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OL Reign roundtable: Previewing the 2023 season

The gang got together to talk about the Reign.

MikeRussellFoto / Sounder at Heart

It’s finally here. OL Reign kick off the 2023 season on the road against the Washington Spirit on Sunday, March 26. The reigning NWSL Shield winners will be looking to repeat their strong regular-season performance while also keeping their eyes on the ultimate prize: to win their first NWSL championship trophy.

We’re all pretty hyped for the NWSL season to begin, so we got together for a fun little roundtable chat. Enjoy!

The OL Reign 2023 season kicks off on Sunday! How are you feeling about the Reign heading into the season?

Sylvia Bullock: I feel like we have a very strong squad with many returning players from our Shield-winning side. I love the addition of Elyse Bennett and think she is the goal scorer we need. I am interested to see exactly what the plan is for Emily Sonnett because she wasn’t a need in my opinion. But, I trust Laura Harvey, so I will let her cook on this one.

Jacob Cristobal: Longest preseason, yet it feels too short.

Steve Voght: Nervous excitement — we’ve got the same incredible core that won the Shield last year, added a couple of contributors to fill a few gaps, and all around look solid in the little bit of preseason we’ve been able to see. But everyone in the league looks to have gotten a lot better, at least on paper, so these first few weeks are going to be interesting to shake out the contenders from the pretenders.

Susie Rantz: I agree with all of you. Laura Harvey has said she feels like this is her deepest roster. I really love how many young players we brought on last year who now look ready to make a bigger contribution. And to have so many great players return — a mix of young and veteran — is a real plus.

June/Ash Eden: Reign are number one, Reign going all the way this year! No, for real, this is an extremely strong squad that just won the Shield, and has WILD depth at key positions in a year when everybody’s gonna be missing starters more than they necessarily want to think about. This might actually be our year to finally win the... terrible, weird little trophy that passes for a Cup. We’re not the only strong side, but I think that depth is gonna keep us in contention for the Shield when some of our rivals are falling off, and I think the strength of the core is more than enough to challenge for the championship.

Andrew Tingkang: The Reign have a Supporters Shield-winning roster (with the core returning), will have a full season of Jordyn Huitema and a hopefully fully healthy Angelina (soon?). The Reign will be hit hard with absences for the Women’s World Cup in all likelihood, but there were a lot of great young players and rookies that emerged last year to contribute as well. I am very excited.

Susie: Angelina was doing passing drills with the team in warmups before their last preseason match! That’s a good sign for her recovery.

Jacob: Can this squad finally win the NWSL Championship so we can all know peace, please?

Susie: The $1 million question, Jacob.

Sylvia: I will give up a few valuable things to finally win a championship.

Some of you have sort of alluded to this already. Lots of teams made big offseason moves. The Reign were a little quieter, but still brought on Emily Sonnett, Elyse Bennett and Luany. Do you wish they had done more or do you like their offseason approach?

June/Ash: Luaaaaaaany!

Susie: Luany’s highlights are so freaking fun. I love that investment and hope her visa gets approved soon!

Sylvia: She’s going to be a lot of fun in my opinion.

Steve: I’m annoyed that rosters got smaller with the new CBA, because I feel like they could have kept their two draft picks as full-time signings with a couple more spots. But when you consider the question of who they’d need to give up to be able to add someone else… any new player would have to be a massive name.

Jacob: On one hand you have an under-the-radar move in bringing in Elyse Bennett literally the day before the draft. And then you go on the other end of the scale and bring in chaos, yet inexplicably winning Emily Sonnett. The duality of Laura Harvey.

Dave Clark: Reign didn’t need to make big moves. Bad teams make big moves. Shield winners make small moves to fix a spot or two.

Sylvia: I think most of the time bad teams make big moves. KC made the final and then got Debinha, lol. But I definitely understand what you’re saying.

Sylvia: I don’t think we needed to do a lot, just to get more depth. I think Bennett helps that attack a lot, and she will be here during the World Cup. I think the Challenge Cup will be her stage honestly. We needed depth more than anything and we have that.

