NWSL 2023: OL Reign looks to get over final hurdle

Since its founding as one of the eight inaugural NWSL teams, OL Reign, formerly called Seattle Reign, has been one of the most successful teams in the league on the field. However, it has never been able to translate regular-season success into the postseason.

Last year marked the team’s third season (including 2014 and 2015) in which it came up short in the playoffs after capturing the NWSL Shield for finishing the regular season in first-place. The Reign lost 2-0 to eventual runner-up Kansas City Current in the NWSL playoff semifinal in front of a club record attendance at Lumen Field. While the Reign also got eliminated in the semifinal round of the Challenge Cup, the team did win the Women’s Cup, defeating reigning champion and global invitational tournament host Racing Louisville, 2-1.

Head coach Laura Harvey enters her third season in her second stint in charge. Sam Laity, a Reign assistant coach since its inaugural season, departed in December 2022 to take over as the new head coach of the Houston Dash. He helped Harvey shape the culture of the Reign and stepped in as interim head coach on multiple occasions over the years. To replace Laity, the club appointed former Gotham FC head coach Scott Parkinson as its new head assistant coach in January. Parkinson got his NWSL coaching start as an assistant under Harvey with the Utah Royals in 2018 and 2019. The Reign also hired new assistant coach Kate Norton, head athletic trainer Jordan Carmosino, equipment manager Christopher Labno, and video analyst Kevin Pineda. Along with Laity’s departure, former general manager Nick Perera announced his resignation a few days ago, leaving the position vacant for now.

Despite the notable staff turnover, the entire starting core of this talented team remains together.

“I am very pleased to bring back almost our entire roster that helped us win the NWSL Shield last season,” Harvey said. “We have a great balance of veteran players who understand the demands of this league and what it takes to win under pressure, a group of returning rookies and a few new players who we think have great potential to succeed.”

Megan Rapinoe’s seven goals and four assists tied for the most on the team last season, and she set a club record, going seven consecutive games with either a goal or assist. The women’s soccer legend and original Reign player re-signed a one-year contract, 10 years to the day since she first joined the club. Rapinoe’s Reign teammate since the beginning, club captain defender Lauren Barnes, also received a new two-year contract.

Midfielder Quinn and starting defender Sam Hiatt both re-signed through the 2024 season. In addition, the Reign picked up the 2023 contract options for backup goalkeepers Claudia Dickey and Laurel Ivory, as well as second-year midfielders Olivia Athens and Olivia Van der Jagt. Another second-year midfielder Marley Canales received a contract for 2023 as did more experienced midfielder Nikki Stanton. These five midfielders are all expected to bring depth and diverse skill sets in support of midfield stars Rose Lavelle and Jess Fishlock.

Defenders Ryanne Brown and Alyssa Malonson returned to Seattle after spending part of last season on loan with Danish club FC Nordsjælland. On the other hand, after starting all six appearances for the Reign during her short-team loan from June 2022 to the end of the NWSL season, Scottish midfielder Kim Little returned to captain Arsenal.

The Reign waived defender Sinclaire Miramontez and forward Jodi Ulkekul. Tobin Heath, who played in five games for the Reign before having season-ending knee surgery, remains a free-agent.

Seeking its first NWSL title, the club made a few additions to its loaded roster. First, it acquired forward Elyse Bennett and the 23rd selection in the 2023 NWSL draft from the Kansas City Current in exchange for $150,000 of allocation money. In her rookie year, the Washington State alum notched three goals and two assists in the regular season plus two assists in the Challenge Cup. She will add further firepower to an already deadly Reign attack, complementing Rapinoe, Lavelle, co-leading goalscorer Bethany Balcer, and 2022 midseason acquisition Jordyn Huitema.

On draft night, OL Reign added three other new faces to its roster. From the draft, the club selected defender Shae Holmes, a local University of Washington product, and University of Wisconsin midfielder Natalie Viggiano. Additionally, the Reign traded for defender Emily Sonnett from the Washington Spirit, giving up this year’s 32nd pick and a first-round pick next year. Sonnett, who can play both center and outside-back, strengthens a Reign defense that conceded the fewest goals last season.

The Reign went abroad to sign 20-year old Brazilian midfielder Luany, who will occupy an international roster slot through the 2025 season. She previously played for Gremio FBPA of Serie A1 in 2022, becoming the youngest player in the league to score at least three goals in the regular season. Although she may take time adjusting to the new league and country, Luany will likely be part of the Reign’s attacking depth and has the potential to emerge as a key contributor for this team before her contract ends.

Towards the end of January, the Reign began preseason training at its new facility, Starfire Sports Complex, before going to Los Angeles for a training camp. OL Reign celebrated its new partnership with Club America and Lyon by defeating Club America 3-1 in a friendly match at Starfire. From March 12-18, the club will partake in a preseason tournament, playing the host Portland Thorns, Racing Louisville and the US Under-23 women’s national team. Currently, the only reported injured player is midfielder Angelina, who is still recovering from her season-ending ACL injury, but expected to return sometime this year.

OL Reign roster:
Goalkeepers (3): Claudia Dickey, Laurel Ivory, Phallon Tullis-Joyce
Defenders (9): Lu Barnes, Ryanne Brown, Alana Cook,  Sam Hiatt,  Sofia Huerta, Jimena Lopez, Alyssa Malonson, Phoebe McClernon, Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit),
Midfielders (9): Angelina, Olivia Athens, Marley Canales, Jess Fishlock, Rose Lavelle, Quinn, Nikki Stanton, Olivia Van der Jagt, Luany (Gremio, Brazil)
Forwards (6): Bethany Balcer, Elyse Bennett (KC Current), Jordyn Huitema, Tziarra King, Veronica Latsko, Megan Rapinoe

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