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OL Reign 2022: Their early season problems - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

“Often lacked the final punch”: Why OL Reign can be positive about 2022 despite a mediocre start – tactical analysis

The 2022 NWSL regular season is now nine rounds old, which means that we have had a good opportunity to assess each of the 12 teams and see which could struggle this year and which will likely compete for the Championship. One team currently in the top six but underperforming by their usually high standards is OL Reign, with the Seattle-based side registering just two wins from their first eight matches of the season, although four of the other six have been draws.

This tactical analysis will take a closer look at their attacking and defensive tactics, picking out what has so far been letting them down. As well as pointing out the negatives, the analysis will also highlight the parts of their performances that have been positive, giving them something to build on as they look to kickstart their season into life.

Attack

OL Reign’s favoured formation has generally been a 4-2-3-1 under former Arsenal Women boss Laura Harvey, with a single striker supported by two wingers and a creative playmaker. This setup has allowed OL to get players up the wings and stretch out their attacks, ensuring that the attacking midfielder has forward passing options around the pitch and enabling them to create chances behind their opponent’s defensive line.

OL Reign 2022: Their early season problems - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
OL Reign have often lacked decisiveness in the final third, meaning that chances are wasted.

However, at times this season, they have lacked a decisiveness when moving the ball around the pitch, meaning that chances have not been taken and defenders have been able to protect their goal with more ease. As was noted in a pre-season preview, they have “often lacked the final punch” to finish moves off. Here, Brazil midfielder Angelina has Veronika Latsko and Megan Rapinoe as options on either side of her, with Latsko in the better position due to the traffic currently between the ball and Rapinoe. However, she takes neither option and instead hesitates with the ball, meaning that the San Diego Wave defenders have time to team up and force Angelina to shoot through their legs, taking the pace off her shot and giving Canada goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan a simple save.

To improve this, they simply need to make better decisions and not keep hold of the ball longer than is necessary, as a quicker ball from Angelina here would have given Latsko or Rapinoe a strong chance of scoring. However, we have seen plenty of mistimed passes and long-distance shots from them this season, so more quality with the ball in the final third and a better awareness of their surroundings will definitely help them to improve.

OL Reign 2022: Their early season problems - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
When crossing the ball into the box, OL Reign have lacked quality and not converted their opportunities.

Another issue that has been prominent in OL’s attacking play this season is their crossing inaccuracies, which have been another reason for good chances not being taken. Here, right-back Sofia Huerta has the ball and is looking to find one of her four teammates inside the box, but instead mishits her cross and sends the ball directly out of play. The Reign have only scored 1.14 goals per game on average in their eight games (compared to 1.43 across last season), whilst their crossing accuracy stands at 32.7% (compared to 2021’s 33.3%), so their overall final third play has not been as productive this season, which is something that plenty of commentators and analysts have picked up on.

OL Reign 2022: Their early season problems - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
OL Reign’s players have at times got in each other’s way, which is another way that chances have been squandered.

When the cross does enter the goal area, the problem becomes players not communicating and getting in each other’s way. Here, Wales midfielder Jess Fishlock is ready to receive the ball, but Ally Watt runs in front of her, with neither having enough time and space to control the ball and shoot at goal. Therefore, again, the opportunity is wasted, and it was a big miss given that regional rivals Portland Thorns, their opponents here, have only lost one of their eight matches at the time of writing so have been difficult to beat.

Therefore, what is clear from this section of the scout report is that OL have the ability to create chances, but what has been missing this season is the final pass, cross or shot, with them only scoring six times in their eight matches. Therefore, in order to begin climbing the table, they need to be more decisive in the final third and have more confidence in their play, trusting their natural abilities and not overthinking situations.

Defence

When it comes to OL Reign’s defensive play, their main problem has been a lack of alertness of what is happening around them, meaning that they have often been caught in possession and given the ball away in dangerous areas of the pitch.

OL Reign 2022: Their early season problems - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
OL Reign have been known to take too long on the ball and invite pressure from their opponents.

In this situation, OL have played the ball around their own third without noticing how San Diego are closing them down, which is a concern given that it has been a major part of the league newcomers’ tactics under former Manchester United Women manager and England captain Casey Stoney. When ex-PSG Féminine defender Alana Cook receives the ball, she holds onto it and again hesitates, allowing Wave midfielder Kelsey Turnbow to close her down and steal the ball, although on this occasion they are let off by Turnbow shooting off-target.

OL only conceded 13 times in the 24 games of their 2021 regular season, but they have already let in six so far this year. Therefore, moments like this are costing them and preventing them from picking up crucial points.

OL Reign 2022: Their early season problems - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
OL Reign’s play has at times lacked a necessary intensity in their play.

