The Challenge Cup is back for OL Reign tonight as they open at home against the Houston Dash. The Dash are coming off a scoreless draw a week ago against the Chicago Red Stars and need to earn three points here if they hope to challenge Portland’s current first place standing in the west region.
Last week, we saw the defense hold strong against Chicago’s attack, while the offense stalled. Can we expect a positive change? Here are three things to watch.
Right Side Strong Side
When Allysha Chapman is on the field, the Dash backline is one of the strongest in the league. Her and Haley Hanson on the right side are formidable. Both are excellent 1-v-1 defenders, and both are not afraid to be explosive on offense and combine with the midfield and front line to send in dangerous crosses from the wings.
With Chapman out for international duty with Canada, there are still question marks as to who her best replacement is. We saw Ally Prisock slot into a full 90 at left back last week, and while she did a good job defensively, she was playing like she was a center back out of position for necessity and did not contribute as much to the offense as Chapman usually would. Prisock, Deneisha Blackwood, and Amber Marshall are all candidates to start tonight. The final decision made will depend heavily on Clarkson’s overall game plan, as they all bring different styles to the table.
Same song, second verse?
Clarkson has historically not been a coach to use all his subs or spend a lot of time rotating the roster. While the Dash have a much deeper roster than in the past, it is not currently deep with six of the best players out. It is likely that a very similar or even identical starting XI will take the field tonight, especially given that six probable starters will be returning for next game, forcing rotation. The real mystery at hand is if we will see subs, who those subs will be, and how many will happen.
It is likely a safe bet to expect to see at least two subs in the offensive front five. Pick any two from the pool of Jamia Fields, Bridgette Andrzejewski, Maegan Rosa, or Amber Marshall. If the offense struggles to create, do not be surprised to see fresh legs earlier than last game.
The Dash are a team hungry for goals. We saw that in the Fall Series, and we saw the frustration with the inability to get quality shots off last week. The challenge for the probable front three of Veronica Latsko, Bri Visalli, and Katie Stengel is they all play more of supporting roles when the full roster is available and are not usually expected to carry the bulk of the scoring weight. Now, one of them must step into the shoes of a Rachel Daly type player.
Latsko is by far the most likely to do that successfully, and we saw that consistently across the four games of the Fall Series. However, she had Kristie Mewis to work with in the midfield, and while the Dash midfield is strong without Mewis, it is impossible to replace a player of her caliber with the current roster. I expect Emily Ogle and Shea Groom have been instructed to play the role of playmaker a lot more than they were able to last week. If the Dash win tonight, it will likely be because Latsko finds a way to insert herself as a strong presence in this game.