It’s happening. Sound the alarms. Get hyped.
The all-time leading goal-scorer for Olympique Lyonnais and the French national team, Eugénie Le Sommer, is heading to Tacoma. She’ll join OL Reign on loan through the end of 2021, arriving after the FIFA international window closes on June 15.
“It is great to have such an extraordinary player join our team,” said OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti. “Le Sommer has been consistent for Lyon and is a very intelligent player. She will bring quality and effectiveness with her to our team.”
“I’m really excited to join OL Reign, it’s a new challenge for me and I’m ready to take it! I have been following the league for many years and it’s one of the best leagues in the world,” said Le Sommer. “I can’t wait to play my first game and meet the OL Reign fans at Cheney Stadium.”
Want to know a bit more about one of the more prolific attackers in women’s soccer? We answer your burning questions below.
Tell me more about ELS.
I’d love to! You’ll probably see people refer to her by her initials, ELS, so that’s one small detail to know. She’s a French international player who, at 31, has won a cabinet full of trophies with Lyon, a club she’s been with since 2010. Here’s a quick roundup: In her 11 seasons with OL, Le Sommer won the Division 1 Féminine 10 times, the Coupe de France Féminine trophy eight times, and the UEFA Women’s Champions League seven times.
She made her senior national team debut in 2009. Born in Grasse, France, Le Sommer is one of seven children; she has four sisters and two brothers.
We’ll get to her strengths and style of play in the section below, but The Guardian ranked Le Sommer as the 5th best women’s footballer in 2018, the 10th best in 2019, and the 12th best in 2020. But don’t let that fool you into thinking she’s dropping in production. After recovering from some injuries in late 2020, Le Sommer still has plenty of goals left in her.
Here’s what The Guardian said in their write-up about Le Sommer in 2018:
Asserting herself as a big game player, Le Sommer scored a vital away goal against Barcelona in the last eight and produced the 99th minute effort that gave [OL] a 2-1 lead over Wolfsburg in the final. As if to emphasise her quality, a hat-trick against Toulouse in February ensured she is now Lyon’s greatest goalscorer ever, a tally that amounted to 226 at the time but is now approaching 250. She has been in similarly irresistible form for France, scoring in seven consecutive games – including goals against USA, Germany, Canada and Australia.
Why should I be excited?
Let me count the ways! First, here’s the most important thing you need to know about Le Sommer: she scores goals. A lot of them. And from all spots.
As you’ll see from the highlights below, Le Sommer puts herself into great positions in the box with well-timed runs and a fearless mentality in front of goal. While she might not be very tall, she’s great in the air — similar to OL Reign’s tiny Welsh dragon, Jess Fishlock. Le Sommer can shoot with both feet, has the ability to unleash some bombs from distance, and is a great hold-up player who can receive and be a playmaker with her back to the goal. Oh, and she has a great first touch and impressive acceleration speed on the ball.
If you want someone who is going to be a consistent threat in the 18-yard box, there are not many names you’d put in front of Le Sommer. Her instincts in front of the goal are enviable.
Here are some stats to prove this. Last September, ELS became the all-time leading goal-scorer for the French national team — earning her 81st and 82nd goals in a Euro qualifying match against North Macedonia. That game marked her 172nd appearance with the national team. She’s scored four more goals since then.
Le Sommer has also scored 274 goals across all competitions with Lyon. Guess what? That also means she scored the most goals for the most decorated women’s team in the world. Not bad, not bad.
Can she hang in the NWSL?
It’s true. The NWSL is a transitional, physical league. It’s not a place where every player — no matter how good they are — can thrive. Europe is sometimes more technical and the game isn’t as up and down. However, Le Sommer’s strengths should set her up well for the NWSL. She’s physical, aggressive in front of goal, great at holding the ball, and quick.
In fact, Ride of the Valkyries’ Jacob Cristobal gave ELS the nickname of The Undertaker years ago because of how much she was willing to wreck defenders to score goals. She should have no problem adjusting to the differences in league play.
Where will she line up?
That’s a great question. She can play in multiple spots on the field. She’s even been more of a holding midfielder at times for France, dropping deeper to help build the attack. Some of her strengths that we listed above would indicate she’s best suited in the No. 9 role. You want Le Sommer in a position close to goal, that’s certain.
