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Jess Fishlock needed to run the midfield in the NWSL Championship. Gotham had other thoughts.

Fishlock struggled on both sides of the ball in OL Reign’s 2-1 loss to Gotham.

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The last thing anyone could accuse Jess Fishlock of possessing is naïveté. The OL Reign midfielder has built a reputation on her wiliness, and her ability to anticipate the development of plays in the center of the park. These qualities have never left her, even as she’s aged and lost a step of pace. 

She knew what dangers Gotham FC posed in the NWSL Championship game. “Is this a time to be brave or to be smart?” she reflected with The Equalizer during pre-match press duties as she moved through potential scenarios that might present themselves in the game. “Where are the opposite movements? Where can we manipulate their high line in our favor? We have to be smart and on the same page.”

The addition of Rose Lavelle in the Reign’s starting eleven meant that Fishlock could return to her preferred no. 8 position, shuttling between attack and defense, connecting lines while distributing and destroying in equal measure. She had more license to be free and roam where her services were most needed against San Diego in the semifinal, though it didn’t produce much in the final third. She and Reign head coach Laura Harvey had similar plans for her in the final against Gotham. 

That meant Gotham midfielder Nealy Martin would be tasked with slowing Fishlock down as she attempted to progress the ball through the middle. Though Fishlock made five progressive passes, she was unable to generate any threat in the final third using her passing arsenal. She only managed a 57% pass completion rate, a full sixteen percentage points below her season average. Fishlock made no key passes and generated 0.0 expected assists on the night.  

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