OL Reign earned a professional 2-0 win at home against the Houston Dash on Saturday evening, with goals from Jordyn Huitema and Veronica Latsko. The victory propelled the Reign to the top of the table, with a 4-1-1 record.
The Reign outshot the Dash 12-7 and had 1.08 expected goals compared to .48 xG for Houston.
Here are three stats that help tell the story of the Reign’s win at Lumen Field.
For the first time this regular season, OL Reign ceded possession to their opponent. The Reign had nearly 43% of possession on Saturday night. It appeared rather intentional, with the Reign keeping the Dash pinned in their own half — allowing their backline to pass the ball around without much danger.
With the Dash starting in a three-back system, the Reign pressed in a unique way. Megan Rapinoe and Veronica Latsko stuck to the wide centerbacks when the Dash backline had the ball. Their charge? Curl their runs from the outside in or drop wide to prevent passes to Houston’s wingbacks.
Meanwhile, Jordyn Huitema didn’t apply pressure to the middle centerback. Instead, she dropped back and cut off the pass to Houston’s two holding midfielders, along with Bethany Balcer. This forced the Dash into long balls over the top, which the Reign handled well.
As a result of the Reign’s defensive approach, they gave up possession to limit Houston’s attack. The Dash had the most touches this season in their defensive third (295, according to FBref), and the fewest touches in their attacking penalty box (9). Their pass map demonstrates this, as nearly all of Houston’s passes were made behind their attacking half.
Pass Networks for #ReignSupreme and #DTFO! #NWSL pic.twitter.com/pDE7O9Ji5Q— Arielle Dror (@arielle_dror) May 7, 2023
It took Phallon Tullis-Joyce just 28 regular-season starts to break OL Reign’s clean sheet record, with 12. Hope Solo, one of the best goalkeepers in women’s soccer history, had 11 clean sheets in 50 NWSL matches. Haley Kopmeyer had 11 clean sheets in 47 Reign starts, and Lydia Williams had 11 clean sheets in 20 starts for the Reign.
Credit should definitely go to OL Reign’s defense these last two seasons, who continue to allow low-quality chances. At the same time, Tullis-Joyce has to be recognized as one of the best — if not the best — shot-stoppers in the league. From claiming or punching crosses and corner kicks, to coming off her line to stop a breakaway, to pushing dangerous shots away, Tullis-Joyce comes up big over and over again for OL Reign.
It’s kind of ironic that she didn’t have much to do against the Dash to earn the club record, but the goalkeeper has done her job whenever asked — earning the team’s full trust.
Centerback Sam Hiatt won 100% of her duels on Saturday and had 12 recoveries and four clearances. With Houston sending a lot of balls toward her and Lauren Barnes, and with the pace of Ebony Salmon on that wing presenting a dangerous threat, Hiatt stood firm.
“I thought Lu Barnes was exceptional. I thought Sam Hiatt was exceptional. I feel like [Houston] tried to get down their side a little bit and they didn’t give them anything, really,” head coach Laura Harvey said after the match.
It’s been a consistent theme for Hiatt so far this season. According to FBref, Hiatt has won 80% of her aerial duels, which is good for ninth in the NWSL, and she has the sixth-best pass completion rate (84.8%) in the league. With the arrival of Emily Sonnett presenting even more competition at centerback, Hiatt has stepped up and been one of the Reign’s most consistent players.
“Sam’s been tremendous,” Harvey said after she led a rotated backline to a shutout in the Reign’s midweek Challenge Cup match. “When we did the trade for Sonnett, you could have seen someone like Sam shrink and let Sonnett take over, and she didn’t do that. I think Sam’s performances so far this season have been exceptional.”
OL Reign are back in action on Sunday, May 14, with a road match against the North Carolina Courage (2-3-1). The game kicks off at 12 PM PT and will air on FOX 13+ and stream on Paramount+.