TUKWILA — After giving the players a few days off, OL Reign was back at Starfire Sports on a sunny Tuesday afternoon to round out training before heading to Portland this weekend for the club’s final preseason games.
“Those two days off was a trigger for us to hit sort of the end of preseason,” head coach Laura Harvey said after training. “The Portland tournament’s always sort of the last thing that we do before things really start. We’re excited for that.”
The Reign will play the U.S. U-23 squad this Sunday, March 12, before matches on Wednesday against Racing Louisville and Saturday, March 18, against the Portland Thorns. Just as the squad did last year, Harvey will schedule normal training sessions in between each preseason game to raise fitness levels and see how the team reacts with tired legs. Last year, that resulted in some mental mistakes in the final match of the preseason tournament, but the team looked sharp in its opening Challenge Cup match a week later.
OL Reign play their first regular season match on Sunday, March 26, so those extra training sessions and matches will serve as vital preparation for the regular-season opener. That game will be on the road against the Washington Spirit. The match will be defender Emily Sonnett’s first time back at her former club after getting traded to the Reign in January. She helped the Spirit get to the 2022 Challenge Cup final and was a big part of their 2021 NWSL championship squad. Being back in the Pacific Northwest — Sonnett played in Portland from 2016-2019 — was a real positive for the new Reign addition, who admitted she is still trying to adjust back to West Coast time.
“Coming back to the Pacific Northwest, I loved it over in Portland. So West Coast time, trying to get back to that. But it’s been good. I’m excited to be here. The inclusion of how the group has accepted me — obviously knowing a few people, but getting to know the rest of the girls — has been really pleasant.”
In advance of their trip to Portland, the team welcomed a new face at preseason training. Attacking midfielder Jadyn Edwards joined the team and looked sharp on Tuesday, scoring a well-taken goal in a 6-v-6 session and looking comfortable in the team’s passing drills. Forwards Mariah Lee and McKenzie Weinert, who scored in the club’s match against Club América, are no longer on the club’s preseason roster. Both are from the region, and there’s still a good chance that either could be called upon as national team replacement players during the World Cup and other international breaks.
“At this stage of the season, we have to do things now — and then we have to think about the future and obviously with the World Cup coming,” Harvey said. “So I think for the guys that have been here throughout the predominant start of preseason, it’ll be good for us to give them a little breather before the season starts and then look to see what we need from them in that national team replacement period.”
Edwards, a University of New Mexico graduate who was drafted by Racing Louisville, entered the waiver wire when Louisville released her in mid-February. After no team claimed Edwards off waivers, her rights were essentially open for any NWSL club. Edwards is from Mill Creek, Washington, and trained with the Reign last season during her summer break, so Harvey thought it would be a good opportunity to bring her in and see where she’s at.
Edwards adds a good problem to a laundry list of good problems for Harvey this year. This team is deep in all positions on the field, and choosing a matchday squad is going to be really difficult. On top of that, Harvey has to figure out how to integrate Sonnett, a U.S. Women’s National Team defender, onto a defensive line that was the best in the league last year. The Reign head coach is up for the challenge, and excited about what that depth can mean during tough stretches this year.
“I think we have really good depth in the roster this year, and we’re gonna need it. I think we showed that last year. And just to add to that, I think is gonna be huge for us. I’m just excited for the possibilities of what it could look like. With the Challenge Cup being mixed in throughout the season, I think it gives us opportunities to give people time at different stages of the season — and then obviously in preparation for when everyone goes away to the World Cup, I think we have a really solid roster that can compete.”
Sonnett is also up for the challenge, and her versatility at fullback or centerback makes her enticing for any club.
“I think this team and the national team, both groups are very talented, so to be able to have that versatility, I think, can work in my favor if we’re playing a certain way on a certain day. With anything, it’s just being coachable.”
What has been the club’s longest preseason is now beginning to wind down, and as Harvey noted after training, “The Portland tournaments are always sort of that last little cherry on top to make sure that everyone’s on the same page, getting minutes against good opposition, where we can really evaluate where we’re at.”
- Harvey was asked how it felt knowing people could soon “coach” as her in FIFA 23, now that the NWSL is coming to the video game. Her response was perfect: “I didn’t even know that was a possibility. They better have a cooler.”
- Sonnett, who had already been in FIFA with the U.S. national team, admitted that she only plays occasionally on her Nintendo Switch. The defender noted how cool it was to see the NWSL jerseys and everyone posting them.
- In talking about her depth, especially on the backline, Harvey was asked if she considered any formation switches. The short answer is not really. The team knows how they want to play, but she’s excited about how flexible the team can be in different game states.
- All the national team players were back and in training. Midfielder Quinn did a number of passing drills with the team, but was working off to the side during 6-v-6 sessions. There was no update on their status for the preseason matches, but it didn’t look serious.