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OL Reign finally have the home they’ve shown they deserve

While the setting has changed, the Reign remain the same incredible team.

NWSL: Portland Thorns FC at OL Reign
OL Reign fans put their scarves up for their first game of 2022 at Lumen Field
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

If you have been to one soccer game, you have been to them all. If you have played in a soccer game, you have played in them all. Every game, eleven players line up on each side, then a ball is kicked around for 90+ minutes until the referee’s whistle blows. Players run their hearts out for 30 minutes until they are absolutely exhausted (or maybe that’s just me) and then rely on their endurance, conditioning, training, adrenaline and grit to make it through the rest of their time on the pitch. Someone kicks the ball hard, and it goes fast or far or high (sometimes all three). Someone does a fancy dribble around another, the crowd goes, “Ooohhhhh!” Someone scores, or doesn’t, or scores many more times, and the game is over and everyone goes home.

The rhythm and melody of “the beautiful game” is ingrained in those of us who like soccer. There is a flow that is recognizable and tangible and unique to the sport. The Zen of knowing the things each game will involve is palpable. One or the other team might have more possession, but not all of it. Strikers will drive hard at goal and try to create breakaway chances and score, defenders will step in and probably come within inches of hurting someone before miraculously winning the ball and stopping an attack, midfielders will make passes like the ball is an extension of their body, and referees will try and take over the game as they are destined to do.

This flow means that games are, to an extent, predictable. We have seen it all before. As the years wane on, games meld together in our memory until there is just one Soccer Game that we remember. In the one Soccer Game, you can see Clint Dempsey shoot, Hope Solo save, Jess Fishlock tackle and dribble out of danger, Mauro Rosales take the pass on the wing, Kim Little receive the ball in the center and drive toward goal, Jordan Morris make a run in behind the defense, Sofia Huerta take the drop-back and crossing to the center, Fredy Montero score off the volley.

If you have watched Puget Sound soccer these past 13 or so years, this one Soccer Game is familiar to you. You have seen these moments on TV, in person, online, maybe even in your dreams. Maybe the names and moments that come to your mind differ, and you envision Zakuani, Rapinoe, Marshall, Winters, Martins, or Kawasumi... The individual moments largely do not matter — it is still the Puget Sound Soccer Game in our mind. Sounders in Rave Green, or blue, or a rainbow of other colors; Reign in black and blue and yellow and then blue and white. Maybe you are involved enough to throw in some Husky purple or Redhawk red memories in there. But at the end of the day, the games are pretty much all the same.

Except, of course, the games are not all the same. Every game is unique and special and totally unexpected. While I may write that every game is the same and you might sit and nod to yourself and think, “yeah, he’s got a point, maybe an esoteric point, but I kind of get it,” I know you will all agree that every game is a totally different adventure. Who had “Sofia Huerta hits the shit out of a ball outside the 18 to split four defenders and beat the keeper” as the first goal of OL Reign’s 2022? I certainly did not, and you would be lying if you said you did. (Sofia, if you are reading this, you may have dreamed of a start to the season like this, but you cannot convince me you predicted it.)

Every game has unique moments that we recall and cherish forever. That Huerta goal will probably be one of them for me, though maybe Ally Watt throwing the ball with some sass to earn herself a dissent yellow after a questionable possession call will do it for you. Maybe the moment for you was first sip of a cold beer in your hand with drizzly rain falling from the gray Seattle sky as you cheered on the Reign in their first competitive game of 2022. These are the kinds of memories we hold on to as we move through life and recall the good times soccer brings us.

I know this has been a long and drawn-out windup, but the Reign deserve all the words we have for them. They have fought to survive through three prior homes, each with their own significant inadequacies, along with the dedicated fans who supported them along the way, to end up where they belong: under the bright lights of Lumen Field.

