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For Lesle Gallimore, joining OL Reign as GM was perfect timing

The Seattle soccer legend is ready to push the club forward.

Last Updated
5 min read

New OL Reign general manager Lesle Gallimore is less than a week into her new role, but she’s needed no introduction to the staff or the players. There are few women more woven into the fabric of Seattle soccer than Gallimore.

“Lesle is someone who walks into a room and gets automatic respect from the players and staff at the club because of what she’s accomplished — not just in the game but locally within the city,” OL Reign coach Laura Harvey said when asked at a press conference about the new GM. “I don’t think she had to introduce herself to pretty much anybody, because everyone knew who she was so that immediate comfort level was there.”

Gallimore spent 26 years as head coach of the University of Washington’s women’s soccer program — recruiting current Reign players like Shae Holmes and Olivia Van der Jagt. Lauren Barnes said she was also recruited by Gallimore but ultimately chose UCLA. Over those 26 years, Gallimore’s UW squads found success on the field. UW made 15 NCAA tournament appearances, and Gallimore twice earned Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards.

Gallimore also was a color commentator for the Reign’s early broadcasts at Memorial Stadium, was a key organizer for the annual Community Shield preseason match between UW and the Reign, and has hardly missed a Seattle Sounders or Reign home match. There’s a reason Gallimore was the first woman recognized — way back in 2016 — through the Reign’s Legends Campaign.

Gallimore was formally introduced as GM this week during a press conference at Starfire Sports Complex, OL Reign’s new permanent training facility. She spoke about why the timing felt so right to join the Reign.

Prior to joining the Reign, Gallimore was leading the Girls Academy, where she oversaw standards and player safety, managed budgets and operations, organized tournaments, and led a staff of four — almost all of it remotely. During that time, she also dealt with a personal, isolating loss. Being around soccer, live and in person again, has been a joy for her.

“For me, especially in the last year, I lost my mother about a little bit over a year ago and that kind of isolation, for anyone that’s ever had severe grief, you understand that it gets compounded. As impactful and exhilarating as it was to help with a start-up league, for me personally, I needed to get out and about because I just wasn’t used to being that isolated.”

The press conference was on a meaningful day for Gallimore — falling on what would have been her mom Carolyn “June” Silver’s 84th birthday.

“She worked up until a week before she passed away. She was a hospital administrator for 65 years and ran convalescent homes, and there was nobody that was a bigger fan or champion of mine and my life devoted to the game than my mother. So today, it’s perfect, it really is. It’s just perfect timing and meant to be in a lot of ways.”

Gallimore is joining OL Reign at an uncertain time, with the club for sale, but she is used to navigating uncertainty. She helped launch and grow the Girls Academy, a development league equivalent to MLS NEXT, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Girls Academy now has 13,000 girls registered across the country, including OL Reign Academy players. Many of those players, parents, and coaches chimed in with gratitude for Gallimore when her new role with the Reign was announced. It’s no surprise, considering all those well wishes on social media, that Gallimore was named the first-ever recipient of the Carla Overbeck Leadership Award by U.S. Soccer in March — given to an individual who demonstrates a unique ability to lead and guide others and who contributes to the success of an initiative that benefits those outside their own organization.

As Gallimore said in her press conference, she enters this new role with so many valuable lessons from her last three years. At the top of that list was player safety.

“Without being in every single club environment, making sure that kids were safe and being protected while they’re playing youth soccer is probably one of the most difficult tasks we all have in this country. At the end of the day, it all revolves around the players and putting them in an environment where they can perform at their best.”

“Her hire is a huge thing for us moving forward,” Harvey noted after Gallimore’s role was announced. “She can bring a little bit of stability in what is a little bit of an unstable time in the club.”

Gallimore confirmed that she’s been presented with other GM opportunities across the league, along with international coaching roles around the world, but she turned them down for a couple of reasons.

First, Gallimore didn’t want to be even further from her mom during the pandemic.

“My mom was still living in southern California at the time, and working and the pandemic — working in a convalescent home at 82, 83, I just didn’t feel like moving away any further than I already am from Seattle to Los Angeles was the right thing to do.”

Second, Gallimore had concerns back then about the state of the NWSL. She would, unfortunately, be proven right about those concerns but is proud of the way the players have fought back and pushed the league forward.

“I wasn’t enamored with where the league was, and that sort of came true. I think the reckoning in this league over the last 12-15 months, whatever it has been now, has really shown me that the players and their voices — which we talked about a lot in the Girls Academy — and their bravery and their ability to find other people and allies to stand by them in creating policy and change and safeguarding what they deserve. It’s really cool to be a part of now. I feel great being a part of this league for that reason.”

While she had concerns about the league, Gallimore never shared those same concerns about the Reign — noting that the club has lived the values of community and inclusivity from day one.

“It’s been that way in this club from the beginning and it’s extremely meaningful, not just to me personally, but to the people I know who have struggled to find inclusive environments. Our goal, my goal, is for every player that steps into this locker room or into this club feels like they were treated equally to everyone else for whatever reason.”

Gallimore pointed to her time spent on the MLS NEXT Equity Action Committee as one of the most meaningful activities during her time as the Girls Academy commissioner. It gave her a unique look into what players of color continue to face, and she hopes to bring forward the lessons gained from those committee Zoom conversations.

“I’ve tried as much as I can to be a part of change. So, for this group and even the club and the staff and everything else, it’s going to be something that we look at from a hiring policies process to what the representation is across the board in the club and how people are treated on a daily basis.”

The new GM was careful to remind everyone that she’s only a week into the role, so she doesn’t have a specific set of actions she hopes to take or players she’s trying to sign. She’ll oversee the medical group, the first team and first-team staff, and operations. And she’s excited to dive into the details about how OL Reign operates on a daily basis and how that way of operating works or maybe doesn’t for players.

Most of all, Gallimore has seen OL Reign’s progress over the last decade and is excited to help push the club forward even more.

“It’s just been fun to watch the evolution from playing at Memorial to being down in Tacoma, the OL purchase, the movement to Lumen, now [training] at Starfire, there’s just been so much progress. I think sometimes we lose sight of the progress by just kind of living in the moment and everything in this club that’s happened has been a forward movement, in my opinion. I’m excited to be a part of that.”