However, she earned 12 assists in Lyon’s 2017-18 season, which means she can create just as well as she can score. And with her pace and ability to combine well with teammates, she could slot in at the wings or settle into a creative attacking midfielder role (although Dzsenifer Marozsán, Shirley Cruz and potentially Rose Lavelle might have that covered).
Because there is a lot of depth on the wings at the moment for OL Reign, that spot feels the least likely for her. Depending on player availability, fans can probably expect to see her as a striker or more of a withdrawn forward. And in matches that are tightly contested — with strong defensive opponents — you might see her dropping back to collect the ball, even if she starts on the forward line.
Why is she coming to the NWSL now?
Certainly, this news might feel a bit surprising for a player that’s been with the same club for 11 years, but Le Sommer has said in a few different interviews over the last year that she’d like to experience a new country and culture. As someone who will turn 32 this summer and has already won plenty of trophies, she wants to challenge herself in one of the most competitive leagues in the world — where every week brings tough competition. And with France missing out on the Olympics, this year offers a rare lull in national team commitments and travel.
Le Sommer already has some level of familiarity with Reign players like Megan Rapinoe, Shirley Cruz, Bethany Balcer, Sofia Huerta, Celia, and Jess Fishlock, who intersected with her at Lyon. And the Reign/Lyon connections will make the transition fairly smooth for the French attacker.
“I’m also really happy to enjoy the connection between OL and OL Reign that allows me to stay in OL family,” Le Sommer shared in a team-issued press release.
Who on the men’s side does she compare to?
This is a question I’ve been asked a few times already, as many are more familiar with top-level men's players. Let me flip the script and say: Le Sommer stands in her own category, but which men’s player compares most closely to her?
In terms of skill set, I might put Luis Suarez, Harry Kane, or Sergio Agüero near her level, with Agüero feeling the most compatible. All three can pass as well as they can score — and, well, they are pretty good goal-scorers. Where Le Sommer outranks everyone, however, is just how much she steps up in big moments. She’s scored some crucial goals in important matches for Lyon.
In fact, according to L’Equipe, Les Bleus — the nickname for the France national team — have only lost once when Le Sommer scored, in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics against Japan (1-2). Otherwise, the national team has earned 58 wins and 3 draws when The Undertaker finds the back of the net.
How in the world did OL Reign pull this off?
Right?! In addition to one of the best creative midfielders in the world (Marozsan), and one of the top-ranked goalkeepers (Bouhaddi), they now are getting one of the best goal-scorers? This was the hope when OL Groupe bought the Reign in 2020, and after some pandemic slowdowns, we are starting to see the potential of the relationship.
But because the NWSL is a complicated league with roster rules and salary caps, it wasn’t easy. The work to get all three players began last year with the acquisition of allocation money through trades and a series of loans in the fall, including Celia’s loan to Lyon. On top of that, the team just picked up $80,000 in the trade with Gotham FC that sent Allie Long to the NJ/NY club. And as The Equalizer reported yesterday, teams can now purchase up to $400,000 in allocation money each year, a 25% boost from last year.
OL Reign also had five international spots, but Shirley Cruz is the only current player occupying one. Quinn became allocated by Canada this year, Rosie White and Celia both got green cards, Jess Fishlock had hers already, and Karen Bardsley, Angelina, and Nicole Momiki all were born in the U.S. Even after Le Sommer, Maro, and Bouhaddi arrive, there’s still one international spot open. Incredible!
But we only get her for a season.
That’s true, the loan is only through the end of the 2021 season. At the same time, there’s nothing preventing OL Groupe and the Reign from negotiating a longer stay if she’s happy here. And if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to enjoy every precious moment. OL Reign now has a host of world-class players on the squad and, on paper, this is a team that absolutely should be fighting for the championship.
And that’s what Reign fans have been craving for the last 9 years. We remember the heartbreaking end to the 2014 and 2015 season. We remember the devastating loss to Portland in the 2018 playoffs and the gritty semifinal defeat to the North Carolina Courage in 2019. We want an NWSL Championship. Winning that elusive title only means good things for the long-term future of this club.
We also want to be entertained. With exciting young players alongside global stars like Rapinoe, Marozsan, Bouhaddi, Fishlock, Cruz, and Le Sommer, this is bound to be an entertaining team. Hop on board, because things are about to get really fun.