If you love basketball and hate soccer, first of all, how did you find this website? But second of all – this match is for you. The enthralling back and forth encounter between Washington Spirit and OL Reign was full of non-stop energetic thrusts, between two high pressing, quick transitioning teams. In the end, the Spirit came out on top with their fluid front four in full flow. But OL Reign certainly had their chances, and showed their own moments of promise throughout the ninety, with Rose Lavelle leading the charge. Here is our analysis of Washington Spirit’s narrow 2-1 win over OL Reign.
WASHINGTON SPIRIT – 4-2-3-1Embed from Getty Images
First of all, when it comes to the Washington Spirit – wow. Had the Challenge Cup not taken place, it’s unlikely the Spirit would have been able to develop such close combinations and chemistry between the lines, and such a clear sense of attacking identity in the first match of the NWSL season. But Kris Ward’s team came out guns blazing either way, full of energy and intelligence in nearly every single position – particularly within their fervid front four.
Ashley Hatch intelligently dropped in deep to pick up possession and bounce passes back to Sanchez to drive on, as Trinity Rodman and Heilferty adopted high and wide roles down the wings to race in behind Reign’s back-line. Reign could never get a grip of their rotations, partially due to the speed at which the Spirit combined in the final third. Both of their goals came within ten seconds of winning back possession, with precision in the first pass forward into the final third, and the same level of precision on the assist into the finisher. On one occasion, it was Ashley Sanchez who fired the ball into the back of the net after Heilferty’s excellent layoff. On the other, Trinity Rodman whipped a perfect pass into the box for the strong noggin of Ashley Hatch.
With 67% of their accurate passes coming in their own half (180/266), the Spirit also excellently played out from the back and found ways of evading Reign’s intense high-press. Sam Staab performed particularly well in fulfilling her role as a ‘Ball-Playing-Centre-Half‘, making several exceptional long passes into dangerous areas for her teammates to create chances. Further down the pitch, Aubrey Kingsbury nicely timed passes through the middle (cue the youth coaches shouting at the kids for passing down the middle!). Roddar and Aylmer bossed midfield areas out from the back in receiving Kingsbury’s attempts, and Camryn Biegalski made herself an additional option in central areas as the ball shifted right, by inverting herself from left-back. Down the other side, Morgan Goff could time her runs forward and overlap her right wing partner, as Sanchez, Rodman and Hatch floated toward each other to combine in central channels. With Aylmer sitting and Biegalsky inverting, Roddar could then pick and choose moments to drift wide and get on the ball in the half-spaces. She could drive forward herself, bounce passes into the false nine Ashley Hatch, or use Ashley Sanchez’s exceptional line-breaking dribbling to drive the team forward and create chances from range.Embed from Getty Images
Out of possession, the Spirit only continued their tireless energy in pressing from the front and stunting Reign’s build-up. Their defensive 4-2-3-1 stance allowed for limited space in between the lines, and stopped Bethany Balcer from reaching her full potential, with the Spirit needing to find alternative methods for getting their striker involved. Washington also excelled in collectively compacting wide areas, forcing Reign to optimistically play passes through the middle where Aylmer and Roddar were able to swoop in, regain possession and restart attacks. With Ashley Hatch leading the press and even counter-pressing situations in Reign’s half, Jess Fishlock and Amanda Stanton could rarely find time and space on the ball to get their heads up and pull the strings from deep. All ends up, Kris Ward’s team were immaculately structured on the opening day, and their relentless running will make them desperately difficult to stop this season.
OL REIGN – 4-2-3-1Embed from Getty Images
While the Washington Spirit were absolutely brilliant on the day, OL Reign also had their moments of superiority and success. Rose Lavelle excellently danced and dazzled her way through the midfield as ever, constantly driving her team forward from deep. Playing almost at 1.5x speed, Lavelle’s incredible carrying and dribbling power could not be tamed, and it was even the 26-year-old who scored Reign’s only goal of the game.
Matching the Spirit stride for stride in a 4-2-3-1 shape of their own, Reign used the width of the field against Washington’s narrow defense to create some of their best moments. Ashley Watt constantly sought space in behind the defensive line, particularly on the few moments Fishlock was able to get her head up and find long passes over the top for the wide player. As she attracted herself toward Lavelle and Balcer, Sofia Huerta could also occasionally get up the line and use her pace, with Biegalski having a particularly difficult evening from a defensive perspective.
In their best moments, Reign were also able to use their tireless work ethic off the ball to stunt Spirit’s build-up. Balcer, Lavelle, Latsko and Watt formed a formidable front four to press from the front, and their 4-2-3-1 defensive shape benefited their ability to force play wide. But in addition to the Spirit finding routes through the middle after recycling to their keeper, Reign also allowed for easier progression in moments where their pressing shape became more 4-2-4, disorganized and all in the same line. But again, much of the team’s best moments came from high pressing situations, where they were able to win the ball, win a foul and then deliver a subsequent set-piece to Balcer in the penalty area. The Spirit committed 8 fouls to Reign’s 6, and through their energetic press, Laura Harvey’s team won more tackles (11 – 69%) and interceptions (15), than the team that we’ve called tireless, relentless, and energetic. In truth, both teams could be described in such a manner, but Kris Ward achieved full fluidity going forward in completely different ways than Laura Harvey.
In the end, the Spirit came out victorious through that fluidity in the final third, staking their claim for best opening performance of the weekend. Reign can also take many positives away from the match, knowing they fought tooth and nail to secure victory, and remained in the game throughout the ninety minutes.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Washington Spirit’s hard-fought affair against OL Reign. Be sure to check out more of our match analyses, NWSL content, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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