Twenty-seven thousand fans watched this region’s NWSL team get the better of their rivals, Portland Thorns FC, powered by two Megan Rapinoe goals and lockdown team defense. Those that have followed the team since the inaugural season in 2013 have seen plenty of highs and plenty of lows over the years, but for a lot of people that were in the stands on that August Sunday afternoon, it might have been the first time they saw the team in-person.
Whether you’re just hopping on the Reign train or need to catch up on everything that’s happened with this team this year, we’ve created something of a FAQ from a roundtable chat to get you ready for the final batch of regular season games OL Reign have to play and their push to qualify for the playoffs and hopefully claim the ultimate prize, the NWSL Championship.
Jacob Cristobal: Folks, it finally happened. OL Reign finally played a regular season game at Lumen Field, the big stadium in Downtown Seattle. We were all there — summarize what the very special day meant to you.
Steve Voght: It was a long time coming, and kind of bittersweet that it took so long to happen and could have been so much more without the pandemic. But it was still amazing and I’m still processing just what a big accomplishment it actually was.
Sylvia Bullock: It felt like the American version of a London Derby. The passion, the amount of people, the pitch (even if it is turf). It was pageantry and theater and great soccer. It’s the type of match women’s soccer deserves.
Susie Rantz: The whole thing was pure magic, simply put. Seeing 27,000 people show up and get loud for OL Reign was a dream come true, and definitely proved there should be more Reign games at Lumen Field in the future. I’m so glad the Reign put on a good show too. It was a thrilling game that included the Reign defeating their rivals, who happened to be sitting at the top of the league. What more could you want?!
Sylvia: And, if big players love big moments, no one loves a moment more than Megan Rapinoe. That game was made for her.
Susie: No kidding! As Megan said after the game, her and Jess are probably “the most dramatic players in the league.” We are so lucky.
And we know for a lot of those 27,000+ people, it was the first time they saw the Reign play live. Some may had been following the team from afar, but to see it in-person, they definitely got a treat seeing specifically this squad. AND IT IS A LOADED SQUAD. Plenty of people know Megan Rapinoe, Jess Fishlock, and Rose Lavelle. But for those that may need a catch-up, let’s talk about the other star players this team has. Who are the Lyon trio? Who are the emerging talents on the backline? Who are the attackers of the present & future that have sky’s the limit potential?
Sylvia: I think the veteran core is always good to know. People know the name Rapinoe and probably Fishlock, but you also have Lu Barnes, the captain, and Steph Cox. That’s the group that’s been here through it all, though I know Fishlock went to Lyon for a while. And they’re all still pretty good, though Cox usually comes off the bench these days
Susie: When it comes to emerging talents on the backline, locally raised Sam Hiatt (who grew up in Newcastle) is a centerback of the future for OL Reign. And she’s got Alana Cook, who she played with at Stanford, alongside her. Both are still in their young 20s and both have the potential to be some of the best defenders in this league — with Cook already getting a few U.S. national team call-ups.
Steve: And the group from Lyon, there was some question from pundits about whether they’d be looking at this loan to the Reign as a summer vacation. But the answer has been an emphatic no — they’ve been as good as advertised. Sarah Bouhaddi has made some big saves to keep the Reign in games, and even seems to have tempered her urge to wander and play as a sweeper-keeper, which sometimes gets her into trouble. Dzsenifer Marozsan has been an absolute machine in the midfield, creating a ton of key passes every game and covering a lot of ground, which enables the midfielders around her to do even more. And Eugenie Le Sommer took a few games to find her footing up top, but she’s a constant threat to embarrass defenders and is so smart with her runs, which has also created space for other players like Bethany Balcer to thrive around her.
Susie: And Madison Hammond, who the Reign signed last year after going undrafted, is just a pure defender who is really calm on the ball. She can play outside back and centerback. She’s not getting as many minutes toward the end of this season but still has a huge future ahead of her.
This is where we want to remind OL Reign fans that Hammond had a hand in this year’s Nike N7 Collection. The N7 Collection honors and embodies the values, stories, and diversity of Indigenous traditions and craft. Scroll to the bottom of this page to view Madison’s story.
Susie: What I love about Eugénie Le Sommer (or ELS for short) is how quickly she can head straight to goal when she gets the ball. She’s super technical as well, but she also is just like, “Hey goal. How can I get to you as fast as possible?”
