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Match Preview: Seattle Reign vs. Washington Spirit

The match kicks off Sunday, March 17, at 3 PM PT.

Last Updated
5 min read
Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

Seattle Reign FC begins their 2024 NWSL campaign on Sunday when they host the Washington Spirit at Lumen Field. The game kicks off at 3 p.m. PT and will stream on NWSL+, the league's new direct-to-consumer streaming platform

This marks the first time Seattle has kicked off the NWSL season at home since 2021, and it should be one of the Reign's best home opener crowds on record.

The Reign enter the new season with eight new players to the roster, a mix of proven veterans and hungry young players ready to step up. Reign originals Lauren Barnes and Jess Fishlock are back for their 12th season, making them two of only three players to play for the same club every year since 2013.

Catching up on Seattle Reign’s offseason roster changes
Eight players out, eight players in.

Head Coach Laura Harvey enters the 2024 season as the all-time winningest coach in league history, with 97 total wins. The Washington Spirit, meanwhile, will be coached by Adrián González, who is serving as interim head coach until incoming head coach Jonatan Giráldez completes his season with FC Barcelona.

They are also betting on a lot of young talent. The Spirit signed all five NWSL Draft picks and a sixth undrafted college graduate.

Head to Head

The Reign are 13-9-8 all-time against the Spirit.

  • That includes a 9-4-5 home record against Washington.
  • This is the third straight year the Reign have kicked off the season against the Spirit, with the last two coming on the road. The Reign lost both matches.

Quick Stats

  • In the 2023 regular season, Washington (7-6-9) scored 25 goals and conceded 29. The Spirit finished the season in 8th place.
  • The Reign (9-8-5) scored 29 and conceded 24 in league play – finishing in 4th and advancing to the NWSL Final.
  • Ashley Hatch, who is back with Washington, led the Spirit with 9 goals and 2 assists in the 2023 regular season. Five of those goals came from the penalty spot.
    • Seattle is 3-1-2 when opening the season at home.

What to Watch

A shift in playing style

In 2023, the Spirit ranked second to last in possession and dead last for passing accuracy. This team did not want the ball. Instead, they put a lot of pressure on opponents in the midfield – also earning the most fouls in the league – and looked to transition quickly. That's bound to change under the new coaching staff, which will bring their Spanish influences. Owner Michele Kang and general manager Mark Krikorian have talked about wanting to play "beautiful" soccer.

Expect the Spirit to try to play intricate, quick passes and dominate possession, but the start of the season could also mark a learning curve for the squad. How well can they implement this new style in their first match of the year?

"The first game of the season is always challenging, I think, for everybody," Harvey said ahead of the match. "You try and do everything you can in preseason to find out as much information as you can about them and I’m sure they’ve done the same about us, but you are going into a little bit of the unknown and as coaches, we don’t really love that. First games of the season, as we’re already seeing, can often be a little bit of that – someone comes out very differently than you thought or they go on the front foot really quickly and you have to respond."

Meanwhile, Harvey has talked about wanting the Reign to be better on the ball. The Reign had fewer touches in their attacking third last year and only managed 48.5% possession. In 2024, they want to keep possession better and also move the ball around the field more effectively. Sounds kind of similar to what the Spirit are trying to do. Who is going to implement their style of play better on Sunday?

Centerback pairing

There are some questions about both teams' centerback pairings heading into the match, although for different reasons. For the Reign, it's a question of health. Alana Cook and Lauren Barnes missed the preseason matches against the Costa Rica women's national team and the University of Washington. Cook also got pulled out of the W Gold Cup with a "minor knee injury" and was doing work on the side as the team trained this week. Barnes has been practicing with the squad, but her status remains unknown.

Fortunately, the Reign have cultivated a lot of depth in this position, with Phoebe McClernon, Shae Holmes, and newcomer Julia Lester all able to play comfortably and confidently in these spots.

The Spirit traded veteran centerback Sam Staab to Chicago in exchange for the third pick in the NWSL Draft, which they used to select attacking midfielder Croix Bethune – a standout in college who will be asked to replace the attacking responsibilities of Ashley Sanchez, who was traded to North Carolina. Staab has been one of the league's most consistent defenders, and no centerback can distribute as well as her. In fact, she led the Spirit in key passes last year – a rarity for a centerback.

French defender Annaïg Butel will likely slot in here after playing outside back for the club last year. She'll be asked to play a big leadership role next to Tara McKeown, who made the remarkable transition from center forward to centerback last year. McKeown did well, but that's not an easy transition.

Setting the tone

In 2023, the Reign scored just eight goals in the first half of their 22 regular-season games, 11th best in the 12-team league. But they scored 21 in the second half, which was the most in the league. If the Reign want to set the tone for their season, an early goal at home would be a great way to do it.

Seattle has a lot of questions heading into this season. Did they do enough to build a roster that can produce more goals? How does this team look without Megan Rapinoe? Only time will tell. But one thing's for certain: they'll be hungry to prove everyone wrong.

Injury / Availability Report

Seattle Reign

OUT: Alana Cook (knee), Veronica Latsko (leg)

Washington Spirit

OUT: Civana Kuhlman (SEI – knee), Trinity Rodman (suspension)

How to Watch

Seattle Reign kicks off at Lumen Field against the Washington Spirit at 3 p.m. PT on Sunday, March 17. The match will stream on NWSL+ for both US and international viewers. NWSL+ is the league's new direct-to-consumer streaming platform that is available on all iOS/Android devices and streaming devices by Apple TV, Fire TV, and Roku. Fans may have to search National Women's Soccer League instead of NWSL to find the app.