With her start last weekend during OL Reign’s match against the North Carolina Courage, defender Lauren Barnes became just the second player in NWSL history to play in 150 NWSL Regular Season matches — and the first to do so playing for a single club.
Barnes is one of four OL Reign originals who were on the squad in the Reign’s inaugural 2013 season and remain with the club. The other three are Megan Rapione, Jess Fishlock, and Stephanie Cox. What’s made Barnes stand out each year is how much of a contributor she’s been year after year.
While the NWSL has gained international attention because it’s the home of well-known U.S. Women’s National Team players like OL Reign’s Rapinoe, it’s the players like Barnes who have made it the best and most competitive league in the world. In fact, Barnes is the epitome of an NWSL legend — someone who can be relied on at any moment to keep her team in a match or pushing for a playoff spot.
In reflecting on her 150th NWSL match, Barnes expressed her pride in the club. “To be honest, every time I get to put this jersey on, there’s something special about it. Me and Jess helped build this club for the last nine years. So we take a lot of pride in what we do. I just love it. A lot of what goes into it is what we believe in as players, staff and coaches.”
Barnes, who turns 32 at the end of May, was the only Reign player to start and play in all 22 matches that inaugural season. While it was a tough year for the Reign, the UCLA graduate was a bright spot on the backline and took home the team’s Defender of the Year Award. That’s all the more impressive considering Barnes spent her career at UCLA as a left back.
Barnes only got better from there. She was named to the NWSL Second XI in 2014, when the Reign won the NWSL Shield, and was named to the NWSL Best XI a year later, another dominant year for the Reign. Even when the Reign missed the playoffs in 2016, Barnes helped lead a backline that set two league records: most consecutive shutouts (5) and most minutes without conceding a goal (531). The Reign that year also tied for the most shutouts in the league (8), and the team spent the fewest number of minutes trailing matches (317).
“I’m very proud of the achievements Lu has had so far in her career. To get to 150 appearances for one club is huge,” Laura Harvey shared with Ride of the Valkyries. Harvey, who is now the U-20 head coach and assistant coach with the U.S. Women’s National Team, worked with Barnes from 2013-2017 when she was the head coach of then-Seattle Reign FC.
“It shows her quality, her mentality and most importantly how consistent she is in her performances. Every week she shows her quality. I’m not sure when I first met Lu, and we decided that trying her at CB would be a good option, that she believed she would go on to have the success she’s had so far. She’s not done yet and I know she’ll continue to build on her successes. I’m so proud of Lu and who she is as a person on and off the field. She’s a true Reign legend!”
Lauren Barnes - NWSL Career Appearances (2013-2019)
|2013||22||Team Defender of the Year|
|2014||23||Team NWSL Shield, NWSL Second XI|
|2015||20||Team NWSL Shield, NWSL Best XI|
|2016||20||NWSL Defender of the Year, NWSL Best XI|
|2019||23||NWSL Second XI|
When Vlatko Andonovski took over as head coach for the Reign in 2018, Barnes’ future with the team wasn’t so certain. The new coach was concerned about the 37 goals the team gave up in 24 matches and took some steps to bring in new defenders. Barnes rose to the challenge — featuring in 19 games for the team. The Reign gave up just 19 goals in 2018, earning another playoff berth.
In 2019, Barnes was again named to the NWSL Second XI. She conceded only nine fouls that year (while winning 10), won 72.2% of attempted tackles, had 79 clearances, and led the team by winning over 59% of her 113 attempted duels, exemplifying the shutdown nature of her role on the backline.
“To play as many games as she has, in a league that keeps getting better every year, for just one club, is something I think will eventually be seen as one of the most impressive achievements in the history of the league, if it isn’t already,” Vlatko Andonovski, who now leads the USWNT, shared with Ride of the Valkyries. “We all know that consistency in your performance is one of the most important aspects of being a pro, and Lu has shown that every practice and every game in every year of our league.”
Those comments from Andonovksi, one of the smartest coaching minds in soccer, say a lot about Barnes’ ability to adapt. Every year, the NWSL has gotten better and more competitive. Yet Barnes continued to shine — making it hard for any coach to leave her out of the starting lineup. That she’s back in the left back role again this year and thriving says so much about her character and skill set.
On top of that, as Andonovski shares, Barnes is heralded as the best teammate you could ask for. “The thing I would most want people to know about Lu is that she’s a fantastic teammate. She truly cares about all the players on her team, her club, the coaching staff and everyone who is working for the club behind-the-scenes.”
Barnes’ new teammate, Dani Weatherholt, agrees. Weatherholt joined the team in 2020 and had nothing but great things to share about the current team captain. “Lu has been an incredible role model for me both on and off the field. She is a true leader, competitor, and world class player. Lu’s the first player you call when you need anything and the first player to drive standards within the group when we need to do better. I can’t speak more highly about my experience as Lu’s teammate and friend.”
If you happened to view Barnes’ Instagram Stories the day after she reached her 150-match milestone, you would have gotten a better sense of how loved she is. Nearly every teammate — past and present — celebrated the milestone. She’s one of the first players her teammates call out when they talk about the welcoming, collaborative environment that’s continued to exist every year the Reign have existed.
As Nikita Taparia shares in this creative tribute to Barnes, the defender has amassed the most minutes in league history — combining both regular, postseason, and the 2020 Challenge Cup / Fall Series matches. She’s got the most passes in league history (78.8% completion rate) and the most blocked spots. And Barnes is second in blocked shots per 90 in the league and ranks 4th in interceptions, clearances, and completed passes per 90.
On top of all the defensive accolades, Barnes is also a big part of OL Reign’s attack. She’s smooth on the ball, calm in possession, and — in the words of Jess Fishlock — she has a “left foot that people would pay good money for.” She doesn’t always get the chance, but she can also score some killer goals.
Outside of her OL Reign accomplishments, Barnes has found success on loan to Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City in Australia’s W-League, as well as Kristianstad in Sweden’s Damallsvenskan. She won the W-League title with Melbourne Victory once and three times with Melbourne City. Barnes was named Melbourne City W-League Player of the Year and was named to the Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) W-League Team of the Year after the 2017-2018 W-League season.
We’ll let Fishlock wrap things up with her comments on Barnes, as they summarize Barnes perfectly: “Lulu... what can I say. She’s my ride or die…my day one. As a human she is everything this club was built on and stands for. Congratulations on 150 games for this club. It is unheard of in America and that just sums her up. She is one of a kind.”
Well said, Fishlock. Barnes may not be the face of the NWSL, but she’s truly one of the legends of the league that never truly gets the accolades she deserved. Here’s to winning a championship for her this year to add to an accomplished career.