To describe the OL Reign midfield in a word, they have diversity. The team has depth in each midfield role, and can shuffle how they deploy those roles based on the opponent or even based on game state with substitutions. Even with some expected absences for international duty during the Olympics, midfield looks to be their strongest band, and how well they are able to dominate this area of the field will likely determine the team’s fate this season.
Assuming OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti continues to deploy some variation of the Reign’s typical 4-3-3, he’ll have some tough decisions to make about which three talents should be on the pitch in midfield each week, but with these players there aren’t any bad choices.
The 21-year-old Brazilian was brought in with an eye toward the future, but has apparently been turning heads at training. She probably doesn’t make the preferred starting three, but with international absences and fixture congestion she could earn meaningful minutes as an attacking midfield option, especially if she can consistently drop free kicks on a dime like this.
The Costa Rican international is in her second year with the Reign. She made eight appearances last year between the Challenge Cup and Fall Series, and now having had a full preseason to integrate with the team looks poised to be Farid Benstiti’s preferred midfield playmaker in 2021.
Fishlock recently completed her loan to Reading and is now with the Wales national team for a week. At Reading she appeared in 19 matches, scoring two goals, and most importantly got her match fitness back after missing a big chunk of 2019 to an ACL injury and the disjointed nature of the 2020 NWSL season. Reign fans know exactly what to expect from their Welsh Dragon, and it’s a safe bet that she’ll feature in virtually every game where she’s available. She’s making a push to be included on the Team GB squad going to the Olympics later this summer; if she makes that roster it’ll be because she’s had a stellar early season with the Reign, and if she misses out then we’re blessed with having her patrolling the midfield for the Reign through the summer.
Hedge lost her rookie year to an ACL injury, but was recently cleared to resume full-contact training and was taken off the injured reserve list. She might not feature much in the Challenge Cup as she regains her fitness and re-acclimates to playing in a full-team environment, but the team remains high on her long-term potential. She’s played in multiple midfield positions during college and with U.S. youth national teams, but will likely be a holding or box-to-box midfielder with the Reign.
The Tacoma native was signed as a National Team Replacement Player, which means her initial time with the Reign might be fairly short once the five Reign players currently with their national teams return. Holtz graduated from Santa Clara in 2017, and played for the University of Guelph the following two years while in graduate school. She most recently played for Valadares Gaia FC in Portugal. She might reprise her role as a replacement player and have a bigger role to play later this summer while Reign players are away on Olympic duty.
The no-longer-allocated American will have a big role for the Reign again this year, likely serving as one of Farid Benstiti’s preferred shuttling midfielders and contributing massively to the team’s desired possession-focused strategy. Long’s strength has always been her passing accuracy, and since coming to the Reign before the 2018 season she’s added defensive quality to her tool belt. Long probably won’t end up on the score sheet too often, but dig into the advanced stats and you’ll regularly see her name near the top for touches, passes and accuracy.
Since our preview piece was written profiling the team’s defenders, McNabb’s status on the team roster page has been updated – she’s now listed as a Defender/Midfielder, more in line with where she has appeared in prior years. With the dearth of experienced center backs on the roster beyond Lauren Barnes and Amber Brooks, expect to see her rotate into that role this year, while also serving as a defensive mid, particularly in games when the Reign are leading and want a bit more defensive presence late in games.
The Canadian international is currently on national team duty and won’t return to Tacoma until at least the second game of the Challenge Cup, and will almost certainly be with Canada for the Olympics later this summer. Since moving primarily to defensive midfield for the Reign, Quinn’s career has looked revitalized. Their positioning is smart, they make good challenges, and provide plenty of cover for midfield teammates who push forward higher up the pitch. And just look at this pinpoint long ball to split the opposing defense and earn an assist in their game last week!
Weatherholt brings something to the Reign midfield that the team had been lacking in prior years – a gritty, physical presence. They’ve always had players like Fishlock who are willing to get into a tackle and challenge for every 50/50 ball, but much like how the fourth line in hockey can help set the tone with a few timely bodychecks, Weatherholt could be important in matches where opponents want to play a more physical game and limit the ability of finesse players to contribute. I don’t expect her to be an every-game starter, but she’ll likely be among the top options off the bench and make spot starts.
The New Zealand international (and new green card holder) is in her third season with the Reign, splitting time between attacking midfield and forward. She’s not particularly flashy in either role, but is consistent and reliable. She had a goal in last year’s Fall Series and will likely share time in the attacking mid role this year with Cruz. She’ll almost certainly miss part of the summer while at the Olympics with New Zealand.