June/Ash: I think the Reign had less need to make splashy moves than most teams. Good core, motivated veterans, The Youths finding their form, extremely good depth players who are gonna have a real shot at minutes. Adding Sonnett, Bennett, and Luany are all potentially high-value moves, too, from my perspective.

I’m in agreement with Steve, though, smaller rosters is a step backward.

Susie: Having Lu Barnes and Megan Rapinoe return shouldn’t be discounted either. They really are leaders for this squad, and even Harvey said they were the biggest signings for her.

Andrew: The Reign were already loaded last year, we saw that when they traded Ally Watt as there just wasn’t enough playing time to go around. I think what will be key this year is more about health than necessarily shiny new additions (though the moves they made should find a lot of important playing time).

Dave: I’m a bit worried about the depth during the World Cup. That was rough in 2019 and I think it will be tougher this year.

Sylvia: I think we’re a bit more prepared. We keep Balcer, Fishlock, Barnes, Hiatt, Bennett, and we have good vets on the team. Most importantly, unless something changes in USSF, we keep Phallon.

Susie: Yeah. Fortunately, we won’t lose those players for as many regular-season games this year. Really pleased with how they planned the Challenge Cup around the World Cup.

June/Ash: And the Sonnett move makes a ton of sense if we think she’s marginal to make the USWNT, and think she can cover as both a CB and a 6.

Sylvia: Oh, Sonnett goes.

Jacob: Yeah, Laura said what, 6 games (three regular season, three Challenge Cup)? Compared to like 10 games in 2019 where teams didn’t have their World Cup players.

Susie: Yeah, it seems likely to be 6 games, with the possibility of a few more if a team makes it to the World Cup final, which is understandable. But nowhere near as bad as previous years.

Speaking of the World Cup ... Every team is going to have to rely on depth this year with the World Cup happening during the season. Which players are you expecting to have breakout seasons for the Reign?

Steve: I think the double Bs up top of Bennett and Balcer are going to feast during the World Cup, they’ll be in rhythm and facing depleted opponents.

June/Ash: My eye’s on Tziarra King and Phoebe McClernon. King’s already pretty great, but I think she’s poised to have a real stepping-it-the-heck-up sort of season, and I love what we’ve seen from her so far in preseason. And I think Phoebe McClernon’s going to thrive with a chance to really show what she’s got.

Sylvia: I was really impressed with Olo [Olivia Van der Jagt] last year and only think a year of experience will make her better. She’s going to have to grow up in that 6 role while Quinn is away, but I think she can handle it. Obviously, as someone who watched Elyse Bennett play in college, I think she’s poised to have a breakout season. She will get a lot of playing time no matter what in my opinion. I don’t think we made that move not to play her. It can also spell Rapinoe, who I don’t think plays a ton of 90-minute matches this season.

Jacob: Olivia Athens sleeper hit. And I’m not just saying that because she has my Zidane DVD (I want it back, Athens!)

Susie: Bennett brings something that no other attacker brings, and if Harvey can truly unlock her in the Reign press, look out, league. Athens is one for me also! I just said it in an article, but she reminds me of Dzsenifer Marozsán with her movement, touch, and vision.

Sylvia: And Laura Harvey has been a whisperer lately. What she’s done for Huerta and Lavelle, I think she can do for Bennett.

Andrew: I’d like to see King take on a leadership role. We’ve seen how talented and dangerous she can be at times, but the final product has not been consistent. Hopefully, she takes a step forward, especially during other absences.

June/Ash: I for one cannot wait to see it.

Steve: Speaking of Harvey being a whisperer, we might get an extended run out of Veronica Latsko at fullback during the World Cup! She’s shown some promise there in limited minutes so far.

Susie: Yeah, it’s nice to feel like the team has some really solid depth at right back. I have been impressed by Ryanne Brown this preseason, too. Now we have plenty of options there!

Sylvia: Laura is the only coach I trust to convert pro strikers to fullbacks.

