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Four OL Reign players are on course to reach incredible league milestones

Longevity in the NWSL is not guaranteed, so we must celebrate them accordingly.

MikeRussellFoto / Sounder at Heart

May 23 update: Since publishing this tracker, some milestones have been reached and we’re closer to a few others, so we’re updating this tracker.

Forwards Bethany Balcer and Veronica Latsko have both reached 50 NWSL regular season appearances. Balcer claimed it at the May 13 match at Portland, and Latsko reached it a week later in a home draw against the Washington Spirit. Before the Spirit match, a ceremony was held to celebrate Balcer’s half-century mark, with her brothers Grant and Christian joining her.

The club posted an acknowledgement of Latsko achieving the half-century mark after the match.

Also in Sunday’s match against the Spirit, captain Lauren Barnes became the first player in NWSL history to reach 15,000 regular season minutes played. You read that right, fifteen thousand minutes. That’s 250 hours, nearly 10½ days, 900,000 seconds. Should the day come when an NWSL Hall of Fame is built, it’s damn near impossible to argue that it shouldn’t start with the Reign Original as there’s only one Lauren Barnes.

As for upcoming milestones, another Reign Original is right there. After the Spirit match, Jess Fishlock is at 148 regular season appearances. Should she make appearances in the next two matches this week, she will join the 150 club on Sunday against San Diego Wave FC.

Midfielder Nikki Stanton’s brief appearance in stoppage time on Sunday puts her five appearances away from joining the 100 club. Defender Alana Cook is two appearances away from 25, Rose Lavelle is eight away from 50, and Angelina is five away from 25.

Original story, May 11: On Tuesday morning, 48 hours after a 2-2 draw against OL Reign at Lumen Field, Racing Louisville FC forward Jess McDonald asked a simple question on her Twitter account:

You can see the result right there in the number of replies and variety of answers. Ultimately, the definitive answer was provided by FOX Soccer’s Twitter account.

It’s good that McDonald and the rest of the NWSL community got a definitive answer. However, McDonald should not have had to go to social media to find out how many NWSL regular season appearances she’s made in her storied career, which includes three NWSL Championships and a FIFA World Cup. An NWSL Original, McDonald has played in the league since day one and spent the significant majority of her career with the North Carolina Courage.

Yet, there was no acknowledgment from the club for either 100 NWSL regular season appearances (as indicated by the inset in the FOX graphic above) or 150 NWSL regular season appearances, which she reached last September when the Courage visited Gotham.

So what happened in these instances? Did someone at the club just simply lose track of McDonald’s appearance counts? Possibly, and there might be valid explanations for missing two important milestones, but the lack of recognition and celebration when the club was capable of acknowledging other player appearance milestones, like Denise O’Sullivan and McCall Zerboni, is embarrassing. McDonald was one of the biggest contributors to North Carolina’s long run of success and deserved to receive the same accolades, as does any player who reaches those important milestones.

Stat tracking in the NWSL is hard. The majority of clubs have been understaffed, as have been the media outlets that cover the league, meaning these information gaps and inaccuracies are going to happen. And if a club somehow fails to keep their numbers updated, then the league should be the safeguard to remind them, “Hey, you have a player coming up on a milestone in their career. Make sure you mention it.” But just like the clubs, the league itself has historically been understaffed and dealt with high turnover.

It is unfortunate that McDonald had to put herself out there publicly to get validation on her decorated career, but it should be an important lesson to the other NWSL clubs to do an audit to see if they’re up to date with their numbers and to make note if any of their players have significant milestones coming up.

So what about OL Reign? Do any of their players have upcoming milestones of note? The answer is yes. Referencing and sticking with the parameters of McDonald’s question, here’s where some OL Reign players stand in terms of being close to either 100 or 150 NWSL regular appearances (all data is current as of publication).

OL Reign players x 100/150 appearances club

Jess Fishlock 150 appearances 146
Sofia Huerta 150 appearances 135
Nikki Stanton 100 appearances 94
Megan Rapinoe 100 appearances 86

While the next group of players have a ways to go before reaching the century mark in NWSL regular season appearances, Bethany Balcer (49), Veronica Latsko (49), Rose Lavelle (40), and Quinn (37) could all reach 50 appearances in the current season.

Similarly, Alana Cook (21), Angelina (18), and Phoebe McClernon (22) can join the quarter-century mark this season. Notably, since joining the Reign permanently last June, Cook has already matched the total number of appearances she made in three seasons at Paris Saint-Germain.

And then there’s captain Lauren Barnes.

Already the current leader in all-time NWSL regular season appearances with 171, Barnes was celebrated last year for reaching the 150 milestone. If you were to include her appearances in all editions of the NWSL Challenge Cup, the 2020 NWSL Fall Series, and NWSL postseason matches, Barnes has now made 190 appearances for OL Reign across all competitions. Anything and everything we’ve mentioned about the Reign Originals is only possible with the incredible consistency of availability in Lauren Barnes on and off the field.

OL Reign has been good about recognizing significant player milestones, a trend which will hopefully continue with these upcoming milestones. The rest of the league should now be on alert that they need to pay closer attention, as well. It’s an incredible testament to the players themselves in keeping the level of their talents so high, and in a lot of cases, overcoming some serious injuries.

There are a lot of things the NWSL and their clubs need to address over the coming years as they determine their long-term vision for what kind of league they want to be. Among the bare minimums is recognizing and giving accolades to the players who reach these incredible milestones. Their hard work has helped build the league to where it is today and it deserves to be celebrated.

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