OL Reign NWSL Fall Series 2020 Preview

The 2020 season is not over for the NWSL after all. The NWSL Fall Series will take place from September 5 through October 17 with all nine clubs participating. (*updated to include full schedule 9-3-20)

The league is not using the single table format for this event, instead creating three pods of three teams for a short round robin format but no playoffs. Essentially, it is a chance to get some matches in during the normal period of time they would have them and they are basically friendlies. All sides get four matches, two in and out of market each. The pods make reasonable geographic sense (especially pre-expansion).

With CBS All Access and Twitch streaming available for the league, getting matches to their audience is a continuation of the successful Challenge Cup in Utah.

Many sides have seen players leave for the fall to Europe, so this is going to be another opportunity for young players to get spotlight minutes. For OL Reign it means players like Jessica Fishlock, Lauren Barnes, Darian Jenkins, Nicole Momiki, and Rebecca Quinn are out on loan for this series. Jodie Taylor departed the club for OL Lyon after the Challenge Cup. And, the status of USWNT forward Megan Rapinoe continues to be a 2020 availability question as she has voluntarily opted out.

OL Reign was a solid possession and defensive team in the Challenge Cup, but goals were at a premium. The Fall Series is an opportunity to see if the Farid Bentstiti system can now progress with the young players that will make up the majority of the roster for part two of 2020.

The Fall Series is also being done with limited travel and pods, which for a short mini-season without ticket sales is both economically and testing protocol driven. These September and October matches bring the season total for 2020 closer to a half season of league play, which is significantly more than was expected last spring. Nine matches for the Reign combined is nine more than we thought would happen at one point.

OL Reign returned to training middle August. The roster, other than the loans and Taylor, is largely that which took the field in Utah. The biggest concern for Benstiti will likely be replacing Lauren Barnes in the defense, with her loan being announced shortly prior to the Fall Series announcement. Bethany Balcer will look to be the focal point of the offense. Both keepers showed they are starting quality in Utah, so that is not a concern. The midfield will need USWNT veteran Allie Long to find her best midfield partner, likely Shirley Cruz. Players like Sofia Huerta, Kristen McNabb, and Morgan Andrews will need to be steady performers for the OL Reign possession game to turn into goals.

The first match is September 12 at rival Portland Thorns FC. In the end, OL Reign will play nine matches in 2020 (barring anything interesting like a trip to France or extra exhibitions that seem really unlikely at this stage) with three of them each against Portland and Utah, and matches against Sky Blue, Chicago, and Houston earlier in the Summer.

OL Reign Fall Series Schedule

Portland Thorns FC vs. OL Reign – Providence Park – Saturday, September 12, 12:30 p.m. PT – CBS and CBS All Access

Utah Royals FC vs. OL Reign – Rio Tinto Stadium – Saturday, September 26, 12:30 p.m. PT – CBS All Access 

OL Reign vs. Portland Thorns FC – Cheney Stadium – Saturday, October 10, 5:00 p.m. PT – Twitch 

OL Reign vs. Utah Royals FC – Cheney Stadium – Saturday, October 17, 5:00 p.m. PT – CBS All Access 

Breaking down a goal from a Rose

OL Reign announced on August 16th an audacious move of a future draft pick and significant allocation money to grab the rights to Rose Lavelle from Washington Spirit. The audacious part is that Lavelle and her rights will not be heading immediately to Tacoma for a return to playing in Cascadia. OLR has chosen to roll the dice a bit, as it is possible Lavelle thrives and enjoys what appears to be playing in Manchester for City. Should she make a prolonged stay in England, OLR will have rolled the dice and lost a resource. The payoff would be fantastic for a player in her middle 20s who has already scored a game killer in a world cup final.

Summer of 2019 was the validation moment for Rose Lavelle, as she took on the Holland defense by herself and put the USWNT up two goals late in the final. The body language on both sides after the goal said it all. But, let’s look at that goal.


Rose Lavelle on the attack. A look back at the second goal of the 2019 WWC final match between USWNT and Holland in France. This is simultaneously an amazing individual effort and a team attack.

The play begins with a defensive stop in midfield by Crystal Dunn. Quickly US mid Samantha Mewis securess the ball and another US mid Rose Lavelle comes back to receive in the circle. Julie Ertz is in the center of the field behind the play and was an option and then tracks forward. From here, Lavelle attacks immediately and three offensive players begin runs.  Megan Rainoe on her far left on one wing and staying wide.

Tobin Heath is on her far right and also staying wide to continue the switching of fields maybe. Alex Morgan goes inside to begin a run in behind the central defenders but is a bit quick and holds up to get onside.  Lavelle has a defender trailing her immediately.  THREE dutch defenders all start tracking back because oh shit it is Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, and Alex Morgan making runs.  Lavelle makes a nice move at pace going directly at the defense, realizes the defenders are utterly hosed, jukes a smidge and cranks a left footed shot the keeper sees a moment too late because the one defender on Rose partially shields the play. 

Suddenly it is late in the match and two nil. World champs not too long after.

The US had a single goal lead and the game was getting into the late stages. Another goal here likely kills it off. The risk of a counter and draw was very real as Holland was a very good side and capable of scoring quickly. A case could be made that had Lavelle chosen, she could also have slowed and had both Ertz and Mewis tracking to reset to. I am taking the slow and reset the play as an option off the table from the start, because that was a counter attack the moment Dunn made the tackle and Mewis gathered the loose ball. The only slowing down of this play would have come from the Dutch deciding to foul her hard or to have had Lavelle take a poor touch.

Looking to the left flank option, Pinoe was wide and briefly showed and could have received a pass and then served in something dangerous. The US has had success with this kind of ball movement, but Pinoe almost immediately realizes the ball is not coming and begins to track downfield.

Morgan had to stop her run. There was a moment that if Lavelle had released it early Morgan might have had a chance on goal, but the passing lane is poor for that move and so Morgan holds up, which also slows one of the defenders for a step as she has to still account for her. The defender that stays near Morgan is late on the shot a moment later, and not by much.

The right flank would have fully switched the ball to Heath. Heath would likely have driven deep, attempted a move, and driven the ball across to the wave of attackers that was building up at that point. Not a terrible option, as Heath on the ball with a head of steam and defenders having to track the entire US attack would have been a good move.

I for one, think Rose had go to goal on her mind from the start. Had the defenders held up or tried to stop her the ball would have gone to either flank to Pinoe or Heath and the Dutch were equally effed as the attack would have continues. Morgan was too close and would likely have been offside if the ball went to her and so the wide play either side would have made sense.

Watching the play, I see Mewis hold off the challenge after getting the ball Dunn tackled and Lavelle showing to receive the ball as the attack first option. Getting the ball in the middle of the field with a couple steps to get a head of steam is the worst thing the Dutch could have happen with a player live Lavelle. Given her field sense, she knew all of her options, saw the defense recoiling, and once she does the little step over to spin a defender she was going for it.

This sequence is a few seconds. The field and tactical shift the US collectively does in those few seconds across their mid and forward lines was on a pivot.

Rose Lavelle could be doing this to NWSL defenses in Tacoma in the near future if the OLR dice roll pays off. She will do well in Manchester, but that move feels more like circumstantial to 2020 and 2021 and being in form while getting an experience in her middle 20s as much as anything else.

How this plays out will be interesting.

** Rose did in fact announce her one year deal with Manchester City on August 18.