Haley Kopmeyer is having the best year of her 5 year career.
With 58 saves she is tied with Steph Labbe, and just two behind Kailen Sheridan, for the most saves in the league. Unlike in years past, where splitting time with Hope Solo was the norm, Kopmeyer has started every game for Seattle Reign FC this year, and with her current form it is going to be hard for backup Madalyn Schiffel to find time this season in any of the 24 regular season games.
Goalkeeping is about more than just stopping shots and preventing goals. Yes, it is a large part of what they are tasked with doing. But there is more to it than strapping on a pair of gloves and standing in the 18-yard box. Kopmeyer has found a wonderful balance between leading her backline, working on cover for them, and doing her job as a shot stopper and a safety net for the team.
Knowing when to speak up, knowing how to explain how things have to work in the chaotic ballet of a game in progress, is something that comes with experience. After Seattle played the Chicago Red Stars, a match veteran defender Lauren Barnes missed after getting a red card in the prior game, Kopmeyer spoke in the press conference about her role in organizing the defense.
"We have a lot of young, really talented players, but they’re definitely kind of young, so I was trying to as much as I can, as best I could, to keep everybody organized. Trying to get them into good lines, trying to let them know when runners were coming, trying to kind of thwart potential attacks before they happened. That was my angle: to err on the side of over-communication. Maybe something that I wouldn't have had to say to Lu (Barnes), or things that she takes the responsibility of, I tried to pick that up. I saw (Kristen) McNabb out there at the end. She was organizing and I was loving it."
Before the season, the fanfare was high in terms of what Kopmeyer could do in league play and whatever prospects she might have with the national team. Paired with the overall question of 'Which version of the 2017 Seattle Reign FC will we get?' it's made for a wonderful narrative of Reign FC returning to the glory that made them a force that women's club soccer in the U.S. hadn't seen before.
As we are now in the second half of the season, the jury is still out on who the 2017 Seattle Reign FC are.
At times they've looked brilliant, flashes of the offensive juggernaut they were in 2014 and 2015. At times they looked like their 2016 frustrated selves. Kopmeyer has been in goal at every match, showing the ability to command the defensive line thanks to five years of development under Laura Harvey and Ben Dragavon. At times there have been growing pains for Kopmeyer, especially when her and the backline need to reset for the opposition's second chance attack. All of this is to be expected for someone graduating from spot-starter backup to without a doubt first-choice goalkeeper.
Of course, every goalkeeper in the league wants a clean sheet every week, but when the Reign have so much being figured out on the fly due to a mix of red cards, young players and injury, it’s unrealistic to expect that perfection. It’s not perfection a club ever is really after in a practical way. It’s growing week after week, month after month, and ending the season stronger than where they started.
Maybe at this point next year we’re talking about her finally getting called up to the national team for a try out, maybe we’re talking about her having won NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, maybe we’re talking about her Emmy for Stops with Kop. I can’t be sure of any of those, but what I can be sure of is Haley Kopmeyer has taken this team on her back—and she's not done yet.
Going from being released by the team—even if they planned to bring her back—to their first choice keeper in 5 seasons is a pretty strong showing of just how well the process can work.