Sylvia: I was going to mention Golden Boot leader Bethany Balcer, who, while she can play out wide, is one of the purer number 9s in the league. She has a knack for goal, particularly on headers. That’s her job by the way, but she hunts for goals no matter what. I think she may get another call up soon, as her coach during her Rookie of the Year campaign was... Vlatko Andonovski.
I (also) think the player that has bowled everyone over this year is not a new name to US Soccer fans, but a player that got lost in the shuffle in Sofia Huerta. She is good anywhere on the pitch, and her ability to join in attack and play make centrally or out wide is some of the best in the league. I think Laura Harvey is on a mission to get her back in the national team conversation, but to me she should be in the Best XI conversation at the end of this season.
Tim Foss: Sofia Huerta is such a feel good story, too. A semi-local from Idaho who had struggled to find her form in recent years showed promise throughout 2020 and now, even playing at RB, often looks like one of the most dangerous players on the field.
Dave Clark: To follow up on Sylvia about Boats (Bethany Balcer’s nickname). There are certain players who don’t have the “talent” that soccer fanatics go by wild about, but that player just keeps putting up numbers. That’s Boats. She’s hungry for goals and only goals.
Susie: Absolutely agree about Huerta. She covers so much ground — no matter where she is on the field. She’s made a pretty quick transition to right back these last three games and I can see what Harvey likes. She’s good defensively but can make runs from deep and whip in some killer crosses (hello, Balcer’s goal against Louisville).
Sylvia: Yes, Boats has a lot of Ellen White in her, without the peskiness that crosses the line. She just knows how to score goals.
Steve: With the depth the Reign have, who would have ever predicted that Huerta might move to fullback again this year, or that it would be such an immediate success (so far)?
Jacob: Along with Huerta, while it’s not fair to call it a “comeback” but just how valuable it is when a player finds the right environment with the right people to just be comfortable and it translates on the field — Dani Weatherholt.
Susie: Oh, Dani. I could go on and on about her! During the Olympic break, when the Reign started to go on a run, Weatherholt was a big reason for their success. She gives the team 100% at all times and is so selfless, and did all the “dirty work” to let Jess Fishlock and Dzsenifer Marozsán shine in front of her.
Tim: I think some of what we’re seeing with this team is due to Laura Harvey, who’s clearly improved since her first stay in the Northwest. She obviously hasn’t been back for long, but she has an ability to see a player’s strengths and put them in a position to make the most of them and succeed. In Balcer’s case it’s putting her in more of the obvious spots where her ability to put the ball in the net is best utilized. For Huerta it’s a more surprising move that makes the best use of her entire skill set and mentality.
Sylvia: I think we have to give Sam credit too. He really stabilized a team that could’ve spiraled after their head coach resigned. In a league where men have not been all great this season, he was so steady and had the trust of his squad the entire time
Dave: We’ve chatted a ton about the players, a bit about coaching — I want to talk about that segment of the fanbase that followed the team from Tukwila to Lower Queen Anne to Cheney and then to SoDo. There’s this group of a few hundred fans that stuck with the Reign project. And at Lumen Field they shined!
Sylvia: Their are amazing and loyal fans of this team. I wasn’t in the PNW when the league began, so I haven’t been here for it all, but I’ve heard the story and I may have been more happy for those fans than anyone else at Lumen.
Steve: I’m one of those people, Dave! I miss the ease of going to Memorial and the intimate feeling of basically being on top of the field, but I don’t miss the damp, dark concrete and uncomfortable wooden seats. The Reign have had several pretty amazing evolutions — one both on and off the field from 2013 to 2014 when they retooled and found a new home, another in their move to Tacoma where the location changed but the team was still very much the same, and another when OL came in to take majority ownership. That one was a longer, more herky-jerky evolution, but I think we’re finally seeing the promise of what that offered in the roster this year and the game finally happening at Lumen.
Dave: And Reign fans are so welcoming. They mostly don’t care how long you’ve been involved. Start now and keep going, they’ll welcome you. It’s my favorite thing about the NWSL.
Steve: indeed, it doesn’t matter if you following the team from their beta release in 2013, or just hopped on board with Reign v3.5 this summer, there’s always room on the bandwagon
Sylvia: I’ve been welcomed so effortlessly. People have brought me drinks, commiserated with me when Sarah Bouhaddi came off her line in front of me (the early days of her loan, lol), booed and cheered with me, and even made my sister feel welcome during her one and only match in 2019. We’ve had great rosters before. Maybe not quite this loaded, as players did not reach their peak with us, but Reign is a pretty consistent franchise.
