The OL Reign hopes the starting lineup isn’t the only noticeable change when it takes the field Wednesday.
The club will play the host Utah Royals FC (1-0-1) in the third preliminary-round matchup of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup. Kickoff is set for 9:30 a.m. PT from Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, and can be viewed online in the U.S. and Canada through CBS All Access. International viewers can catch the game online with Twitch.
The Reign (0-1-1) hasn’t tallied a goal, and in a 2-0 loss to Houston last week the club didn’t have a single shot on-target.
If in a normal season, the defensive-minded Reign likely wouldn’t be concerned two matches into a schedule. But even in a tournament amid the coronavirus pandemic where the knockout stage begins with Game 5, the Reign doesn’t like its hesitancy in the box.
“We really are very good sometimes when we go to the goal and then something stops,” Reign coach Farid Benstiti said via video conference call with media Tuesday. “It’s like we have zones one, two and three. And we (do well) in only one and two (but) the three is very important. …We have to be very determined. That’s what I asked for (at training) from my players.”
One reason the team hasn’t developed fluidity between the zones is the lineup changes and substitutions. While the club was together for a month training in Montana prior to travel to Utah, they didn’t play any matches against other opponents.
Benstiti swapped out four positions in the starting lineup against Houston, including returning defender Taylor Smith to the back line. It marked her first NWSL match since tearing her ACL in December 2018.
The coach plans to make more adjustments Wednesday, stating it will be the last time he intently juggles the rotation. He’s also doing so to compensate for injuries to midfielder Jess Fishlock (leg) and forward Sofia Huerta (hamstring), who have yet to make an appearance in the tournament, and midfielder Morgan Andrews (ankle), who’s questionable after entering in the 78th minute against Houston.
“We really want to lock-in on being solid defensively and now we probably need to take more risks going forward,” Reign forward Jodie Taylor said via video conference call. “Headed into the Utah game, that’s what we want to do. We want to be able to create more chances. We want to be more dangerous in front of the goal, and hopefully we’ll see that (Wednesday).”
The Reign will still have to be focused defensively. The Royals have scored four goals in the tournament and conceded three. Each goal was scored by a different player, meaning the Reign can’t have the lapses it experienced against Houston.
Utah is third in the Challenge Cup standings, while the Reign is seventh.
“We always want to get results, but you also have to go in with the perspective of we’ve been in lockdown for four months and we didn’t really have a real preseason where we could play a lot of games,” Reign defender Kristen McNabb said via video conference call. “It’s been nice to try people in different roles and see who meshes with who. …Once the quarterfinals) hit, that’s when it really counts.”