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