After a weekend away from NWSL action, the league returns with several enticing fixtures. The first match on the agenda will see the unbeaten OL Reign welcome newcomers San Diego Wave to Lumen Field.
Of the two new teams, San Diego and Angel City, the former are certainly faring the better. Can the Wave be the first team to beat OL Reign?
The season so far for San Diego Wave and OL Reign
As previously mentioned, OL Reign are yet to be beaten in this season’s Challenge Cup. They began with a trip to Providence Park, where they edged out Portland. USWNT star Rose Lavelle scored the only goal, and the midfielder is one of five different goal scorers thus far.
Statistically, it was a pretty even game when the Reign clashed with Angel City, but Freya Coombe’s side still found themselves two goals and a player down after half an hour. This proved too steep a mountain to climb for the inaugural NWSL side.
The Canadian legend that is Christine Sinclair was the first to react to a parry from Phallon Tullis-Joyce, tying up the game at 1-1 after a thunderous strike from fullback Sofia Huerta. This is how the match finished.
Moving on to OL Reign’s opponents for this one, the San Diego Wave, and they’ve also started pretty strongly. In their first ever game, it was the battle of the new pair, California vs California. It was an evenly contested 1-1 come the final whistle, with substitute Kaleigh Riehl rescuing a point for San Diego in the final ten minutes.
Casey Stoney’s side remained on one point after their second game with Sophia Smith’s fifth minute strike proving to be the difference.
San Diego Wave and Angel City met again in their most recent outing, a six-goal thriller ensuing. England veteran Jodie Taylor netted the first goal of the game for the Wave.
It went back-and-forth ultimately with a number of notable WSL and NWSL names featuring on the score sheet. Alex Morgan chipped in with a brace, marking her first two goals for the Wave, while Christen Press was on target at the other end.
Who will be the key players?
When it comes to the key players for both the San Diego Wave and OL Reign, a couple of names have cropped up already. Laura Harvey’s Reign side is littered with talent from front to back, several international stars featuring amongst their ranks. Along with the aforementioned Lavelle in the middle of the park, there is Quinn and Jess Fishlock.
Quinn is a key cog for both club and country, while Wales captain Fishlock was the NWSL MVP last season.
Another name, lesser known but equally as effective, is Bethany Balcer. The striker leads the team in overall shots and shots on target but is yet to get off the mark in the Challenge Cup.
Reign aren’t a side that struggles to score goals and one would expect Balcer to start finding the back of the net sooner rather than later.
On the flipside, San Diego Wave have a couple of non-Americans playing their part in any potential success.
Kailen Sheridan is preferred to experienced English goalkeeper Carly Telford in between the sticks. But Telford’s fellow Lioness Taylor leads the line.
Alongside Taylor, Morgan and Olympic silver medallist Sweden Sofia Jakobsson provide a threat going forward. The organisation have certainly done well in recruiting this trio in particular.
Everything points towards OL Reign picking up another win, if not that, then at least continuing their unbeaten start to the tournament. However, Stoney is a driven manager and with her at the helm of San Diego Wave, not to mention the presence of Jill Ellis too, anything is possible. Who will prevail in the Emerald city?