The beauty of sports is that in any game, anyone can be the hero who gets the moment, the win. For OL Reign, it’s been forward Veronica Latsko who has claimed the playoff goals to put her team in the position of playing for the NWSL Championship on Saturday in San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium against Gotham FC. It is the one trophy that has eluded the Reign, a founding club of the NWSL.
Ahead of Saturday’s NWSL Championship match against Gotham FC, Latsko spoke with Ride of the Valkyries about being in her “Playoff Ronnie” era, and what winning the NWSL Championship on Saturday night would mean to her.
“The vibe is really good, it’s been wonderful,” says Latsko on Wednesday afternoon. “It was a great game that we played a couple of days ago and we’re relishing these days of being together, spending time with one another before the championship game, because you never know what happens next season and who will and who won’t be with us. Trying to take everything in and be super present.”
That game a couple of days ago was the NWSL semifinal in which OL Reign bested NWSL Shield winners San Diego Wave FC, 1-0 courtesy of Latsko’s “shross” goal in the 47th minute, and after the match, OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey was asked about Latsko once again being the hero of the match.
“She's the epitome of work hard and good things will happen to you, and she trains so hard every day. She works her socks off. Every single day – we have all the data and all that stuff – she always is the one that has done the most; she always runs about like a lunatic every day. But she's getting the reward and I say that to the players all the time, if you work hard and you dig in and you show your ability, good things will happen to you and that's happening to Veronica right now."
When we relayed to Latsko what Harvey said on Sunday night, Latsko said, “That’s really sweet. I didn’t know she said that. I just try to do whatever I can for the team, I just try to be whatever the team needs me to be, and everybody on the team in turn is super supportive and appreciative. I’m just really grateful to be in such a supportive environment, where your hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, which is really nice. I feel like in a lot of environments it does (go unnoticed). It’s been a really wonderful season and you just don’t feel like you’ve been taken for granted. It’s very nice to feel appreciated.”
The journey for OL Reign this season, to be one victory away from becoming NWSL Champions for the first time in club history, has been described by players and Harvey as a roller coaster, or as the Reign Originals of Lauren Barnes, Jess Fishlock, and Megan Rapinoe have called it, “The Circus.” There have been wins, there have been losses, and on Sunday night, after the victory over San Diego, Harvey had talked about poignant, vulnerable conversations the team had with each other, culminating in, “Why are we doing this? What’s our why?”
Latsko said that players wrote down their answers to that question anonymously, and was kind enough to share with us what her answer was.
“I’ve had this game taken away from me, several times through injury*. I know what it’s like to not have the ability to be on the field, to be with the people you care about, doing the thing you love so much. I view every time that I step on the field as an opportunity to do something I love, that makes me happy, that makes me smile, and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do it for. So, I make the absolute most of every minute that I get to play this game. That’s my why.”
*Latsko suffered a right ACL tear in 2013, missing her high school senior season, and a left ACL tear in 2019, missing that NWSL season with the Houston Dash.
Making the most out of every minute she plays definitely has made an impact on OL Reign’s playoff run. Latsko’s two match-winning goals put her in the company of other Seattle athletes who have worn the number 24 and had impactful, massive moments in playoff games. Dennis Johnson for the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979, Ken Griffey Jr. for the Seattle Mariners in 1995. Marshawn Lynch for the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, Stefan Frei for the Seattle Sounders FC in 2016. And now, Veronica Latsko.
Latsko chuckles at the “Playoff Ronnie” nickname and defers to just being a contributor as to how and why OL Reign are playing for the league title on Saturday.
“I don’t know if I’ve necessarily been the hero. Again, there’s a lot of people that go unnoticed and I definitely don’t view myself as the hero. I view myself as just one of the cogs in the big wheel that is what’s propelling our team forward. Whether it’s scoring goals or making defensive plays, I just want to help my team advance in any way that I can,” said Latsko. Just like the goal against San Diego Wave FC this past Sunday, Latsko scored the match-winning goal in OL Reign’s quarterfinal victory over Angel City FC back on October 20.
If you have been curious as to whether there is some significance to the number 24 for Latsko, or a story as to how she acquired it (teammate Bethany Balcer was the previous holder), it was rather a straightforward case of it just being available.
“I’ve always been (number) 12 throughout my high school, college, and professional career. When I came here, 12 was already taken and they gave me a list of numbers that were available and "Boats" (team's nickname for Balcer) had already switched to 8, and I didn’t know what to do. My partner said 12 plus 12 is 24, so maybe just go with 24? I was like, okay, sounds good,” said Latsko.
Having and maintaining a balanced life on and off the field is important for any professional athlete, and Veronica Latsko is no exception to that. Earlier in the season with the league going into a FIFA international break in mid-July, Latsko said after the match at Orlando Pride, “I’ll be on the beach with my dogs. No cell service, don’t send me any messages.”
While this may just be her second year as a Reign player, Latsko is a Child Advocate and Communications Coordinator for Agape Adoptions, and has partnered with Urban Family Brewing for fundraising events throughout Seattle, as part of her life off the field.
“I like to have a solid balance in my life where when I’m on the field, I’m fully present and I am fully thinking about soccer. When I’m off the field, I’m cognizant of what I’m doing to my body that will affect me on the soccer field, but my head is not totally wrapped up in soccer. I need a solid step away to gain perspective and be like, ‘Hey, maybe it was a bad training day, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a blip in your day. You as a soccer player is not who you are as a person, it’s just part of your identity.’ I want to be more than just a soccer player on the pitch, I want to be Veronica the person when I’m living my life. Having that balance makes me live my life fully in the way that I see it,” said Latsko.
Our chat with Latsko ends with the question that she, her teammates, and the OL Reign coaching staff will undoubtedly be asked over the course of this week: What would it mean to win the NWSL Championship? Latsko took a moment to try and come up with the words.
“It would be incredible. It’s not even for the point of winning the championship, it’s winning the championship with this team, with this group of individuals. I think that we’re such a close-knit group and this is such a special time, that I wouldn’t want to be spending it with anybody else and I wouldn’t want to win it with anybody else. It would be an incredible moment and something that I can’t even really find the words (for), it would be so monumental.”