Last month, Reign FC fans received the bombshell news that fan-favorite Naho Kawasumi was being traded to Sky Blue FC in exchange for Shea Groom. While the news came as a shock to many, as we learned in a podcast conversation with Reign FC owners Bill and Teresa Predmore, the trade was made at Kawasumi’s request.
Naho wanted more playing time leading up to the World Cup and also wanted to stay in the NWSL — knowing the level of talent in the U.S. would keep her at her best. Sky Blue presented an offer, and Reign FC gave Kawasumi plenty of opportunities to reconsider, but the ultimate decision was hers and hers alone.
That doesn’t make the sting of the loss any less significant. Kawasumi brought joy and countless memories to Reign FC fans. Her personality, love for the game, technical vision, and the way she carried herself on and off the pitch make her one of a kind.
So let’s take some time to celebrate everything that makes Naho Kawasumi special. On to the memories...
How could we not start with this match? In 2017, during her second stint with Reign FC, Kawasumi destroyed the Washington Spirit and set records along the way. After the Spirit went to three in the back, both Kawasumi and Megan Rapinoe found themselves with acres of space on the wings. It was Kawasumi who really shined, as she earned four assists — an NWSL single match record — and put in a goal of her own. She also played a role in the sixth (!!) goal Seattle scored that day.
Header Goal versus Portland
Naho isn’t known for heading the ball. Her technical skills and read of the game means that she doesn’t have to rely on that skill too often. But this header goal was spectacular for many reasons. It was part of Seattle’s 5-goal onslaught against their rivals, Portland Thorns FC. It was a Naho header goal. And finally, let’s talk about that pinpoint service from Kim Little. I love this fan-captured video of the goal.
Naho “Walk it in” Kawasumi
This one was absolutely ruthless. On the road in 2014 against Sky Blue, Kawasumi received a lateral pass from Kim Little on a breakaway. She had an open goal, and instead of dribbling or passing the ball into the net, Kawasumi walked it in and stopped the ball immediately after it crossed the endline. Amazing.
Mid-season in 2016, the unexpected happened: Naho Kawasumi returned to Seattle Reign FC! In her first match back, she was a star — scoring both goals in Seattle’s 2-0 victory over the Boston Breakers and helping put the Reign back on track to potentially make the playoffs. It earned her Player of the Week honors.
After the match, Jess Fishlock said of Naho: “She’s smart. There’s just no other way to describe Naho, apart from she’s smart. When you are that smart, it just looks easy.” And that’s so true about Naho. She made the game look easy. The best players — the most technical players — excel in this area.
Near the end of the 2017 regular season, Reign FC were fighting to climb up the standings and earn a playoff spot. To keep their hopes alive, the club had to win on the road against Chicago — something they’d never done. Chicago went up 1-0 in the first half and peppered Seattle’s goal. But Kawasumi gave the team life, equalizing in the 90th minute off a fantastic run and chop that sent Taylor Comeau falling. Katie Johnson would score in the 92nd minute to give Reign FC the victory.
Seattle eventually fell short of the playoffs, but Kawasumi’s equalizer gave them more of a fighting chance than expected. And she did it with so much composure — late in the match.
While Naho was a joy to watch on the field, we got to see a lot more of her outgoing, fun personality in her last few years with Reign FC. We also learned that Kawasumi might be good at LITERALLY everything. That includes singing, apparently, as Reign FC teammates capture Naho’s beautiful karaoke singing in an Instagram story — and thank goodness someone stored and shared it with the world on Twitter.
That fun-loving personality was brought to life in another way last year, when Kawasumi appeared in a video for the Tournament of Nations in July. During the video, she is absolutely ruthless to teammate Shiori Miyake — saying things with a straight face like “we’re not good friends” and “she doesn’t get along with me” (all kidding, of course!). We also got treated to a chant Japanese fans made up just for Kawasumi. Even if she comes to Tacoma with a new team, I feel like Reign fans have to do that chant for her.
During #ToN2018 we shot a few videos with the other teams and I need to share the Japan one because it’s the content y’all didn’t know you deserve. #SoccerUnites— Jimena Panduro (@jimemaud) July 28, 2018
Get Miyake some souvenirs. pic.twitter.com/zhQG06CYUA
Naho the celebrity
This might be my absolute favorite Naho story, and it comes from the first season. Before you watch the video, you have to know that Kawasumi is a celebrity in Japan. After their 2011 World Cup victory, where Naho become a staple in the midfield, she helped the team secure a silver in the 2012 London Olympics. When she came to Seattle in 2014, Kawasumi was often trailed by Japanese reporters and photojournalists. They joined her regularly at home matches, but also frequently followed her on the road.
Which brings us to this recap video after a Reign FC road trip to Sky Blue in 2014. Haley Kopmeyer tells the tale at the start of the clip. The rest of the stories shared here are pretty great as well.
Reign FC fans were gifted Naho Kawasumi in 2014. We got to watch her thrive in the World Cup in 2015. We saw her return in 2016, her dominance in 2017, and her continued excellence in 2018. She’ll be on another team in 2019, but as she said when the trade with Sky Blue was announced, “please say hello again because we are friends forever.”
Indeed. Help us celebrate our forever friend by sharing your favorite Naho Kawasumi memories.