On the heels of welcoming a goalkeeper to the team, OL Reign announced the re-signing of a mix of three veteran and young players: Costa Rican midfielder Shirley Cruz, rookie Sam Hiatt, and midfielder/defender Kristen McNabb.
This builds on the team’s push over the last year to assemble a team that is a mix of young, promising talent who can learn from hard-working veterans.
Cruz Wants to Win a Title
Cruz joined the Reign ahead of the 2020 season. Like most of her teammates, she took some time to settle in during this strange and unpredictable year. You could see her potential during the Challenge Cup, but it was clear the team needed more time to get in sync after an extremely short and disrupted preseason.
In the NWSL Fall Series, the central midfielder shined — notching three assists and six key passes in the four matches played. She didn’t get an assist credited to her on this play, but the pass in the clip below is the kind of vision she brought to the team this fall.
Cruz ➡️ Spencer ➡️ White ➡️— OL Reign (@OLReign) September 27, 2020
Still reliving this equalizing @rosiewhite13 goal from yesterday's match with @utahroyalsfc. #BeBold pic.twitter.com/IKUe2pl3DV
Cruz played for OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti at PSG, and the new Reign manager still recognizes the special qualities she can bring to the team.
“For me, Shirley has always been a special player and it is very good to have her back with the club,” said OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti. “She adapted well to the league last season and showed she will be an impactful player for our club in 2021.”
Cruz, meanwhile, is eager to get a full season with OL Reign and push for a trophy.
“I am very excited to return to the club for another year,” Cruz said. “The previous season was short due to COVID. That’s why I wanted to come back in 2021; to have a chance to play a full, normal season in this very competitive league with a big club like OL Reign. The club has a lot of ambition, so I am preparing myself in the best way to try to win the first title. I am very happy to have a chance to play again with the teammates who made me feel at home this year.”
The Costa Rica national team captain is also nominated for the 2020 Puskás Award for an impressive volley she scored in January during Olympic qualifiers — showing just what she can bring from a goal-scoring perspective in 2021.
A Fifth Year for Kristen McNabb
The team also welcomes Kristen McNabb back to the squad, signing the University of Virginia grad through 2022. Seeing time as a left back, defensive midfielder, and centerback this year, McNabb was one of the steadiest players throughout the Challenge Cup and Fall Series. She showed a little more of what she can offer going forward as well, putting in a few dangerous shots when she played in the midfield this summer.
Kristen McNabb shoots from the housing developments at the other end of the field and forces Alyssa Naeher to punch it over for a corner! #RGNvCHI pic.twitter.com/2Y5wcAAcnF— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) July 19, 2020
“We are pleased that Kristen will be with us again in 2021,” said Benstiti. “She was an important player for us during the Challenge Cup and Fall Series and we will expect a lot from her this year as well. Her versatility gives me many options and she can help solve many problems.”
“I’m really excited to be returning to OL Reign for my fifth season. I love the team, the city and the fans. I can’t wait to learn from Farid and the rest of the staff to work toward a successful 2021 season.”
Investing in Young Talent
Sam Hiatt, who was drafted in January by the Reign, has now signed a contract through the 2023 season. Hiatt joined the team for the Fall Series after graduating from Stanford in June. She missed most of the year due to injury, seeing time in the final match against Utah when she subbed on for the final 11 minutes.
“Sam is a talented young player with great potential,” said Benstiti. “While her injury prevented her from playing much this season, we saw her quality in training every day. We are very happy to have her with us for many seasons and know she will grow into an important player for our club.”
Although we didn’t get to see much of what she offered this year, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about the young defender’s future. Hiatt won two national titles with Stanford and has extensive U.S. youth national team experience, including being named captain of the U.S. U-20 national team at the 2018 U-20 World Cup in France.
“I am extremely grateful for so many reasons to have the opportunity to play for OL Reign,” Hiatt said. “Having spent a couple months with this organization, I’m even more excited to be a part of this team because I know I’m in an environment where I can continue to learn and grow as a player and a person. I’m ready to continue to work hard and do whatever I can to help the team.”
With this signing, Hiatt gets to play for her hometown club. The Newcastle native is a former Washington State Gatorade Player of the Year and was the 2015 3A Player of the Year while playing for Seattle Preparatory School.
With today’s signings, there are now six remaining OL Reign players who have been offered contracts but haven’t yet signed: midfielder Dani Weatherholt, forward Leah Pruitt, forward Jasmyne Spencer, midfielder Rosie White, defender Steph Cox, and midfielder Morgan Andrews. Don’t be surprised to see a few more of these contracts get finalized in the next few months.
The Reign have also hinted at bringing in a few players from outside the squad as well, but fans might have to wait until the New Year for those new signings.