This is a different situation, but still the same issue, with Fishlock and former Manchester City Women midfielder Rose Lavelle working together to keep the ball on the ground and play out of their half. However, they again lacked urgency and the passes appeared slow and laboured, with Racing Louisville coming from behind them to win possession. Like Turnbow, they let OL off here by missing their shot on goal, but the point still stands that OL are the root of their own problems at times and need to be quicker and more decisive when moving the ball around the pitch.

OL Reign 2022: Their early season problems - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
OL Reign need to be more adaptable when their usual tactics aren’t working.

They have also been caught not reading the game at times, meaning that they stick to one plan and don’t adjust their tactics during games. It is common to see their defensive line advance high up the field and support attacks when the team has possession, with full-backs Huerta and Lauren Barnes constantly moving up the field, and this is something that their opponents have begun to notice during the 2022 campaign. As a result, the Wave knew that there would be space for them to target in OL’s half of the pitch, with this situation showing USA forward Alex Morgan collecting a long kick from Sheridan and having a clear route to the Reign’s goal, and the fact that the former Tottenham Hotspur Women striker is the league’s top scorer with nine goals to date means that it was inevitable that this mistake would be capitalised on.

However, the fact that San Diego’s Sweden striker Sofia Jakobsson also got behind the defence in the same match demonstrates how the Reign didn’t learn from the error and instead persevered with their high back line. They did manage to come away with a draw from this match and put on a better attacking performance, but their defensive display lacked quality and adaptability, with the Wave’s inability to take their opportunities one of the main reasons that Laura Harvey’s side were not on the end of another defeat.

Reasons to be positive

However, whilst this has been a mostly negative analysis so far, we mentioned at the beginning that there have been good parts of OL Reign’s performances that they can build on, and this is what they can be positive about as they look to rediscover their form from the first half of last season.

OL Reign 2022: Their early season problems - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Rose Lavelle has been a key player for OL Reign when moving the ball around the field.

The creative ability of Rose Lavelle has been a major positive for them, with her role as the attacking midfielder in their 4-2-3-1 formation giving her licence to link up with those around her. As a result, she has been essential in helping them to move the ball around the pitch and get shots away at goal, and this example shows her in a hole between Portland’s players. Once in this area, she sees Rapinoe’s run ahead of her and holds back slightly, ensuring that she has enough of an angle to weight a pass into her teammate’s path.

This spatial awareness has been a key part of OL’s transitional play and will continue to be as they improve this season, with their accuracy of passes to the final third (60.2% this season, compared to 61.8% in 2021) largely down to her composure in most of these situations (although not all, as we have already identified one occasion when she gave the ball away too easily).

OL Reign 2022: Their early season problems - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
OL Reign have begun to find their attacking rhythm in recent games.

Lavelle’s ability to work with others is evident in this situation, with her, Fishlock and striker Bethany Balcer combining to allow the Welsh international to score here. In many ways, this was the perfect OL attack, with the full-backs in advanced positions and the key central threats working in closer proximity to each other, ensuring that their passes were shorter and there was less chance of the ball being lost.

Lavelle’s first-time looped pass into Fishlock is perfectly weighted, enabling OL to equalise against San Diego, and this type of play is what we haven’t seen enough of from them during the current campaign. However, if they can maintain this aggression with the ball in future games, then their fans can have hope that they will bring an end to their stuttering start to the regular campaign sooner rather than later.

OL Reign 2022: Their early season problems - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
OL Reign goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce has been a rock at the back for her side this season.

Another major positive is the form of goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce, who has become their first-choice stopper after the departure of Sarah Bouhaddi (who had been on loan from sister club Lyon Féminin). What she has given the Reign this season is a stubborn wall of resistance, often saving them when they have allowed opposing attackers to break through their defensive line, with in-form striker Mallory Pugh being thwarted from a tight angle here and Chicago Red Stars being prevented from taking the lead.

Tullis-Joyce has so far kept four clean sheets in 2022 (the joint-most in the league, alongside Portland’s Bella Bixby and Houston Dash’s Jane Campbell), as well as picking up two Save of the Week awards and being named in the NWSL Team of the Month for May, so her strength and quality in goal has not gone unnoticed. Therefore, any hope of OL getting their season going in the right direction again will depend on her form and whether she can continue digging them out of holes.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at the current issues that OL Reign find themselves with, both in attack and defence. What has been evident this season is that OL are currently playing like a mid-table team who have yet to really find their form, with the departures of on-loan Lyon trio Bouhaddi, midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán and striker Eugénie Le Sommer hitting them harder than they might have imagined.

The addition of Arsenal captain Kim Little on loan for the next few months will help to offset those losses, with the former Scotland captain bringing control to their play and helping them to be more positive in the final third, whilst not a lot needs to be changed tactically, with the issues raised in this scout report all things that can be improved on the training ground. Therefore, when considering everything, it is clear that they can still amend their rocky start and successfully resurrect their season.