How OL Reign’s effective attacking systems have led to their excellent NWSL start – scout report
OL Reign are actually leading the NWSL with 13 points ahead of Portland Thorns Washington Spirit and Gotham FC who are just one point behind. In fact, OL Reign’s current good run of form definitely deserves more attention since it is confirming that OL Reign are on the right path to finishing at the top of the league this regular season, just like they did last season when they finished at the top with 40 points, one point ahead of Portland Thorns.
Their mission will not be a simple one since the level is getting more advanced with each season and the competition is becoming more fierce. This being said, OL Reign have every possibility to still finish at the top since they have some quality players in most positions and they are good enough from both an attacking and defensive perspective.
In this tactical analysis scout report, we will explore what makes this team excel in the NWSL so far and what they improved compared to last year in terms of tactics and formations. Plus, the analysis will look at the team’s attacking strengths mainly and delve deeper into their attacking systems.
What OL Reign changed and improved from last season?
Compared to last season, OL Reign are actually looking a bit more decisive in terms of finishing and the numbers suggest that the team have been working on improving this finishing aspect in the off-season, and their work has been paying off.
The following two graphics highlight the difference between this season’s and last season’s xG, the number of shots and the number of scored goals. And although it is early to compare the two seasons’ statistics, it is however useful to notice the difference, especially in terms of the number of goals compared to the number of shots. In this first part of the season, OL Reign have already scored almost half of last season’s goals while shooting way less than last season. This backs up the idea that OL Reign are getting better in terms of concretisation and that they are exploiting the chances they create in a more concrete and decisive manner.
Formations and lineups
Moreover, it should be said that head coach Laura Harvey didn’t make remarkable changes in terms of formations compared to last season. She kept her back-four line-up intact while trying to switch the midfield and attacking’s composition a little bit compared to last season by switching to the 4-3-3 at the start of the season instead of the usual 4-2-3-1 with Manchester City’s Rose Lavelle and Jess Fishlock as central midfielders and Emily Sonnett as a defensive midfielder. This change was not really successful as it led to one loss and one win. And that’s why most probably why Harvey quickly turned back to the 4-2-3-1 formation that suits the team more, especially following the injury of Lavelle. This injury also obliged Harvey to make some alterations in attack and she decided to play Bethany Balcer as an advanced playmaker more often while giving her the freedom to become a second striker alongside Jordyn Huitema. Also, she started relying on Veronica Latsko more often on the right-wing and on both Megan Rapinoe and Tziarra King on the left-wing. This combination of excellent attacking players is supported with Fishlock’s continuous and effective attacking support and quality playmaking and we will get to this in more detail in our next section.
Attacking tactics and ideas and strengths
As explained above, OL Reign are getting more effective and dangerous from an attacking perspective this season as the players have found some more chemistry between each other and their movements are looking more natural and quicker this season, which makes opponents struggle to keep up with their rhythm when defending.
The following graphic shows OL Reign’s crossing zones and compares the frequency and success of crossing from both wings. Although the team cross with slightly more success from the right wing, the matches played so far have shown that both wingers cross frequently and create danger through their crosses, even when it comes to early crosses, as they rely on Paris Saint-Germain’s former star Huitema a lot and sometimes on Balcer too for headers.
The following picture from the match against Houston Dash highlights OL Reign’s efficiency from the wing and their ability to score goals using this system. Rapinoe here doesn’t find problems in crossing the ball accurately towards Huitema as she was helped by Fishlock’s overlap that attracted an opposing defender and gave her more space and time for crossing without disturbance. Fishlock’s movements and attacking support are always key in OL Reign’s attacks since they are often unpredictable and very impactful.
From the right wing, Latsko has also been a great addition to the team’s attack since she always brings danger from the right and contributes with goals and especially key crosses. The following example highlights her crossing quality and more importantly, Huitema’s attacking awareness and positioning inside the box. She was asking for the ball when Latsko was advancing and as soon as the ball was being crossed, Huitema advanced at full speed to meet the ball and anticipate the defender’s movement using her excellent physical ability.
The team’s first goal against Chicago Red Stars also shows another important feature in OL Reign’s attack which is the excellent chemistry between Huitema and Balcer. The action shows Latsko passing the ball to Huitema who retreats in order to receive the ball in a suitable shooting position. And since she was marked, she instantly decided to let the ball pass through her legs knowing that Balcer is behind her, but without looking at her.
This movement was like an assist to Balcer who found herself completely free and was able to coordinate her body and shoot with ease to score the goal. This chemistry should therefore be exploited in a more studied way in training in order to confuse opponents even further and alternate between such plays more often.
Moreover, having a player like Fishlock in midfield is not only useful for overlaps and attacking support but also for goalscoring since she is one of the best in penetrations from the back and in terms of shooting from distance. With the return of Lavelle who provides even more quality in midfield and excellent dribbling and penetration skills, OL Reign can be even more dangerous up front.
The next example shows one of Fishlock’s excellent penetrations towards the box this season against Gotham FC. She was asking for the ball when she was still advancing because she knew what she will have to do with the ball as soon as she receives it. This experience is key in this team and the reliance on players like Fishlock and Rapinoe generates more tranquillity and confidence within the team and drives other less experienced players to play with less pressure and put on convincing performances.
OL Reign have got every possibility to conserve their first position in the NWSL and battle for the championship as well.
Consistency will be key however and the players shouldn’t feel that they have already reached their target. Taking the example of teams battling for the WSL title for instance, the competition will be fierce until the last game of the season and the team shouldn’t relax but rather confirm their performances with each game in order to not fall behind or concede points to their direct opponents.
That being said, OL Reign are looking very promising this season and will most likely battle seriously for the championship as they have got all that is needed to do so.