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Seattle Reign depth will be tested in 2019

Luckily, they have plenty of talent who can step up during a busy World Cup year.

MikeRussellFoto

In 2018, Seattle Reign FC’s depth was a key reason the team returned to the NWSL playoffs after missing out the previous two seasons. With numerous starters out at various times due to injury or international duty, Reign FC’s bench players had a chance to earn their place on the squad — and they delivered, coming up big in some key games to earn the team points.

That same depth will be stretched and tested at an even greater level in 2019, as Seattle Reign FC will have potentially up to 9 players representing their country in the Women’s World Cup: Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long for the United States, Steph Catley, Lydia Williams, and Elise Kellond-Knight for Australia, Rumi Utsugi and Naho Kawasumi for Japan, Jodie Taylor for England, and Adriana Leon for Canada.

These players will be gone for at least the Group Stage of the World Cup, but will also likely miss large portions of the season to prep for the competition. In addition, while the NWSL announced in late November that it will take a two-week break during the World Cup Group Stage, most of the countries Reign FC players represent are likely to advance into the knockout rounds — and potentially even reach the final.

That league break will come June 3-14, with the 24-match season kicking off on April 13. While there is nearly two months between those dates, Reign FC and NWSL fans shouldn’t be too relieved — as U.S. Soccer has plenty of plans to fill the time.

U.S. Soccer announced on Thursday that the USWNT will play 10 matches in the first half of the year to prep for the World Cup. Most of those matches come before the NWSL season kicks off, with the U.S. playing seven games during the NWSL offseason and preseason (January - April 7). However, there will be three final “send-off” games that will put U.S. players out for most of May.

What does that all mean for Reign FC? Rapinoe and possibly Long, who hasn’t been earning as many minutes with the national team lately, will only be available for a few weeks in April and potentially the first week of May. Depending on how far the U.S. progresses and whether there are any post-World Cup celebration tour matches, they could be out for most of the latter half of the season as well.

Australia, Canada, England, and Japan likely have similar plans — although their schedules are perhaps not as jam-packed as the U.S. On top of that, if Lyon advances far in the Champions League, Jess Fishlock may not return until June.

Luckily, there is plenty of talent on the squad, and teams across the league are going to run into similar depth issues. The league has yet to announce their plans for roster size and National Team Replacement Players, but did indicate that there will be positive changes for the 2019 season.

What exactly does the depth look like for Reign FC? Midfielder Morgan Andrews didn’t get too many opportunities to shine this season, as she was a utility player stuck behind some world-class midfielders. That could change next year, and the midfielder has a unique ability to switch the field of play and unlock the attack. Elizabeth Addo’s Ghana unfortunately didn’t qualify for the World Cup, which means she has a chance to embarrass NWSL defenders all season. The backline could be just as dominant in 2019, as the defense only loses Catley to the World Cup. Meanwhile, Jasmyne Spencer and Jaycie Johnson both have the energy and tenacity to frustrate opponents in the attack.

All these young players have an opportunity to step up their game and earn meaningful minutes in 2019. And during a year that will stretch players, there is no better coach than Vlatko Andonovski — someone who molds a team to fit together like a perfectly constructed puzzle — to have at the helm.

Next year will be a significant one for women’s soccer. The World Cup is guaranteed to bring exciting team goals, last-minute stunners, and incredible goalkeeping stops. While that action takes place, Reign FC players have a chance to make some magic of their own — right here in Seattle.

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