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Tactical Analysis: How the San Diego Wave FC lost to the OL Reign

Analyzing the Wave’s loss against the team from the Pacific Northwest.

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NWSL: San Diego Wave FC at OL Reign Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Wave suffered their second defeat of the season against the OL Reign last Sunday. Despite the defeat, the team remains at the top of the NWSL standings. Here’s a look at what went wrong during their loss and the silver linings in this dark cloud.

The Formations

San Diego (4-2-3-1): Sheridan; Girma, Riehl, Westphal, McGrady; McNabb, Van Egmond; Morgan, Kornieck, Jakobsson; Taylor

OL Reign (4-2-3-1): Tullis-Joyce; López, Hiatt, Cook, Huerta; Quinn, Van Der Jagt; Lavelle, Fishlock, Latsko; Balcer

Wyscout

The Wave initially started the match with Jodie Taylor (#9) as the lone forward with Taylor Kornieck (#22) lining up behind her. Later, Kelsey Turnbow (#6) would take Taylor’s place as the furthest player forward. Kornieck would then take up the space behind Turnbow before she was replaced by Marleen Schimmer (#27), who took up space behind the forward for the last few minutes of the match.

InStat

The Tactics

The first, notable action of the match came around the sixth minute, as Bethany Balcer launched a long ball towards Sofia Huerta on the right flank. Balcer was able to find an open Huerta as SD’s tendency to overcommit themselves defensively left the Reign’s fullback virtually unmarked in the right channel.

San Diego shifting to one side of the pitch

The Reign’s game plan was to find Huerta open on the flanks so that she could launch crosses into the box. In this case, she shot the ball directly at Kailen Sheridan, though Huerta would do more right than wrong in this game.

The Wave would make their first foray into the box less than a minute later. However, the attack was stifled by the Reign blocking their crosses into the penalty area. Less than a minute later, Veronica Latsko would put Sheridan under pressure, though the goalkeeper would evade the forward’s pressing.

Latsko putting pressure on Sheridan.

Both teams were good at transitional play though the Reign had the added benefit of moving the ball around better. As this video below demonstrates, OL would pass the ball in short, triangles to keep it away from their opponents. They also passed the ball around more fluidly than the Wave did.

The Reign would also pass the ball down the channels to bypass San Diego’s press. They would do this whenever the Wave would clog the midfield in an attempt to make it difficult for their opponents to build-up play through the middle.

Reign passing down the channels

Jakobsson and Morgan would drift into the middle behind Taylor to help close down spaces. San Diego also benefitted from the Reign’s initial inability to recognize this and to bypass it by playing at a higher tempo. As a result, the Wave were able to regroup and reorganize themselves to deal with their opponent’s attack.

Alex Morgan moved around in rather interesting ways during this match. One of the ways she did so was by drifting to the right in an attempt to bypass the Reign’s defense. In this instance, it almost worked, though the attack was hampered by the ref mistakenly flagging Morgan offside.

San Diego was also spurred on by some excellent defensive work, including this interception by Tegan McGrady on the edge of the box.

McGrady interception

Naomi Girma also made a vital clearance in front of goal just short of three minutes later. The two defenders put in a good shift and have built a strong partnership that will make the Wave even stronger in the long run.

Girma intercepts the ball

The Wave’s defense needed to be on high alert, as the duo of Latsko and Balcer often put them to the test. One of the ways they did so was by becoming more compact during throw-ins. By narrowing their shape, San Diego would limit the Reign’s chances to launch attacks from these areas. The team often moved like a flock of birds together, which speaks to their defensive discipline.

The Wave compressing the field for a throw-in

In contrast, whenever the Wave had the chance to score in the Reign’s half, it would be hampered by their opponent’s successfully intercepting their crosses. One example of this is from Jess Fishlock, who is only 1.58 m (5 ft 2 in). Despite being the shortest player on the pitch, the player managed to head the ball away.

San Diego suffered from a lack of proper service into the box, as the players’ crosses couldn’t find the likes of Jakobsson and Kornieck, who could have really threatened with the ball. It was this, coupled with their defensive lapses during set pieces, that led to their undoing.

Lavelle’s Goal

It was ultimately a set piece that put the Wave’s to the sword. After Morgan fouled Sam Hiatt in the 73rd minute, the ref awarded the OL Reign a free-kick. Huerta would then send a cross into the box and the ball found the top of Rose Lavelle’s head. Lavelle then headed it home and put her team ahead.

Lavelle’s goal would prove to be the game-winner for the OL Reign. After 90+4 minutes, the ref blew the whistle for full-time, and San Diego officially lost their second game of the season.

The Stats

As per Opta, the Wave had 54% possession compared to OL Reign having the ball 46% of the time. The Wave also sent in more crosses in the box, as evident from this chart from InStat. Jakobsson sent in the most crosses, as she sent in five. Morgan was right behind her as she sent three crosses into the area.

Wave crosses
InStat

However, though the Wave sent in more crosses into the box, they had fewer shots on goal than their opponents did. San Diego was limited to five shots and only three were inside the 18-yard-box.

Wave shots
InStat

Though the Reign saw less of the ball than San Diego did, they still managed to outshoot their opponents. The Seattle-based side outshot San Diego by a ratio of 14 to 6, with ten shots from inside the box. Only one of them resulted in a goal and that was Lavelle’s header in the 75th minute.

OL Reign shot chart
InStat

As was noted before, though the Wave had more possession than the Reign did, they didn’t pass the ball through the middle much. The team spent most of the time passing long balls over the top to their forwards or passing in the channels. Credit must be given to the OL Reign for how they cut off the service in the middle and allowed very few balls to get to the Wave’s final third.

Wyscout

The Reign, on the other hand, were able to move the ball through the midfield better than their opponents did. This passing chart shows how they were able to get the ball through the middle and into their opponent’s box. The one flaw in San Diego’s defense was how often they lost the ball in the middle of the park. This would then allow the likes of Lavelle to take on the Wave’s centre-backs and put them to the test. The constant probing would eventually pay off for the Reign, as they scored the game-winner in the 75th minute.

Wyscout

Conclusion

Though the Wave did control large stretches of the match, particularly when they were pushing for an equalizer, this game exposed several of the team’s flaws. The first of which is how they tend to be outmuscled in the midfield by a team with proper midfielders. The second is the team’s weaknesses in terms of both scoring and defending set-pieces.

During a post-game press conference, coach Casey Stoney acknowledged that the latter was an issue that needed to be worked on. One should expect the team to address these issues within the upcoming days. And though it was Morgan’s foul on Hiatt that led to the game-winner for OL, it’s also worth remembering that the forward is still a vital cog in the Wave’s machine. She leads the team in goals (10) along with chances created (12). Everyone makes mistakes and has their off days and this happened to be one of those days for her.

The trick is to learn their lessons from their mistakes, regroup, and try to do better next time.

Up Next

San Diego will take on the Kansas City Current this Saturday. Kickoff time will be at 5:30 PM PDT and the match will be played at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. The match will also be their final one on the road before they return home to San Diego to play at the Torero Stadium on June 8th.

You’ll be able to watch the game on the NWSL’s Twitch channels (international viewers only) and on Paramount+.

So what do you think? Leave a comment below.