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Strong lines and quick counters: How Gotham and OL Reign played an even final match

© Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 National Women’s Soccer League season was one of the most competitive yet. There was a mere seven-point gap between the Shield-winning San Diego Wave and the eighth-place Washington Spirit. The highest win percentage was San Diego’s 50%; the best goal difference — a steady +10 — belonging to the Portland Thorns.

And it remained unpredictable to the very end, when Gotham FC ran out 2-1 winners over the OL Reign in a back and forth Championship game where neither side ever had full control.

Pressing dominates early stages

Pressing dominated the first 20 minutes of the contest. The Reign set up in a 4-2-4, something they have showcased many times before. Theirs was an attempt to trap their opposition. They allowed Gotham time to play out, but converged in numbers on passes into midfield, their front four coming back to help double up. Against an on-form Reign, the risk of playing through the center often outweighs the appearance of open passing lanes, coercing teams to try out other, safer routes. In this instance, Gotham chose to progress down the flanks.

Reign allow Gotham’s defenders time, but double up on passes into midfield

If the Reign’s press was a trap, Gotham’s was a chase. They set up in a 4-1-3-2, asking the question: ‘Can we beat your teammate to the ball you are about to pass them?’. Even if they can’t, they meet their opposition with such immediacy as to cause panic. There was no pretense or subtlety about this, only straight-ahead pressure. Without time to think, the Reign — like so many other teams this season — were rushed into long balls.

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