With both Seattle professional soccer clubs now in their offseason, it presents a good opportunity to reflect on the year for both teams. Today, let’s remember and celebrate the rebound year Seattle Reign FC pulled together, despite a lot of unknowns heading into the preseason. After missing the playoffs two seasons in a row, the club — under new head coach Vlatko Andonovski — finished third in the league and returned to the NWSL Playoffs.
With a host of new faces this season, coming together as a team and returning to the playoffs was an impressive feat. And while Reign FC didn’t advance as far as they hoped — losing to the Portland Thorns in the semifinals — it was a season to be proud of.
In October, after the sting of that playoff loss began to fade, we asked Ride of the Valkyries / Sounder at Heart readers to vote on the players who impressed you most this season. We had more than 150 responses; here are those results.
Defender of the Year
Lydia Williams was selected as your Defender of the Year, earning 26.5% of the votes. The Reign FC goalkeeper was a big reason the club’s defense gave up the second-fewest goals this season — a significant turnaround from the year prior, where Seattle’s defense was often a liability. Williams led the league in clean sheets and save percentage this year, and she kept the backline organized with her consistent direction and yells to teammates that could be heard across Memorial Stadium. When her team needed a defensive stop as momentum in a match was swinging, Williams almost always produced a world-class save.
Let’s look back at some of Williams’ saves this season.
Lydia Williams led all starting goalkeepers this season in clean sheets and save percentage. Vote for @lydsaussie for @NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year. Voting for the NWSL Awards ends tonight at 8:59 p.m. PT.— Seattle Reign FC (@ReignFC) September 18, 2018
VOTE: https://t.co/aiP5hgGhph pic.twitter.com/AEzCGa152G
Lauren Barnes came in just behind Williams in voting. The centerback had a season similar to the one that earned her league Defender of the Year honors in 2016 — demonstrating a calm presence along the backline and playing a key role on the offensive end by helping the team build play from the back. However, when the season kicked off, fans were wondering about Barnes’ role on the team. She didn’t start a few of the early matches, but continued to work hard and earn the trust of Andonovski, eventually securing and keeping a spot in the starting lineup. She ended the season leading the team in clearances and was second to Allie Long in both touches and passes.
Coming in third was Theresa Nielsen, who showed why she was named to the 2017 UEFA Euro Best XI — solid one-v-one defending, great positioning, and a dangerous cross on the offensive end. Right behind her in voting was Barnes’ centerback partner, Megan Oyster, a young defender who proved she has a promising future for club and (hopefully) country.
Offensive Player of the Year
Megan Rapinoe won this category handily, earning 81% of your votes. After having one of her most productive seasons in 2017, Rapinoe demonstrated even more versatility this year. In addition to continuing to score goals, Rapinoe was asked to be more of a creator — earning significantly more touches each match and pushing higher up the field. As a result, in addition to her seven goals, she also had six assists. Had she not missed eight games due to a pulled hamstring and broken rib, she might have been in competition with Lindsey Horan for this year’s league MVP award.
Wow, did she have some fun goals and assists.
Newcomer Jodie Taylor, who scored nine goals this year, came in second with 17.4% of your votes, while Jasmyne Spender and Bev Yanez earned one write-in vote each.
We’re halfway through our season awards, let’s take a break and revisit the first part of our season recap episode of our podcast, Coffee & Valkyries. Recorded back in mid-October, Jacob Cristobal & I were joined by Steve Voght and Jeffrey Lageson.
It was hard for voters to discount the influence of Rapinoe when she was in the match. As a result, she was named MVP this season — walking away with 37.8% of the votes. Her performance in the opening match set the tone for what would be a dominant season. Whenever Rapinoe was in the game, you knew Seattle had a chance to notch a goal or two.
Defensive Player of the Year Lydia Williams came in second in MVP voting, while midfielders Jess Fishlock and Allie Long tied for third. Fishlock was asked to play a range of roles in the midfield, and she did them in her traditional Welsh Dragon fashion — with a lot of heart and tenacious defense. Long, a newcomer who had previously spent her NWSL career with Seattle’s rival, the Portland Thorns, came to Reign FC in a trade that occurred this offseason. She quickly settled into a holding midfield role alongside partner Rumi Utsugi — and played a big role in linking the offense, building the attack through possession and simple passing, and protecting Reign FC’s backline.
Newcomer of the Year
Seattle had 14 newcomers this season, requiring a lot of rebuilding and lineup changes throughout the year as Andonovski narrowed his preferred starting eleven. These newcomers all had a profound impact on the season, and as a result, your votes for the newcomer of the year were fairly spread out. Still, one name clearly rose to the top: Allie Long, who earned 35.1% of your votes. That result should come as no surprise.
She was arguably Seattle’s most consistent player and finished the season with three goals, one assist, and a team-high 1,059 passes and 85.9% pass completion rate. With Elise Kellond-Knight joining Seattle next year, the Reign FC midfield is going to be one of the best in the league alongside Long, Fishlock, and Utsugi.
Coming in second was Jodie Taylor (16.9%), followed by Theresa Nielsen (14.9%), Megan Oyster (9.5%), Steph Catley (8.8%), Jasmyne Spencer (6.8%), Elizabeth Addo (6.1%), and a combined three votes for Michelle Betos and Yael Averbuch. With so much new talent from 2018 expected to return, makes it easy to get excited for the 2019 season.
The 2018 season began with a bang, and it nearly ended with a trip to the NWSL Championship. There were so many players, coaches, and staff who contributed to the memories. We listed just a few today, but stay tuned for another post this week that looks back at the most memorable moments this season.
And to close out this post, here’s our second part of our season recap episode, recorded earlier this month with once again, Steve Voght & Jeffrey Lageson joining us.