Before the NWSL season began, many had already written off Seattle Reign FC. Gone was the magnetic personality of Laura Harvey. Retirements and trades saw the departure of a number of fan favorites. The many new faces had people questioning the vision for the team this year. Could new Seattle maestro Vlatko Andonovski truly bring this new set of players together and get the club back into the playoffs for the first time since 2015?
The answer, it turns out, was yes. Despite a range of injuries to key players, Seattle kept grinding out results and booked a ticket to the playoffs. But on Saturday, September 15, Andonovski and Co. might have their greatest test yet — as Reign FC travel to Portland for an NWSL semifinal match.
It will be the team’s second straight game against Portland at Providence Park, and last week’s result wasn’t in Reign FC’s favor, as the team fell 3-1 to a Portland Thorns side that dominated much of the first and second half. After starting the season with injuries, Portland has been getting results and scoring plenty of goals in recent months, making them a confident team heading into the weekend.
Luckily, Seattle players don’t feel down due to last weekend’s result, but are instead optimistic knowing there is so much to build on from their previous performance.
“Obviously, the result last week wasn’t what we wanted, but I think it puts us in a great position, because we know we didn’t play our best so we have another chance to retaliate,” Reign FC defender Lauren Barnes shared. “There’s no better motivation than wanting to prove how much we want this, and how good this squad has been. We’re all kind of itching for the game on Saturday.”
Forward Jodie Taylor, one of the new additions to Seattle’s roster this season, promised fans a rejuvenated Reign this weekend. On last weekend’s performance, Taylor said during a media conference call, “It wasn’t good enough in the slightest and not worthy of even a playoff spot, and we’ve been putting in the work to fix that this week. This certainly will not be a repeat of what happened last weekend.”
Barnes agreed. “We’ve gone back and reevaluated the game, and a lot of things were mistakes that we made. If we could correct those, it’s definitely going to be a great game. I think you’ll see a different Seattle team coming out next week.”
There is a big reason these comments from Barnes and Taylor could ring true, and that is the fact that Seattle didn’t roll out its most dominant lineup last weekend. While she might have been cleared to play, Andonovski opted to let Megan Rapinoe rest one more week to recover from a rib injury. With Rapinoe on the left wing, Portland isn’t going to push its outside back up the field quite as often or aggressively, something that really hurt Reign FC last week.
Allie Long is still questionable for the weekend, and Andonovski indicated her recovery is a bit behind Rapinoe’s. Still, her presence would certainly help provide calm and organization in the midfield, and more consistent passing in a crucial spot in the field. Theresa Nielsen is expected to be fully recovered from her international play and travel, and her veteran experience should prove to be a challenge for Tobin Heath and Meghan Klingenberg.
There’s still a lot to be optimistic about, even after a resounding loss to an intimidating Thorns side. With that loss, Seattle went from hosting an NWSL semifinal this weekend to traveling for the match — luckily not across the country, but just a quick trip down I-5. For Reign FC players, while they would have been thrilled to host this game, there is no better second-choice location than Providence Park.
“[Providence Park] is one of the best environments to be in, even being a rival team,” Barnes said. “It’s so fun to play in that environment, and we’re really excited for that. It’s always a game that you have to show up for and know that it’s going to be a grind.”
For fans who might be on the fence when it comes to traveling to Portland for the match, Barnes has a powerful message. “I think it’s going to be one of the best matches in NWSL because it is more than just a semifinal for us; it’s a rival, and the more support we can get down there and fight back with their fans is much needed. You wouldn’t want to miss out on it.”
Last weekend, more than 20,000 people showed up at Providence Park — a rarity in women’s club soccer. But it’s not just the environment that has Reign FC players excited. A lot of people had written Seattle off in the preseason. Fans were skeptical. Members of the media left the club off their playoff projection lists. In response, the team strung a series of results together, and it was all about building to this moment.
“I just think the journey of our team has been incredible,” Barnes said. “I think there was a lot of doubt [about] how we were going to pan out in the beginning of the year. We proved a lot of that wrong. That’s such a testimony to the girls playing on the team, and the coaching staff for sure. It’s been such a great journey for me personally, but I can just see with the group as a whole as well. I’ve never been a part of something like this, and I would love for people to come out and watch because it’s something special this year.”
Andonovski led FC Kansas City to back-to-back NWSL Championships in 2014 and 2015. Both of those games were against Seattle. It’s time for him to repeat — this time for Seattle. As Barnes and countless other players have said this season, this is a special team. There are plenty of reasons to believe they can bring home a championship trophy.
Tickets are still available in the Seattle Reign supporters section, and you can also catch the game on Lifetime at 12 PM PT this Saturday.