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Why you should be excited about Christine Nairn’s return

Our friends at Black & Red United tell us how Nairn has evolved her game.

W-League Rd 3 - Melbourne v Sydney Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, the Seattle Reign FC and Washington Spirit made a major trade to kick the NWSL Offseason aka “The FURTening” into high gear. Seattle sent midfielder Havana Solaun and draft picks to Washington and in return Reign FC are getting a familiar face back in midfielder Christine Nairn along with the rights to goalkeeper Madalyn Schiffel. Nairn was part of the 2013 inaugural season squad and was identified as one of the core players of Laura Harvey’s squad after that first year. Then in January 2014, Nairn was traded to Washington Spirit for the discovery rights to Kim Little. You may have heard of her and she did a couple neat things here in Seattle.

The wealth of playing time at Washington allowed Nairn to grow as a player and now she is coming back to Seattle. Here is Jason Anderson at Black & Red United to fill us in on what a seasoned NWSL veteran Christine Nairn is going to bring to Seattle.

Hello, Reign fans! Once things started getting weird out here in Spirit country, there was always a chance that we’d be getting together to have a discussion along these lines. After all, an outstanding Washington team is being broken up for what appear to be non-soccer reasons, and your coach has a website dedicated to her penchant for making trades. Laura Harvey swooping in to pick up a talented player seemed inevitable once it became clear that the Spirit were going to undergo a lot of changes this offseason.

That brings us to Christine Nairn, who has returned to Seattle after a few years back here in her home state of Maryland. In some ways, you probably won’t be surprised to see that Nairn is still tremendously gifted in terms of technique, and her passing range has only improved with time. Despite not playing extremely high up the field in the 4-2-3-1 deployed by Mark Parsons or the 4-3-3 preferred by Jim Gabarra, Nairn still consistently provides a decent goalscoring return. Given her responsibilities as a midfield tempo-setter and playmaker, 14 goals in 63 appearances (or about a 4 goals in per season rate, roughly speaking) is a pretty strong return. Plus, when she scores, there’s a significant chance it will be a goal of the year candidate:

In the past two years, Nairn has played in every single game the Spirit had, and started in 40 of 43 matches. In 2016, he two non-starts were down to protecting an ankle injury and being rested due to the Spirit facing three games in eight days. Oddly enough, that latter game was at Seattle, a game in which Washington struggled. She was the Spirit’s go-to set piece taker for each of the last three years, and it’s no coincidence that Washington has been dangerous on dead balls for three straight seasons.

That Nairn has become a better soccer player over time is probably not a surprise to Reign fans. After all, she was no slouch back in 2013. The Spirit will definitely miss her, and it’s frankly a bit confusing why a team that takes such pains to play patient, flowing, possession-oriented soccer would trade the player most suited to that style. Nairn was Washington’s midfield hub, and was involved with just about every good attacking move they cooked up this year. Obviously there is no replacing Kim Little without cloning or a time machine, but if you’re looking for NWSL players suited to be the next best thing, Nairn is pretty much ideal.

So far I’ve talked about Nairn purely from a soccer perspective. However, the Spirit will also be losing a huge personality. Nairn departs Washington as a fan favorite, and not just because of her local roots. Nairn is the kind of player who can be hard-nosed and competitive without losing her head, and it seems fairly clear that her teammates are all sad to see Christine Nairn the person heading to another club.

Nairn functioned as the Spirit’s leader whenever Ali Krieger was away with the USWNT, and that really meant something in 2016. As the last few weeks have made apparent, the players were unhappy with the organization for a variety of reasons, and there are rumors that some players took issue with Gabarra as well. However, the Spirit nearly won the Shield, and came even closer to winning the NWSL championship. How did this happen? A huge amount of credit has to go to the personalities in the locker room for sticking together and making the best out of what was apparently not a good situation behind closed doors. Nairn’s influence on that is hard to overstate.

So needless to say, we think 2017 is going to be a lot tougher without Nairn taking charge on and off the field. Reign fans should be overjoyed, though, because Nairn is an ideal fit for how Harvey wants her team to play. On top of that, she’s familiar with the standards and expectations in place, so her transition should be a smooth one.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to living in fear of the next Spirit trade announcement.

It’s sad to see your favorites go (yes we still miss you, Kim Little) so we feel you, Spirit fans. That said, we are very excited that a Reign Original is coming back.

Make sure to follow @blackandredU for their awesome Washington Spirit coverage.