Preview: OL Reign (h).
Updated: Jul 26, 2021
When? Saturday July 24, 4 p.m. PT, 7 p.m. ET and 00:00 BST (25/7).
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? The game is being broadcast live, domestically and internationally via Twitch (the Twitch app and twitch.tv).
It's reigning football right now! Sh*t, sorry. That was bad. I'll see myself out. In all seriousness, it's been a busy week for the English Lion, with so much to cover. And I love it. First, of all though I'm going to address to elephant in the room. The future of Marc Skinner. I feel like this could be important in terms of this match against the OL Reign. At the time of writing, his immediate future remained unclear. Reports originating my side of the rather large pond we know as the Atlantic ocean, seem to be indicating a move to Manchester United is imminent. It's a left-field move, particularly as far as United are concerned. And it makes sense for Marc. Being away from home, with a young family can't be easy. It's far from ideal for the Pride, however.
Alas, we don't know whether or not Skinner will be in the dug-out come Saturday evening. We shall have to wait and see. So, without further ado let's look ahead to what remains a vitally important game for Orlando.
OL Reign's style
It's strange to see the Reign in such shocking form right now; they've lost their last 4 away from home and 3 of their last 4 overall. Something has to give for this side. Having scored only 8 goals, as well as conceding 13, it's easy to see that goals at both ends are the main problem. That seems like something of an oxymoron when I repeat it, in my head, but it still stands. Their -5 goal differential is only better than Kansas City's, which isn't exactly saying much. Their overall XGa of 0.98 isn't terrible, but then when you look at their rating away from home (1.34), you can see where the problem is. They're currently conceding 1.8 goals a game on the road, indeed 9 of their 13 conceded have come away from Tacoma (figure 1).
Figure 1 shows the goal scoring, and conceding, averages for the Reign on the season so far.
The goals aren't exactly flowing at the other end either, particularly away from home. Of their 8 goals scored, 4 have come away from home; and 2 of those came in their shock win at Portland as far back as game week 2. And when you look at their shooting statistics, it's easy to garner why scoring goals is a problem. Although they sit 3rd in the standings, in terms of shots their finishing is just... bad. That's such a ponderous adjective to use, I know. But, it sums things up well. Of the aforementioned 120 shots, only 54 have made the opposition 'keeper do some work, and only 8 have gone in. That makes for one of the worst conversion rates in the league at a mediocre 6.7%.
Figure 2 shows the shooting statistics for OL Reign, on the season so far.
So, apparently that's their style. Not scoring, as well as letting the opposition score plenty. Solid plan.
Just like every team in the NWSL right now, the Tokyo Olympics have hit the Reign hard. Angelina, Megan Rapinoe, Nicole Momiki, Quinn and Rose Lavelle, are all at the Olympics. They are also currently without Ally Watt and Rosie White due to injury and illness respectively.
EDIT 7/24: OL Reign have updated their injury report to say that Jessica Fishlock is now listed as questionable with a right hamstring injury.
Similarly Orlando are still missing Alex Morgan, Ali Riley, Erin Mcleod and Marta due to international duty. Jade Moore had hoped to be available for this game, but this game might come a little too soon for the England international. Carrie Lawrence is also expected to sit this one out. Marisa Viggiano and Phoebe McClernon both made an impact from the bench in Portland, so both could be involved.
Possible starting XI
Given their lengthy absentee list, their bench against the Red Stars and the fact they've had a full rest week, I don't believe that Sam Lai will make any changes to the line-up. I think the Reign, OL Reign, Tacoma Reign... Whatever, the hell they're called these days, will come to Orlando with an unchanged line-up, set up in their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation as so:
A player that needs little introduction, either side of the Atlantic. The Welsh midfielder has been a linchpin of the Reign midfield yet again this year. Having featured in 10 games so far, the erstwhile Olympique Lyonnais midfielder has amassed 759 minutes across 9 starts and 1 substitute appearance. Her distribution, so far this season, has been typically excellent. She's completed 274 of her 353 passes, making for an overall pass completion rate of 77.6%. These statistics are made all the more impressive when you consider 40.2% of those passes are forward balls. She actually boasts an impressive 70.6% pass success rate in the opposing half of the field.
Fishlock has a keen eye for a pass, and an extremely high soccer IQ to boot. She's well known for her lung-busting runs forward; part of the reason she's notched 71 clubs goals in 283 games in her career to date. As such, it's a little surprising she's only scored 1 so far this season. Her lowly conversion rate of 5.8% (17 shots, 3 on frame, 1 goal), is suprisingly off-brand for Fishlock, whislt simultaneously being very much on-brand for this team. Orlando will be hoping that the likeable Wales international leaves her shooting boots at home again...
Having won only 1 of their last 4 games, the Reign are in a rotten run of form. Their 3-1-6 record has them sat second bottom in the standings, with only Kansas City keeping them from being dead last. They've also lost 4 of their 5 games on the road this season; if Orlando are to end their current slump this would be a good game to start.
The Pride, meanwhile, are in similarly iffy form. Orlando is winless in 4, and have subsequently lost top spot. They currently sit 5th, 3 points off the summit and a 4-4-3 record. A win could be just what the doctor ordered for this squad.
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