clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

OL Reign proud of unique journey to the NWSL semifinal

It’s been a year of ups and downs, and the Reign wouldn’t have it any other way.

NWSL: Orlando Pride at OL Reign Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

It could be easy for OL Reign to let the city’s buzzing energy get the best of them. The club is being embraced by Seattle more than any other moment in their 10-year history — with a flag on top of the Space Needle, the Great Wheel lit up in the club’s colors, roughly 20,000 tickets sold, and news coverage from virtually every major local news outlet.

But OL Reign knows that they are at their best when they treat each game like the last. It’s that one-game-at-a-time mentality that earned them the NWSL Shield and the top seed in the 2022 NWSL playoffs.

“It’s an old saying of, if you play the occasion, then you’ll end up not performing. So I think we’ve tried to keep everything very normal, keep the week as close to normal as we could, which I think is important,” OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said in a pre-match press conference on Saturday.

Of course, Harvey was quick to note that there’s a more immediate reward following Sunday’s NWSL semifinal at Lumen Field: a trip to the NWSL championship in Washington, D.C. At the same time, OL Reign’s last match of the regular season — also at Lumen Field — had just as much on the line. With a win in that game, the Reign could secure the NWSL Shield. They came out ready to meet the moment, going up 3-0 against the Orlando Pride in the first half and coasting to victory in the final 45 minutes.

It was an easy win, but not all of OL Reign’s 11 wins in the regular season came with such ease. Some were come-from-behind victories. Others were 1-0 slogs. Some were blowouts. With every win, however, the Reign found success because they focused on themselves — not what the other team was doing.

That will be true again on Sunday, October 23, when OL Reign kick off against the Kansas City Current in their NWSL semifinal match.

“We’ve been saying all week, it’s about us and what we do. It’s not necessarily about what they do,” OL Reign forward Bethany Balcer said. “There’s this focus that has turned toward the product. We know we can put out on the field, and obviously playing at home amplifies that.”

Harvey echoed Balcer, noting that the team is focused more on trying to prevent the Current from doing certain things instead of talking about what they think Kansas City will do on Sunday. And the team knows what to expect from the Current when they step on the field: a gritty team that makes it as hard as possible for their opponent to build into a game. On the defensive end, the Reign will be ready for Kansas City’s quick forward passes to their front line. Offensively, the home side will be looking for those little holes the Current backline gives them — but they don’t expect many.

“I went and watched the game last week in Houston, and felt the same [about KC]. They’re a team that is really solid defensively, make it really difficult for you to score goals.” Harvey said. “Obviously, we’ve played them twice and only scored one, so I think that’s a reflection of that.”

It’s been a while since these two sides have met, which makes this matchup even more intriguing. The last time OL Reign faced Kansas City was on the road in July, and the Reign were missing several international players. That match was a 1-0 loss for OL Reign, but this Reign side looks and acts a lot different today. The team is riding a seven-match unbeaten streak and has scored 10 goals in their last five matches. They credit their last loss — their only home loss of the season — for their mentality switch and late-season surge. Indeed, this is a group of players that appear to be finding their rhythm at the right time.

This also is a team that has been through a lot. Scheduling challenges saw them playing multiple games in a week to begin and end the season, with lots of travel in between. Scoring droughts early in the year meant the Reign had to climb the ladder in the final months of the season just to qualify for the playoffs. There was a period in the middle where the team was playing well, but giving up bad goals on silly giveaways. But when it mattered, as the team closed out the regular season, they rose to the occasion.

“We’ve known for, I don’t know two months maybe, that every game we played matters, and every game we were going into was a real indicator of where our season may end up. And that mentality honestly is why we can act normal [tomorrow],” Harvey said.

There have been frustrating moments for this club — games they should have won, goals they should have scored, and a Challenge Cup final they barely missed. Because of that, OL Reign flew under the radar a bit in their journey to the NWSL Shield. That doesn’t bother Harvey at all, because she’s loved this team’s journey.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a team with the club where I feel like every person has had a moment throughout the year that we’ll all remember,” Harvey said, before listing off a few of those moments.

Rookie Olivia Van der Jagt’s last-second game-winner in the Challenge Cup. Tobin Heath giving them the road victory against Angel City after going down two goals. Rookie Olivia Athens scoring in her first start, and doing it against Portland. Sam Hiatt and Nikki Stanton, who both grew up in the region, scoring their first NWSL goals in the same match. Tziarra King earning MVP in the Women’s Cup. Every player has had that moment. That all this happened — and OL Reign won the NWSL Shield — while Harvey started 21 different lineups in 22 regular-season matches ... that’s a sign of a team united by a larger goal.

“It’s been this story of a true team throughout the whole year — whether it be goals scored, saves, great plays. All these little narratives throughout the year that I think have created this special little group. To me, that’s what got us where we are,” Harvey added.

Perhaps that’s why OL Reign didn’t have a single player nominated for NWSL MVP this season, a first in the league’s history for the NWSL Shield-winning team. They’re the sum of their parts, not individual talents — although there is still plenty of that.

Anything can happen on Sunday, but OL Reign head into their semifinal against the Kansas City Current with a united front and a sense that their team journey isn’t over quite yet.

Injury / Availability Report

OL Reign

OUT: Angelina (SEI - right knee), Tobin Heath (SEI - left knee), Sinclaire Miramontez (SEI - right foot), Jodi Ulkekul (SEI - right knee)

KC Current

OUT: Jaycie Johnson (right leg), Claire Lavogez (right leg), Sam Mewis (SEI- right leg), Mallory Weber (SEI- right leg), Lynn Williams (SEI- right leg)

How to Watch

OL Reign kicks off against the Kansas City Current at 4:30 PM PT on Sunday, October 23. The match will be held at Lumen Field and airs on CBS Sports Network for fans in the U.S. (Note: this match will not stream simultaneously on Paramount+).

International viewers can watch the game on the streaming platform Twitch (Search NWSLOfficial).

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Sounder At Heart Weekly Roundup newsletter!

A twice weekly roundup of Seattle Sounders and OL Reign news from Sounder at Heart