Silverware is on the line: Here is your Gotham FC vs OL Reign preview.
1. Everyone is putting in the grit
Hudson River Blue: OL Reign finished the season in 4th place with 32 points, just one point above what turned out to be the cutoff line. The Reign won their postseason knockout games by the score of 1-0, and are now in the NWSL Championship for the third time in club history. What’s the vibe in Seattle these days?
Susie Rantz: The Reign closed out the final few matches of the regular season with a renewed focus, which has translated into their strong postseason run. While there were some fans skeptical of the Reign a month ago, their defensive-first approach has really paid off. I’d say like Gotham, it’s a team package with the Reign — everyone is putting in the grit, sacrifice, and energy to get results. The fans are feeding off that.
2. A tactical foul now and again
HRB: The Reign averaged 10.4 fouls per game, the fifth-lowest in the NSWL, but received the second-most yellow cards in the league. Can you tell us more about their physical style of play?
SR: OL Reign isn’t a team that applies high pressure at all times. They are comfortable letting their opponent have the ball in certain spots on the field. I think that’s one reason they aren’t fouling at higher numbers. But longtime NWSL coach Laura Harvey knows how transitional the league can be, and she sets her team up well to handle that threat. They are focused on winning first and second balls in all parts of the field and did that well last week against the Wave. When needed, the team isn’t afraid to earn a yellow with a tactical foul to slow down an attack.
3. Rose Lavelle is back
HRB: Sunday’s game will be long-serving USWNT superstar Megan Rapione’s final professional game before her retirement. Besides Rapione in the midfield, who else should the Goths be worried about?
SR: It feels like cheating to call her out, but I think anyone rooting against the Reign should be nervous about the return of Rose Lavelle, who got her first start since September 3 last weekend. She just changes the dynamic with her ability to dribble at players, pull defenders, and create for her teammates. She’s also a real menace on the defensive end and frustrated San Diego’s holding midfielders last week.
4. The X-Factor: Building out of the back
HRB: What’s the X-factor that could decide Sunday’s match?
SR: I think both teams defend really well, play as a team, and have tactical coaches who are going to put out a smart game plan. If I had to guess, I think the team that’s more comfortable building out of the back and playing around the other team’s press is going to find the most success.
5. Predicted Starting XI
HRB: Prediction time: Starting XI? Final score?
SR: Oh goodness, I absolutely hate predicting final scores! Do I have to? I’ll say 2-1 Reign.
I suspect the Reign roll out the same lineup as last weekend, but Harvey loves to be unpredictable.