While last year’s “PNW Experience” double-header may have been seen by some as a sort of test run for how the Reign would be received at Lumen, it has been clear since the beginning that the Reign deserve the same kind of spotlight given to the Sounders since their move to MLS in 2009. The Reign deserve the same support in the stands, the same coverage in the media, the same facilities, and the same kind of salaries. The Reign have no lack of star power; Megan Rapinoe is arguably the most famous woman athlete in the U.S. and there is no shortage of current and future international stars on the team. They play exciting and tactical soccer and the front office and ownership has been good to fans.

Friday night was the fulfillment of over 10 years of work by the players, staff and ownership. The official attendance was 7,343. After the match, Huerta and Fishlock and Laura Harvey talked about how loud it was in the stadium, with Huerta mentioning it felt like many more Reign fans were cheering them on. Even though the fans were largely limited to one side of the stadium, that side was full of noise and excitement.

There is something about Lumen Field that feels different from other stadiums. Whether it is the location, the stadium’s overhanging roof design, or simply the people who show up for games there, it is undeniable that fans are louder in Lumen. It’s what helped the Seahawks set the Guiness World Record for crowd noise twice and what gives the Sounders one of the premier home field experiences in MLS. There is an electricity to games in Lumen, an electricity that crackled for the Reign’s 2-1 win over the Thorns on the field in front of 27,278 last year, and still hummed for about 20,000 fewer fans during last night’s 1-1 draw.

Harvey drew a comparison between Lumen and Memorial Field, where the Reign played for five years before moving south to Cheney Stadium. Lumen last night had a similar setup, with the large overhanging roof and almost all the fans to one side of the field. Though, as Harvey noted, Lumen is a slight upgrade from Memorial. Harvey’s Reign squads made Memorial a fortress, winning the NWSL Shield there in 2014 and 2015 and only barely falling short of the championship, losing in the title game both years. While the 2015 loss was on the road in Portland, the Reign were forced to host the 2014 championship at Starfire because of a conflict with Bumbershoot using Memorial for their main stage. While it’s hard to blame the loss on the different location, considering the Reign had played their entire season at Starfire the year earlier, games have been won and lost for lesser reasons.

Harvey said that, as she did ahead of last year’s game, she arrived early and sat on the pitch at Lumen. This time it felt like home to her — the signage throughout the stadium, the ad boards, and the benches made clear this was all for them. And indeed, the 7,343 seemed to be 99% loud and raucous Reign fans. The Royal Guard kept the stadium booming and the explosion at Huerta’s “cool” goal (in her words) seemed as loud as any Sounders goal, complete with the massive goalpost flamethrowers. And there is room for plenty more fans — “we always want more” as Harvey said. It will take some time to beat the double-header crowd for a standalone Reign match, but this game was still the third-highest attended standalone Reign match ever, and it will only take a few dozen more fans to jump to the top of that list. There is little doubt that weekend games and warmer summer months should bring a bigger crowd and a bigger home field advantage.

In that way, this Reign game was different than all those before. They are settling into their new home with a large crowd that is expected to grow even more. They had the electricity of Lumen and its bright lights in a setting that has typically been reserved just for men’s professional teams before. There is some growth to be had (e.g., a little better crowd rapport with the stadium announcer), but overall the new digs were a success.

At the same time, this was the same Reign game as all those before. As Fishlock said after the match, they had normal pregame jitters, but no feelings at all like they had to “prove” themselves worthy of calling Lumen their home. They have proven time and again that they belong, they are entertaining, they can draw crowds, and they are one of the most competitive sports teams in Seattle. There is no question that they deserve the biggest stage. If you have been following the Reign for years, especially the Reign under Harvey, last night’s game played out like many others. The Reign were calm in possession, made smart choices and accurate one-touch passes, and were organized in defense. They generally limited chances against and had some great looks of their own. Though the stadium was different, this was, by and large, the same Reign game you could have seen at any point in the past decade.

The only real difference now, in 2022, is that the Reign are where they belong. They are at home in Seattle.

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