How the OL Reign won the NWSL Shield

Quick Hits
  • The OL Reign secured the NWSL Shield this weekend, earning a $10,000 per-player bonus
  • How did Laura Harvey’s team secure the trophy? Let’s dig in

The Sally Yates’ investigation and its disturbing findings involving misconduct and abuse in women’s professional soccer in the United States is understandably overshadowing any of the recent on-field action in the NWSL. If you’re able, we would encourage you to read more about that investigation.

In her 100th NWSL appearance, all of which have been with the OL Reign, Megan Rapinoe came up huge. Seven minutes into the game against the Orlando Pride on Saturday, Rapinoe scored the eventual game-winning goal that secured the Reign their first NWSL Shield since 2015.

For the Reign to even have a chance at winning the Shield, though, they needed some help from NJ/NY Gotham FC. The East-coasters delivered.

Gotham battled the Portland Thorns to a 3-3 draw, snapping their league-record 12-game losing streak and tying their first game of the season on the way to playing spoiler for the Thorns. It was the first goal in five games for NJ/NY and the first time Gotham scored more than two goals since their regular season opener in May.

Because the Thorns failed to secure all three points against Gotham, the door opened for Rapinoe and the Reign to claim the shield… and they didn’t let the opportunity slip.

Above the line for months

The Reign’s end-of-season success shouldn’t come as a surprise. After a rocky start to the season that saw them sitting outside of playoff position, the Reign have been above the playoff line since Week 5. Then in the final weeks of the season, they really turned on the jets.

The Reign were undefeated in their final six games, securing 16 of a possible 18 points from August 26 through October 2 during their rise to first in the NWSL standings.

Many hands

It was a true team effort for the Reign. Unlike teams like Portland and San Diego, they didn’t have a single player scoring the vast majority of their goals. The Reign had 10 unique goalscorers this season, with Rapinoe and Bethany Balcer bagging a team-high seven goals each. Ten different players assisted goals, too, with Rapinoe and Sofia Huerta each contributing four of the 18 total OL Reign assists this season.

Though it would be inaccurate to say that the Reign’s success in 2022 is solely tied to Rapinoe’s performances, there’s no denying that the veteran was at her best throughout that six-game stretch to end the regular season. Rapinoe scored four of her seven goals while contributing two of her four total assists in the Reign’s final six games.

Defense is key

Looking at the defense, goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce and the Reign’s backline really helped OL Reign clinch their first Shield in seven years. 

Barring own goals, the OL Reign allowed the fewest goals of any team in the league: 16 across 22 games. That means Tullis-Joyce, who played every minute in goal for the Reign this season, conceded a league-best 0.71 goals per 96 minutes. Tullis-Joyce also had nine shutouts on the season, tied with Portland’s Bella Bixby for best in the league. Tullis-Joyce only allowed a goal every 5.1 shots on average. 

Granted, she faced the second-fewest shots per 96’ of all goalkeepers who played at least 500 minutes this season (3.62). If anything, that’s a testament to the Reign’s defense and their ability to shut down their opponents and prevent shots on goal.

Back in May, I wrote about how Tullis-Joyce’s brilliance might end up being a game-changer for the OL Reign down the stretch. I drew that conclusion after the 2022 Challenge Cup and the first three weeks of the Reign’s season when they were sitting in 10th place. Now, after all 22 games of the regular season, it’s clear that Tullis-Joyce is a big reason why the OL Reign earned a $10,000 per-player bonus on the way to winning the Shield. 

And for what it’s worth, don’t be surprised if we see Tullis-Joyce’s name on the 2022 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year shortlist.  

Data courtesy of American Soccer Analysis and includes all 2022 regular season games.

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