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Reign draft picks settle into preseason training

The Reign's draft class of 2024, Sam Meza, Maddie Mercado, and Makena Carr, were introduced to the media on Monday.

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Reign FC draft pick Maddie Mercado (left) | © MATT CASHORE / USA TODAY NETWORK

Training camp has begun for NWSL teams ahead of the 2024 season, which kicks off in mid-March. Seattle Reign FC began their training camp in Newport Beach, California last week, before heading to even warmer climates in Alajuela, Costa Rica, on Tuesday.

At the 2024 NWSL Draft in January, Seattle selected three players – midfielder Sam Meza, forward Maddie Mercado, and defender Makena Carr. On Monday, the trio spoke with media over Zoom about draft night and the beginnings of their professional careers.

All three spoke about the warm welcome and introduction they received, their NWSL Draft experience, the excitement of joining the Reign, and what fans can expect from them.

A welcoming start

All three draft picks noted how welcoming the Reign players and staff have been in their first week of training.

"It's been really great. The team is awesome, they're all very nice and very
welcoming, so that always makes the process a little bit easier for rookies," said Sam Meza about how camp has been in these early days. "The staff is also really great – willing to do anything to help. The energy has been awesome as well."

Maddie Mercado agreed. "I would say that the team and the staff have both been very welcoming and obviously helped us as rookies start to adjust everything because it's a new journey for us. So yeah, it's been good so far."

Makena Carr added, "The team, the staff made that transition for us really smooth and super easy and overall, it's just been super great getting to know everyone."

Draft day experience

None of the three were in attendance at the NWSL Draft, but the gravity and excitement of hearing their names called on the broadcast was not lost on any of them when asked to recall that night in January.

"You're only allowed to enter the Draft once, so it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Meza. "It was just super exciting. It was very emotional, a lot of emotions going on that day, but obviously super excited to be here. It was really exciting to know that I was going to be at a place where they're interested in developing players and in a place where it's new. So, I get to learn some new things."

Mercado said, "To hear your name called is very special... I've wanted to play soccer since I was a young girl, professionally. So, to kind of have this start of that dream kind of unfold is really special."

"The fact that I get to do this right at home with my family, they're super thrilled and so am I," said Carr. "I've been following Reign for a while and one thing about them is that they're a really good team and two, just so good at growing and developing their players and so that's what I was really looking forward to, just super excited to grow my game even more with Reign."

A homecoming

For Carr, being drafted by Seattle is a chance to play for the hometown team. The Newcastle, Washington, native began her collegiate career at the University of Washington, playing for then-head coach, now general manager Lesle Gallimore before transferring to Saint Mary's after recovering from back-to-back knee injuries.

Having gone through the local youth leagues, Carr also has memories of playing at Starfire Sports Complex, where the Reign now have exclusive fields and training facilities after the Seattle Sounders FC moved on to their new base of operations at Longacres.

"A lot of memories at Starfire, especially fields three and four, right behind the stadium, I've played in field two and then obviously the stadium field. I played at Eastside FC, so when we would play Pac (PacNW), we would play at Starfire or if there was a tournament there, we would play tournaments. And then I also played on the Washington ODP team, so our trainings were at Starfire. When I go there, it brings back a lot of youth memories, which is super cool, so I'm super excited to be back training at Starfire," she reflected.

Being the latest member of Reign's squad of local players has also helped build camaraderie with Meza and Mercado, as the two don't know much about Seattle. Carr has shared intel about attractions and places to eat/drink, as much as they've asked her.

"I've also been like, 'Hey guys, let's go try this out, let's go here,' I'm kind of like their tour guide. But I think for me, it's super exciting just to go back to places that I would always go to when I was just growing up in Seattle, so it's super exciting and I'm really happy to be back," said Carr.

Personal scouting report

As Reign fans wait for Carr, Mercado, and Meza to make their professional debuts with the crest of "The Queen" on their shirt, as a Seattle Reign FC player, the trio talked about what fans can look forward to seeing with their respective styles of play.

"I've played multiple positions," said Carr. "I've played the winger and then I transitioned to outside back. So, as a winger, I'd say I was very much still composed on the ball, loved to find slit passes to other people and create those opportunities for other teammates and then as an outside back, still have that composure piece and I think just unpredictability."

Meza said, "I think I have a very Latin kind of style about me. I like to have the ball on my feet, I like to drive at people, the 1-v-1 is fun, I like the creativity of it all, the freedom of it all, the fluidity of it all."

"I guess kind of similar to these two – pretty possession-oriented, I love to combine, especially in the attacking third. I think being creative, both on and off the field, is something that's always kind of been fun for me. So, obviously soccer is a very creative sport, so to kind of bring your own flair to that is fun for me and I think, especially when you can set your teammates up for goals, set yourself up for goal, have a few pretty combinations and break the line and whatnot, so that's kind of the way that I like to play," said Mercado.

While the trio are some of the Reign's newest faces, they aren't coming to the club completely blind in not knowing anyone. Having started out her collegiate career at the University of Washington, Carr played with midfielder Olivia Van der Jagt and defender Shae Holmes, and she credited those two with helping ease the transition into being a pro. Meza shared that she has known forward Jordyn Huitema through the years of being on respective youth national teams and crossing paths, including at the 2018 CONCACAF Women's U-17 Championship. Meza said that Huitema is serving something of a mentor in the early days of camp as everyone gets to know each other and prepare for the season. Mercado shared that she's roommates with the second-year Holmes during this camp and her perspective of having gone through the rookie experience just a year ago is giving Mercado helpful advice.

While in Costa Rica, the Reign are scheduled to play two pre-season friendlies, with the first being on Saturday, February 3 against LD Alajuelense. The second match will be on Friday, February 9 against the Costa Rica Women's National Team. Tickets have been advertised for that match, but it remains to be seen if either pre-season match will have a stream available for Reign fans here and abroad to watch.