Reports from Costa Rica indicate that Shirley Cruz is set to join OL Reign for the upcoming NWSL season. The 34-year-old midfielder has a long history with new Reign coach Farid Benstiti, having previously played for him at both Olympique Lyonnais and Paris Saint-Germain. ESPN Costa Rica reports that Cruz’s current team, L.D. Alajuelense, could announce her departure as soon as Wednesday.
Benstiti coached Cruz in Lyon for five years, from her arrival at the club in 2005 through his departure in 2010. When Benstiti returned to France in 2012 to coach PSG, she transferred there, staying with the Paris club through 2018. Cruz appeared for Lyon 115 times, scoring 24 goals. She won six Division 1 Féminine titles, two Coupe de France Féminine trophies, and two UEFA Women’s Champions League titles with the club.
Cruz had great praise for Benstiti when talking about the decision to leave OL and reunite with him at PSG.
“The fact that Farid Benstiti is the coach at Paris made my mind up for me,” she told FIFA.com in 2013. “He was at Lyon when I arrived here and he really helped me improve my game. My right knee is giving me a little trouble at the moment and he’s adapted my training program and my role on the pitch as a result of that.”
Internationally, Cruz has been a mainstay for Costa Rica since 2002. She captained their 2015 World Cup squad, the first time the country had ever qualified for the tournament, and appeared in every match. In 2020 Olympic Qualifying she captained a team that took Canada to the wire in the semifinals, before conceding a late goal.
It’s not hard to imagine how Cruz could fit into an OL Reign lineup, should Benstiti continue to use some variation of the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 that the club has primarily used through the years. Two starting midfield spots are likely Jess Fishlock’s and Allie Long’s to lose, but with the departure of Bev Yanez and Rumi Utsugi there is wide open competition for the third position, and a more attacking-minded playmaker could be a welcome addition. Other players likely in contention for that third midfield role include Morgan Andrews, Rosie White and Rebecca Quinn.
One key question that remains unresolved is how the team would acquire the necessary international slot in order to sign Cruz. Currently all four available slots are occupied by Steph Catley, Celia Jiménez Delgado, Quinn and White. The team could trade for an additional spot, as they have done in years past, but that would likely come at the heavy cost of a high draft pick or significant allocation money. Alternately, they could trade or release one of their current international players, or through some bureaucratic miracle, one of them might acquire a green card. One other option is that Quinn becomes a federation player for Canada, which would both take her salary off of OL Reign’s books and also waive her international status. However, she was surprisingly omitted from the federation player list released by Canada Soccer Association earlier this year, so that possibility seems remote.
Regardless, with the NWSL preseason on pause for at least another week and the regular season unlikely to start on schedule, we might not hear news on this signing or any other roster changes for some time.