OL Reign's Championship Campaign
Updated: Nov 10
OL Reign and Megan Rapinoe take to Snapdragon Field on November 11th for the NWSL Championship against NJ/NY Gotham FC. OL Reign has never won the championship and are playing in the final for the first time since 2015, looking to end Rapinoe’s career on a high note and bring home the club’s first-ever championship.
How did OL Reign get to the championship?
Veronica Latsko. Not totally, but the winger is responsible for both the first-round and semi-final goals that saw OL Reign win 1-0 over their opponents. As the regular season wound down, the team has struggled to find the back of the net, averaging a goal per game and relying on a strong defensive effort to eke out the win. In all matches since July 1st, OL Reign has only scored two or more goals twice. Once in a 2-2 draw against Racing Louisville and another in an October 3-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars.
Now, the goal against San Diego “was supposed to be a cross,” Latsko admitted in the post-game press conference. She followed that up by acknowledging, “I’m just happy we’re going to the championship. That’s all I really care about.”
But the string of 1-0 wins, and the occasional loss, speaks to the consistency of last year’s NWSL Shield-winning side. For the most part, OL Reign has stayed above the playoff line this season, eventually finishing in fourth place. An opening day loss to Washington Spirit would send OL Reign on a seven-game undefeated stretch, including NWSL Challenge Cup matches. That stretch would be their best this season, although the team is currently on a five-game undefeated run, winning their last three games.
While OL Reign has been consistent this season, that’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges.
In September, OL Reign’s starting goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce departed the club on a transfer to Manchester United. Losing their 2022 NWSL goalkeeper of the year finalist and the club record holder for most clean sheets at 13 certainly didn’t make things easy for OL Reign heading into the final stretch of the season. Part of what makes a defensively-minded team successful is the trust between a goalkeeper and the backline.
The solution so far has been goalkeeper Claudia Dickey, who has four clean sheets in the past four games. With a center-back pairing of Alana Cook and Lauren Barnes in front of her, Dickey has help keeping the ball out of the net, though it’s very much been a learning process (see Cook’s red card against the North Carolina Courage when Dickey hesitated to come off her line during a breakaway).
The experience of Barnes and Cook, as well as Emily Sonnett in the defensive midfielder role will help as Dickey continues to navigate the starting role—now in the championship game.
Another bump in the road was a lingering injury for midfielder Rose Lavelle. Missing significant time due to the injury, it’s been a battle to get the midfielder back on the field. OL Reign has obviously found ways to win without Lavelle, but having her creativity back in the center of the field will give OL Reign options. Gotham clearly knows what Lavelle is capable of, but her long absence means OL Reign has a chance to give Gotham a quick refresher before they’re really set.
Head Coach Laura Harvey pointed this out, describing Lavelle as “one of the best players in the world. No question. She’s just something different, there’s no one like her.”
But, looking at the championship, the focus will be on remaining consistent and following the game plan. Having struggled in the past to finish out big games (see last year’s loss in the first round of the playoffs to the KC Current), OL Reign will be looking to shut down Gotham’s attackers and disrupt the press all while waiting for their moments to push a Gotham defense that has shown vulnerabilities across the season.
Harvey wants the championship game to showcase “how gritty we are. How hard-working we are. We grind a lot of things out, internally we’ve had a lot of things that we’ve had to deal with. Sometimes that can be the difference maker in the toughest of moments.”
To win the NWSL Championship, OL Reign will need to stay the course, prioritizing defensive shape and mitigating Gotham’s press. The key will be Sonnett on the ball in the defensive end, finding ways to create space to move the ball forward, and finding the right balance between Lavelle’s creativity and Rapinoe and Sofia Huerta’s crosses. Whereas Gotham will want to be on the front foot right out of the gate, OL Reign will want to turn off the gas, keep Gotham stifled offensively, and then push forward. A little Latsko-like magic wouldn’t be unwelcome either.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, just like Gotham with Ali Krieger, OL Reign wants to send Rapinoe out on a high note.
Lavelle pointed out that “it’s really special to get her [Rapinoe] there—but not just her, Jess [Fishlock], Lu [Barnes], Laura [Harvey]—they’ve been the backbone of this club and have made this club into what it is. I think it’s really special to finally get to this moment and be on this stage—obviously, the job is not done—but to get over this hurdle—it’s what they deserve. They’re such an amazing group of people.”
With a new champion being crowned no matter how the final goes, part of the focus will be on the end of Rapinoe and Krieger’s careers. With the focus, rightly so, on those storylines, Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego will witness history starting at 8:00 pm EST on Sunday. You can tune in to CBS to witness history.