Steve: It’s truly remarkable to look around the league and see how many talented players had a stint with the Reign. They know how to scout talent, to work deals to bring players in, to find them better situations when they deserve more playing time than they can find here.
Susie: If you are new to the NWSL, you should know: the roster limitations are even stricter than MLS. Four international spots (unless you trade for more). A tiny salary cap that would barely pay for Cristian Roldan’s salary, although some flexibility was added this last year. And through it all, the Reign have historically built a roster that really worked — always being smart in thinking about who they would lose during big international tournaments and expansion drafts. I think fans are starting to see the real benefits of having OL in the picture. They’ve got money and connections. And being able to get OL players on loan? I don’t care if it’s just for a year — we are seeing how much they can add this season!
So this team has talent all over the place, be it veterans that just know how to make an impact or young, on the rise players that have barely tapped into their potential. I’m sure new fans have also heard from us and larger NWSL social media chatter about how OL Reign ABSOLUTELY KILL IT on gameday fits. When did this become a thing and why is it the greatest thing?
Tim: I think the fits are completely and totally a product of the incredible locker room and culture within the team. I may highlight them, but what’s really made them great is that the players all see it as an opportunity to express themselves and celebrate each other.
Susie: I wonder if the pandemic inspired it a little. People had no reason to dress up when we weren’t going out, so players began to have a bit more fun with their gameday outfits. A few photographers started snapping photos, social media erupted, everyone read Tim’s stories, and here we are. Their Instagram Reels of gameday fits are always their most watched. This team has SO much personality and the club lets them embrace that fully and authentically.
Jacob: That’s very possible, Susie. Balcer even said in her rookie year, no one thought to do such a thing and everyone just showed up in sweats. Jeans a button up shirt would be their most formal thing. Now look at them, OL Reign are regular features on GQ polls.
Sylvia: I love this team, and they seem to walk the walk in terms of what they do in the community. I’ve been so impressed that the Black Futures Co-op is the kit sponsor, and they keep them in the spotlight at matches and through the work they’re doing in the community. I think after the summer of 2020, a lot of teams struggled with a way forward. OL Reign got it very right and it seems genuine.
Tim: The Reign (in every iteration) have had a team full of incredible people first and foremost. Maybe that has lead to the player empowerment we see, or maybe that’s been a symbiotic growth, but it’s definitely an inextricable part of how the team has operated since last Summer.
Hopefully at this point readers and new fans have caught up and they are ready to go and cheer them on the rest of the way this season, maybe even catch a game or two at Cheney Stadium. One of the biggest takeaways after the game at Lumen: Can they do it again? Can they play at Lumen Field again?
Sylvia: Yes, our owner does not speak much, and certainly not on social media. We also have a solid social media team and writing team. I truly love rooting for a team that is mostly good for my sanity (except when they stress me out in matches).
Tim: I think they can and will play again at Lumen Field. By every metric possible, it was a resounding success. I’m excited to see how much better future games there could be.
Jacob: By the way I just checked, Bill Predmore HAS NOT used up his one tweet a year voucher for this year.
Sylvia: I’ve said for weeks. next year, a Cascadia rivalry match should happen again, like this year, and the other match should be the first home match against Angel City FC. Playing the team from Los Angeles demands a Lumen Field opener in my opinion.
Steve: I agree one of those should be a standalone game. And market the hell out of it — you have the visuals from this year’s game and you have the motivation of breaking that attendance record a second time.
And this is where we will leave the OL Reign roundtable FAQ. If you’ve got additional questions, drop them in the comments and we’ll try our best to answer them all.
With five regular season games left to go, there is still a lot for the team to play for as the Reign sit in second place in the standings, three points behind their rival Portland Thorns FC. Their next game will be at home in Cheney Stadium in Tacoma on Sunday, September 26 against the Orlando Pride.
Will the stands be a little bit more packed after the success of playing at Lumen Field last month? We don’t know, but the excitement fans new and old felt at that game is a milestone moment for one of the founding clubs of the NWSL.
The talent on this roster has an appetite that only winning the NWSL Championship can fulfill. A midseason coaching change could have derailed this season, but it’s showing to be the catalyst of a rise up the standings and being the most dangerous team in the league. With the return of the club’s first-ever coach to the helm, her herself evolved, where OL Reign finish this season has a lot of people in the Puget Sound region very excited.
Just like they were excited on Sunday, August 29.