The top-seeded OL Reign take on the fifth-seeded Kansas City Current at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Lumen Field. Here are five things to know about the semifinal matchup.
How they got here
After starting the season winless in their opening four matches, the Reign closed on a seven-game unbeaten streak (six wins) to finish atop the 12-team league, winning the NWSL Shield by one point over Cascadia rival Portland Thorns FC. The Reign earned a first-round bye to the semifinals and the right to host at Lumen Field.
The fifth-seeded Current were winless in their opening five matches of the season (four losses). The second-year franchise didn’t clinch a postseason berth until the second-to-last regular-season match and were in contention for a first-round bye, but lost in their finale. K.C. used a second-half stoppage-time goal from defender Kate Del Fava to upset the Houston Dash 2-1 and advance to the semis. Midfielder Claire Lavogez suffered a torn ACL in the match and was subbed off in the 51st minute.
Old Kansas City beef
Technically, the Reign lead the all-time series with the Current, 3-2. But when Reign coach Laura Harvey and club originals Lu Barnes, Jess Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe think of “Kansas City” it’s the sour finish to the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The Reign shredded the league during the regular season those years to win back-to-back NWSL Shields but then-FC Kansas City, led by a different ownership group, defeated the Reign in the league championship match each year with a 1-0 result. Amy Rodriguez, an Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champ, scored the winning goals in both title matches. Although the forward did return from an injury to play for the Current, she retired from soccer in January.
First-year starting keeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce was in goal for every Reign regular-season match this season and tied Thorns keeper Bella Bixby for most clean sheets in NWSL competitions (nine). The Reign conceded a league-low 19 goals with first-choice starting defenders Barnes, Alana Cook, Sam Hiatt and Sofia Huerta forming a blockade with Tullis-Joyce that didn’t allow a single goal in the final 15 minutes of play. They were the only NWSL team to accomplish the feat.
The Reign (32 goals) and Current (29 goals) weren’t the most potent scoring teams in the league this season, but they do feature some of the most creative offensive players, which made the 1-0 results during the regular-season series perplexing. Kansas City’s win at Children’s Mercy Park in July was off a Lo’eau LaBonta penalty kick in the 18th minute despite the sides combining for 35 shots in the match. The Reign’s win at Lumen in May was off a header from Bethany Balcer in the 80th minute. Current keeper AD Franch had eight saves. K.C. coach Matt Potter and four players missed the match due to COVID protocols.
Balcer tied with Rapinoe to lead the Reign with seven goals each this season. The Bold also lean on midfielders Rose Lavelle (five) and Fishlock (four) for goals.
LaBonta leads the Current with eight goals, six from the spot; the midfielder also has four assists. Forwards CeCe Kizer and Kristen Hamilton have bagged seven and six goals, respectively, for the club this season.
Break the streak
While the Current are new to the playoffs, the Reign are making their sixth appearance overall, advancing to the semifinals in each. But the club hasn’t won a playoff match since defeating the Washington Spirit in the semifinals in 2015. The four-game postseason losing streak is tied with the Chicago Red Stars (2015-18) for the NWSL record. The Reign lost to the Spirit 2-1 in the semifinals last season at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.