Seattle Reign FC have added Japanese midfielder/defender Rumi Utsugi, the team announced today. Utsugi will arrive in Seattle upon completion of her current contract with French side Montpellier HSC. Her first match, pending the receipt of her International Transfer Certificate (ITC), should be against the Western New York Flash on July 9.
Utsugi, 27, has already amassed quite the international career, representing Japan in the 2007, 2011, and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments. She has 87 caps and five goals for Japan, playing every minute of the team's seven World Cup matches in 2015, where she was voted onto the 2015 World Cup All-Star Squad.
“It is a dream to play in a country ranked #1 in the world in women's soccer. I have decided to challenge myself to play in this country,” said Utsugi in a Reign FC press release. “Seattle Reign FC is a young team with enormous potential. I want to contribute to Reign FC's potential to go even farther in the league. I'm looking forward to joining the team.”
Utsugi typically plays as more of a defensive midfielder, offering support in both the attack and the defense. Like Jess Fishlock, she has the ability to quickly spring an attack. Utsugi has a skilled touch and great vision, two things that will serve her well in Laura Harvey's possession-focused, technical style of play.
While some technical players struggle in the NWSL, which can be a lot more physical than European and Japanese club soccer, Utsugi has proven on the international stage that she's physical and athletic.
“We’ve had our eye on Rumi since the World Cup last year. She had a terrific tournament and showed she can perform in high-pressure situations against some of the world’s most talented players and teams,” said Reign FC general manager and coach Laura Harvey. “She’ll add experience and depth to our midfield and backline, something that will be very helpful given the number of injuries we’ve been dealing with this season. We’re really excited to have her with the club.”
That "backline" note from Harvey is interesting, as much of Utsugi's career has been played in the midfield. However, she's currently listed as a defender for the Japan squad that will face the U.S. Women's National Team in a pair of friendlies, the first of which is tonight.
Utsugi began her club career at NTV Beleza in Japan in 2004. She went on to play six seasons for the club before signing with Montpellier HSC of Division 1 Féminine in 2010, making Utsugi the first Japanese player in the French top division. In six seasons with Montpellier, she recorded 19 goals in 101 matches. Utsugi led Montpellier to four league cup finals in 2012, 2014, 2015 and most recently on May 15, 2016, when the club fell 1-2 to powerhouse Olympique Lyonnais.
Reign fans who would like a little preview of Utsugi's play can catch her at 6:30 p.m. PT tonight, when the U.S. takes on Japan in its first of two friendlies.