With the 2018 NWSL season just around the corner, Ride of the Valkyries staff came together to share our hopes and dreams for the league and predictions for Seattle Reign FC’s sixth season.
Here is what my fellow writers and editors shared in advance of opening weekend.
What is your one big hope for the league this year?
- RJ Allen: That the biggest stories this year come from the play on the field and not from off field issues or mishaps.
- Jacob Cristobal: Better than forecast attendance, especially from the fully independent clubs.
- Steve Voght: That they can recover from a tough off-season and get momentum going before a pivotal World Cup year, with good news like expansion and new sponsorships and partnerships.
- Sidereal: Expansion announcements that involve MLS partnerships and aren’t relocations. I’m looking at you, LAFC and Vancouver.
- Susie Rantz: An increase in attendance across the board for every club. Leading up to a World Cup year, getting additional attention and momentum this season is critical.
Surprisingly, nobody mentioned a new commissioner. The league has now been without a commissioner for more than a year. Perhaps we have given up on that dream, or maybe it feels like the league is functioning well enough without one.
Will the Reign make the playoffs?
All respondents said “Yes.”
Jacob Cristobal shared why he thought this was the year Seattle gets back into the top four: “I know it’s dangerous to trust the buzz that folks outside of Seattle have for the Reign because it is something of a cautious buzz, but it doesn’t feel like some wild prediction. There’s weight to it, which I think is attributed to the fact that there is serious depth on this squad.”
Will the Reign win the NWSL Shield?
There was one “Obviously” and the rest of the staff said “No.”
Here’s why Steve Voght thinks Seattle won’t win its third NWSL Shield: “They’ll have a slow start due to missing some key players at Asian Cup and having a lot of new players and a new coach, but they’ll find their footing by May and make a strong run to the playoffs.”
Will the Reign win the NWSL Championship?
This one brought out the most optimism, with a series of “Yes” responses and one “Maybe.” Give us this victory, soccer goddesses.
Who will be the Team MVP?
There was a large range of votes for Team MVP — and I can only think of that as a good thing. The talent across the board that this squad posesses in 2018 is really exciting. Here is how your Ride of the Valkyries team voted.
- Jacob Cristobal: Jess Fishlock. The Dragon gets something of a rejuvenation with a reloaded/brand new squad under Vlatko’s fresh vision.
- Steve Voght: Fishlock. With more options around her in midfield and a coaching philosophy that highlights having defined roles, she’ll be able to focus on the things she does best and not need to put out so many fires.
- Sidereal: Christen Press. Or if she somehow doesn’t end up on the team: Rapinoe. A re-tooled attack to feed crosses to will mean she can boost her assists while still being a top-5 goalscorer.
- Susie Rantz: I honestly don’t know. There are so many great players on this team. I thought Rumi Utsugi was one of the most underrated players on the squad last year, so I’ll go with her — despite the fact that she’ll be with Japan in April. Utsugi should have a more defined midfield role this year, and as a result, I think her contributions will be more noticeable.
- RJ Allen: Naho. I think she is set for a really breakout year and the team brought some players in for her to create with.
Who will win the Golden Boot?
There were two votes for Megan Rapinoe and three for Jodie Taylor.
Sidereal chose Taylor, and here is his rationale: “With fantastic playmaking support from Rapinoe, Naho, and Fishlock, she should get plenty of chances.”
I, on the other hand, chose Rapinoe. When she wasn’t scoring goals last year, the team struggled to fill that gap. However, there are more attacking threats and options in the midfield this season, and I think this team is going to spread the goals between more players. Still, by a small margin, I think Rapinoe comes out on top.
Who will be named Defender of the Year?
Our reader poll from 2017 put Rumi Utsugi at the top of this list — and for good reason. The Reign FC backline last year was inconsistent and uncharacteristically let in far too many goals. Utsugi, while playing in the midfield, was among the more consistent players and helped provide some level of cover for the defense.
So who will be the best defender this season? We had two votes for Lauren Barnes, one for Theresa Nielsen, one for Steph Catley, and one for Megan Oyster. Look at that variety!
When it comes to Barnes, Steve Voght said, “She’ll be asked to do a lot, especially in the first month while Utsugi, Catley and Lydia Williams are gone, but as the lone Reign veteran on the back line she’ll step up and show the leadership that earned her co-captain last year.”
Which player will be the biggest surprise?
Our writers once again named different players. With World Cup qualifiers coming in April for many Reign international players, and other FIFA breaks throughout the season to prep for the CONCACAF qualifiers in October, squad rotation is going to be critically important this season. Luckily, there are a lot of promising newcomers on the squad, in addition to a group of veterans who could prove to be invaluable this season.
- Sidereal: Theresa Nielsen. This will be the year in which we get right back figured out.
- RJ: Morgan Andrews. She is going to have the breakout year a lot of people thought she might have as a rookie.
- Susie: Bev Yanez. She’s a known commodity, certainly, but hasn’t produced the numbers some might have expected in the last two seasons. I’m not sure Bev will be a consistent starter, but I think she’ll have a notably larger impact this year.
- Steve: Megan Oyster. She’s going to have a big role in defense and will want to show that she’s better than the Boston defense she anchored last year.
- Jacob: Maddie Bauer. A full training camp and increased minutes because of squad rotation will show us what a versatile asset she can be under Vlatko’s scheme.
Well, there you have it. We probably got a lot of these predictions wrong, but the one thing I believe we got right is the fact that this year’s Reign FC squad has a lot of talent, significant depth, and players who could make this a really fun year.
The NWSL season begin this Saturday, March 24 at Memorial Stadium. The match kicks off at 7 PM PT and will be streamed live on go90 (app and website).