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Laura Harvey on what it means to return to the Reign

“I miss the wildness. I think it actually suits me a little bit.”

NWSL Championship: Seattle Reign vs. FC Kansas City - Photos Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

Sitting in front of a laptop from her hotel room in Tokyo, where it was 7 AM for her, Laura Harvey was all smiles during the OL Reign press conference announcing her return as head coach. In many ways, the view of Harvey on a Zoom screen was so familiar. It’s how reporters have interacted with coaches since the pandemic hit last year. And hearing Harvey make jokes and greet reporters with a, “Hi, how are you?” immediately brought me back to her days at Memorial Stadium.

But as Harvey paused during a question to point behind her — noting the lightning that visibly flashed beyond her hotel room window — it all felt a little surreal. Not only was the architect behind the Reign’s culture returning, but she was doing it after serving as assistant coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, who were about to kick off their Olympic tournament in Japan.

And I realized that behind my screen, I was all smiles as well. Harvey’s return to the Reign — at this time in her career — is a moment that, frankly, I didn’t think would happen. She had a great gig with U.S. Soccer, leading the U-20 squad while also assisting a senior national team that is loaded with talent right now. Of course, I should have looked back at her farewell message to Reign fans at the end of the 2017 season to know that a Harvey reunion with the Reign was bound to happen.

“I will always be grateful for everything that we have been able to do, we all put our heart and soul into building this club. Reign FC will always have a special place in my heart,” Harvey shared at the time.

The Reign’s first head coach made good on that note this week, coming back to the NWSL club she helped shape for its first five seasons. And while her press conference showed she’s just the same Laura Harvey — friendly, witty, and always willing to talk up the Reign/Thorns rivalry — she was also quick to note how different both she and the Reign are since she left in 2017 — different, in her words, “in positive ways.”

I’m a different coach

Harvey has been busy since she left the Reign, coaching for two years with the Utah Royals before joining U.S. Soccer as the U-20 WNT coach. Along that journey, she was the second woman — after Jill Ellis — to receive her U.S. Soccer Pro License, completing the coaching course in 2020.

You know what also happened in 2020? The COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted the world in so many ways. While it was a tough period for Harvey as well, she used it as a growth opportunity.

“Obviously COVID absolutely has been and continues to be horrendous for everybody. But I think in that period, it was a real reflection piece for me of, you know, where have I been, what have I done? What worked, what didn’t, and who do I want to be in the future? And what type of coach do I want to be?”

Harvey acknowledged that in asking those questions and learning from all the coaches within U.S. Soccer — on both the men’s and women’s side — she could see that she was sometimes stuck in her ways a little bit. The last year helped her really grow as a coach.

“Obviously, throughout my career, I think I’ve done things that worked or I probably wouldn’t be sitting on this call now, but I think there are things that I wanted to get better at. And I’ve invested time and effort to make sure that I am a different coach than I was when I left Utah. And I’m a different coach than I definitely was when I left the Reign.”

It was a point Harvey reiterated in the OL Reign press release announcing her return.

“I’m a different coach than I was when I left, for the better. I have spent a lot of time investing in myself to be better and everyone is going to see the best version of me.”

I miss the wildness

So, Reign fans might be wondering, why now? And why return to the NWSL, when there are a number of exclusive coaching gigs in women’s soccer now?

“I miss the wildness. I think it actually suits me a little bit,” Harvey shared. “The NWSL is a place where it’s the wildest ride you’ll ever go on as a coach, but it’s so rewarding. It’s so rewarding being in this league when you know that you get it right. I think, on the field it’s rewarding, but also off it, to see where the league is now compared to 2013, it’s like night and day. And I think that the trajectory is only going up.”

When asked to elaborate on the wild nature of the NWSL, Harvey admitted that it wasn’t easy to capture in just one word or thought. Instead, she pointed to just how hard it was to beat any of the 10 teams in the league.

