OL Reign recently completed their first full week of preseason training in Arizona, with the team training at Grande Sports World in Casa Grande, home to FC Barcelona’s Barca Residency Academy. With league and local COVID-19 restrictions limiting indoor sessions in tight quarters, the team opted to fly to Arizona where it was warm and remote.
On Tuesday, head coach Laura Harvey and defender Lauren Barnes participated in the first press conference of the year, where they talked about the excitement of preseason, the positive energy of the group, and a lot more.
The vibes were noticeably strong in Arizona, with Harvey proudly declaring they “haven’t seen a single cloud here” after Barnes commented on the welcome warm weather. After an intrasquad 11-v-11 session on Wednesday, they’ll have to say goodbye to the Arizona sun and return to Seattle to continue their preseason training.
For Harvey, this 8-day trip to Arizona was a chance to let the players build some chemistry, learn more about the team culture, and frankly have some fun. “Preseason is always an interesting time, especially when we have a lot of new faces, and this is probably the biggest turnover that we’ve had at this club. This time has just been about getting to know everybody, getting to see them in this environment ... and just culturally as a team, how we come together, because this is a long season and we’re gonna need everybody throughout the whole journey.”
Unlike previous NWSL preseasons — where clubs had to make decisions on player signings after only two weeks of training camp — OL Reign will have more than a month with unsigned players before needing to make any decisions. Where the league previously put the onus on players to pay for preseason tryouts, housing and stipends are covered by clubs now — lowering the pressure for these players. And that’s important to Harvey, who wants the three drafted players in camp who have yet to sign a contract — Ryanne Brown, Olivia van der Jagt, and Marley Canales — to just focus on performing and to enjoy their time with the team.
“The plan isn’t to make a decision around [contracts] until the Challenge Cup. We really want to give these players a real chance. When they’re in the position that these players are in — where they’re really competing — we need to see them over a longer period. All of the sessions that we’ve done have been very open and allowing players just to be them and be themselves. I want them to enjoy it. I want them to be in a place where they feel that they can just come and show who they are.”
Barnes, who is heading into her 10th year with the Reign, was excited about the energy the draft picks and additional new players brought to preseason training.
“They’ve been a pleasure to have. They’ve really come in and stepped in, and you wouldn’t even think that they haven’t been with us for a long time now. I actually think this preseason has probably been the most evenly competitive that I’ve been a part of in a long time, which is fun to see in terms of quality, talent, and on and off the field, the people as well.”
A roster ready to compete
Just as she highlighted in her podcast chat with Ride of the Valkyries, Harvey talked about her faith in this roster, which she believes can win now and has longevity in the future. And when asked about any loans from Lyon, well, she didn’t say no and she didn’t say yes.
“I think what’s cool about this roster is that there’s a lot of young players that have been in the league that haven’t — for whatever reason, whether it be just who they were competing against, injury circumstance, whatever — had their time to shine. And we’ve got quite a few of those players champing at the bit to step in and prove that they can not just play it in this league, but perform, compete and have success in this league. I think that mixture plus the mixture of the veteran players that we’ve got, plus the rookie players that we’ve got, sets us up for a really exciting group that is wanting to win now, but obviously has longevity too.
“We’ve also planned the roster that if Lyon was to have someone available in the summer that we thought would benefit the group, now we have room to do something there. We don’t feel we need to do that. But, you know, circumstances can change throughout our season, and we do have the capacity with the way we’ve built the roster to be able to do that if we want to.”
Thank you, Bill & Teresa Predmore
Asked about Bill and Teresa Predmore’s departure from their day-to-day roles with the Reign, Harvey and Barnes were both effusive in their praise for the family that brought a women’s professional team to Seattle.
“It’s emotional for players that have been here for a long time,” Barnes said. “Without the Predmores, there would be no Reign to begin with. They’ve put their heart and soul into this club. They’ve made it what it is today, and we're forever grateful for that and thankful for them.”
Harvey admitted it was still a topic that was difficult to talk about without getting emotional. “To me, they are the Reign. You know, personally, [Bill] changed my life. No question. So I think there’s a lot of us who will forever be in debt to Bill and Teresa,” Harvey said while Barnes nodded in agreement. “I think one thing that I’ve always known with Bill on a day-to-day basis is that he will always set the club up to be successful. That’s all he’s ever wanted.”
Building a better league for young players
Barnes and Harvey were both with the club in the league’s first year, so they’ve witnessed and felt the league’s evolution over the years. While it took 10 years for the players to finally get some protection with a collective bargaining agreement, Barnes is excited about what this means for the next generation of players.
“It’s definitely a milestone for us. I’ve played in a lot of other leagues that had these in place already, so always coming back to the NWSL and not having some protection for the players was hard. Just having for this next generation and for the older ones that continue to play is just so important. I think it takes a lot of anxiety and stress off our careers, to have some type of backing and support. I think it’s only gonna get better as well as we move forward.”
Supporting and mentoring young players was a consistent theme that the Reign veteran came back to. It’s something she feels sets the club apart from others.
“What’s so great about our club is that we’ve always allowed players to come in and be who they want to be and we’ve supported and accepted all. I want to continue to show that environment to the girls. We always hear about outsiders looking in that they want to be a part of the Reign, and I just want to continue that legacy as much as I possibly can and have these younger ones take it over after the old ones move on eventually.”
Other preseason notes
- When asked if we should temper expectations for their opening Challenge Cup match at Lumen Field, Harvey laughed and said, “It’s Portland ... Lumen is going to be rocking. Even though we know it’s not the regular season and we know it’s for a different competition, we’re playing Portland. We want to win.”
- Lauren Barnes was able to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in California with her family for the first time in a long time. The Reign defender often played abroad during prior NWSL offseasons, which meant missing the winter holidays with family. She also used the time this winter to refocus her mind and do strength training to “get my body and mind right.”
- Laura Harvey got to see her parents in the offseason for the first time since the pandemic started. Harvey also picked up a passion for country music during the pandemic, something she admitted she never thought was possible.
- Barnes and her roommate, Jess Fishlock, are considering getting a dog. Fishlock’s only requirement is that the dog has to fit in her lap — roughly chihuahua or Jack Russell terrier size.
- While Barnes didn’t pick up any new pandemic passions, she continues to focus on environmental sustainability efforts. Barnes and associate GM Santiago Gallo are meeting with the VP of sustainability at Lumen Field next week to talk about partnership opportunities at OL Reign’s new home. The Seattle Sounders and Seahawks apparently didn’t jump at opportunities to promote and build on sustainability efforts, so there is some real excitement on Lumen Field’s end to be working with a club passionate about the issue.