prince (SEI - calf)

QUESTIONABLE: Joelle Anderson (thigh), Ryan Gareis (hip), Kelcie Hedge (thigh), Cameron Tucker (lower leg)

How to Watch

OL Reign conclude their three-match week on Saturday, May 6, with a home match against the Houston Dash. That game kicks off at 7 PM PT and will stream on CBS Sports Golazo (free), Paramount+ (US), TSN3 (Canada), and (international).

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