“What makes the league amazing is you can watch any game at any moment and any team can beat anybody. And that’s a very unique thing in the women’s game, to have such parity across every team. You pick up any game, any moment, and you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

In returning to the NWSL, Harvey also admitted that she’s excited for the part of coaching she loves the most: getting to see her players every day. Regarded as a true player’s coach during her Reign days, Harvey built a reputation as not just a tactically smart manager but as someone who took the time to empower each player and build a cohesive team environment. “In Harvey, We Trust” was the players’ motto during her time with the Reign.

“Just from a logistical process perspective, the day-to-day environment of being around the team is probably what I miss the most. That’s probably what I’m most excited about, just waking up every day and going out to the field and doing what I truly love to do, which is coaching — coaching soccer and coaching players.”

Banging the drum for female coaches

One particularly inspiring part of Harvey’s press conference focused on her views about getting more women in high-level coaching positions.

“Bill will probably know this, he’s known me a long time now, I didn’t necessarily used to be really openly vocal about this subject,” Harvey acknowledged. When she was with the Reign, where she was sometimes the only female coach in the league, Harvey did steer away from the topic when asked — sticking to points about the most qualified coaches getting the jobs.

Her experience over the years since leaving the Reign — and in particular her time as a mentor with the new U.S. Soccer mentorship program — changed her views on the subject.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with the mentorship program that U.S. Soccer has run over last year, and the two mentees that I had both work in the NWSL. Just from the conversations I’ve had with those guys and seeing the impact that those conversations can have on female coaches is ... opportunity is what it is. And I don’t want to be given an opportunity because I’m a woman, but I want to be able to say that someone who’s gone and got myself qualified, worked hard and gone out there to find any opportunity I can, can we try and reward those women by providing them with the opportunities at the highest level? Because if we don’t, then we’re never going to know if truly we could have female coaches working and moving through their pathway, wherever their pathway may be.”

“I’m going to be the biggest advocate banging the drum to get more female coaches involved in different levels at different environments all across. And whether it be in an academy, whether it be within our first team, just opportunity, get people out there so that they have the opportunity to decide what they want to be.”

There’s no rivalry like this rivalry

While Harvey is focused on the U.S. Women’s National Team and the Olympics for the next few weeks, and then will be taking a one-game-at-a-time approach with the Reign, there is one specific match that had her visibly excited during the press conference: that rivalry doubleheader at Lumen Field.

When asked about the doubleheader, Harvey immediately began to shift in her chair and rub her hands together with glee. “Yeah, pretty excited about that. I mean, there is no rivalry like this rivalry, and if I can elevate that rivalry, I’m all about it. Reign/Portland, Reign/Thorns, Timbers/Sounders. Yeah. If you’d have written a script of what I would love to do at some point, it would probably be up there.”

Returning to a very special place

When Harvey was asked in the press conference what it means to come back to this club — even if it looks a little different — she immediately focused on the ambition that has been there since Day 1.

“I said that from the moment that I got to the Reign to the moment that I left and still now will say it: it’s a very, very special place. I think what’s special about it is that everyone cares about the same thing. And the thing that everyone cares about is making this club and this team be the best version of what it can be on the field and off it every single day. And that’s what I believe in. I think if you do that, then you will end up getting to your accomplishment and your goal, which is what Bill [Predmore] wants and said before: being the best club in the world. And I think that all the steps that happen every day always have that mindset in the back of it, of how can we be the best club in the world?”

That ambition is why, according to Harvey, “players want to play for this team. That’s why staff want to be part of it. It’s why someone like Sam [Laity] has been here for nine years. It’s why I want to come back.”

But the hopes and dreams for OL Reign are even larger now with OL Groupe’s investment in the club. That’s even more intriguing for Harvey. “That the best women’s team in the world decided to jump on board and be a huge part of it and lead the ship only elevates the club even more. So the mixture of wanting to try and be the best club in the world, and that’s our ultimate aim, plus add in the best women’s club in the world ... recipe for success.”

Fans will have the chance to catch the return of Laura Harvey with the Reign in early August, where there are two home matches at Cheney Stadium before the doubleheader at Lumen Field. While the acoustics aren’t quite as favorable as Memorial Stadium, those in attendance will likely still be able to hear the new maestro directing her team — and occasionally yelling at the refs — from well across the field. It’s a sound we welcome with open arms.

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