June/Ash: I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Latsko, and she brings some real pressure and perpetual energy at FB. It sparks joy.

Steve: That brings up another point, while the team technically only added three new players, getting Brown and Alyssa Malonson back from loans is almost like two more signings.

Sylvia: That loan spell will prove huge I think.

Susie: True, true.

If you had to guess, who do you think is going to be the team’s top goal scorer this year?

Dave: Huitema.

June/Ash: #GoldenBoats2k23

Sylvia: I think it’s Bennett. I want to say Huitema, but she’ll be gone.

June/Ash: Yeah. I’m real high on Huitema but she’s definitely gonna miss time.

Steve: I think Balcer’s going to take the title because she’s going to get the most minutes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rapinoe scores eight in only a dozen games.

Jacob: Balcer.

Susie: I will be ever-so-happy if the Reign simply put more balls in the net, frankly. And if there’s some real variety in goal-scorers.

Sylvia: I think my dark horse is Rose, but again, she will miss so much time and she’s so important to the WNT that she may need the extra rest. She’s going to be worked a lot this year.

Jacob: The real answer will be Alana Cook.

Susie: The right answer.

June/Ash: Target Forward Alana Cook laying down the law.

Sylvia: Alana Cook doing her best Millie Bright. I am here for it.

Susie: I’d love to see King challenge for top goal-scorer this year and I have faith that she can.

Andrew: I hope it is Huitema, she’s had a full offseason with the team (and firmly entrenched in Seattle’s sporting pantheon), and if she is the leading scorer that should bode very well for the Reign.

Sylvia: Maybe not being the main target will be good for Huitema. I think less pressure is better for her.

Jacob: Agreed.

Andrew: She seemed like she was forcing it at times last season, that could be the pressure you’re talking about. I’d hope with more time and understanding with the team, she’ll find the right spots more naturally this year.

Susie: Exactly. Not having to be the hero, but just taking advantage and pouncing when the moments come.

Sylvia: It was the same for her at PSG. Obviously, PSG has many other issues, but she reminds me of Mal Swanson a bit. The weight of expectations can get to a player that young, particularly with her talent.

OK, final question here. What is your big hope for the club this year? This one could be obvious ...

Sylvia: TREBLE!!!

June/Ash: TREBLE!

Andrew: Treble.

Jacob: Win the NWSL Championship. Players listen to/stream TWICE and tell fans to listen to/stream TWICE.

Susie: Personally, on top of the very obvious answer, I want to see attendance really grow at Lumen. The atmosphere at the semifinal was incredible! I want more of that for the whole season.

Sylvia: I would love a treble, but I just want the ‘ship. We’ve had almost everything else, I want a league trophy. I think if we make it to a semi-final, I’ll stay home. I think I’m the problem.

Steve: Yes, I hope the team’s investment in marketing pays off well. Season ticket sales are up big league-wide, and that’s even before any potential World Cup bounce, and this team deserves big crowds.

Susie: Absolutely need a championship for the whole team but the OGs in particular.

Andrew: Agree about attendance. I think making Lumen one of the best environments in the league would be a great thing to take part in. Fortunately, that’s one area where we can directly help.

Steve: In some ways, I’m glad their first home game isn’t until after the international break, it’s a chance for casual fans to see USWNT stars on TV and be reminded that a bunch of them play here.

June/Ash: I want everything. I want to go 22-0-0, win everything, double our attendance, and send off our OGs on the sort of high that nobody would believe was real if you made a movie about it.

...but I’ll settle for a merely great season ending with a championship.

Susie: Operation: ALL THE THINGS has now launched.

June/Ash: It’s that beautiful moment before first kick when the math is undeniable and we’re gonna have a perfect season.

Steve: And I want to hear about a Concacaf Women’s Champions League launching next year that we’ve earned a spot in.

OL Reign kicks off against the Washington Spirit on Sunday, March 26, at 1 PM PT. The game will air on FOX 13+ locally and will stream on Paramount+ (US) and at (International).

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