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Nikki Stanton returns to OL Reign for 2023 season

Stanton, who grew up in nearby North Bend, stays home.

NWSL: North Carolina Courage at OL Reign Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

OL Reign announced on Friday that the club has re-signed midfielder Nikki Stanton through the 2023 NWSL season. Stanton was a free agent at the end of the 2022 season, thanks to the CBA signed ahead of last season. While the midfielder could have taken offers from anywhere, the North Bend native elected to stay home.

“I’m grateful to be back for another season in the Pacific Northwest! It makes me so happy to be able to play within this incredible team culture and in front of my family and friends,” Stanton said in a club press release.

Stanton earned four varsity letters at Mount Si High School in North Bend, leading the Wildcats to three state quarterfinal appearances and 46 wins. She finished her high school career with 26 goals and 34 assists. Her Crossfire Premier team also won five state titles and a Region IV Championship in 2006.

Stanton, 32, joined OL Reign ahead of the 2022 season in a trade with the Chicago Red Stars. She made a strong impact in her first year at Lumen Field — appearing in 13 regular-season games and scoring her first NWSL goal in the second minute of OL Reign’s Challenge Cup match against San Diego. The veteran midfielder also celebrated her 100th NWSL appearance last August.

“The culture here is everything that I’ve heard it is like,” Stanton said last year in a conversation with Ride of the Valkyries. “It’s just so special and it’s like something I’ve never experienced. What I really, really value is just having a really genuine, supportive group of people. And I think it stems from the people up top. And I’d heard incredible things about Laura. She’s literally the best. She’s so fun.”

A tenacious and athletic holding midfielder, Stanton was second in the league in tackles won per 90 minutes (3.6, according to FotMob) — earning a strong 76.2% tackle success rate. She also won 34 duels and had 10 interceptions in her 400 regular-season minutes.

It’s been a long and hard journey for Stanton before joining OL Reign. Some of those 100 NWSL matches came with battle scars and tears. The midfielder played under both Rory Dames and Christy Holly, two coaches who were frequently called out in the U.S. Soccer investigation around abuse in the league and the NWSL/NWSL Players Association joint investigation that became public in December 2022. In that joint investigative report, Stanton highlighted the abuse she experienced.

She said she felt “worthless” while playing for Dames in Chicago, highlighting a time when Dames called her into his office. With his two assistant coaches in the room, Dames told her one of the other coaches said she “had a really bad attitude” and was a “bad teammate.” When Stanton started crying, Dames told her, “Your response is making me feel better about the accusation.” The assistant coaches later told Stanton they never complained about her attitude. That is just one small example of the abuse and mistreatment she told the joint investigation team about.

Those comments stand in stark contrast to what Stanton’s past and present teammates and OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey have to say about the midfielder. “Nikki is a talented and experienced veteran who shows up every day with a positive attitude and a competitive spirit,” Harvey said in the club’s press release announcing her re-signing. “She’s a positive influence in our locker room, her ability to fit into the way we want to play has been a great addition to our roster and I’m excited for Nikki’s future.”

Stanton is finally home and in a place that values her. She’s ready for a second season at Lumen Field with her friends and family in the stands.

“The entire team heard how loud Lumen can get, and we’re ready to keep that energy going into 2023. See you all at Lumen!”

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