This is the last installment of the season in review, after the overviews of the first half and second half of the season and the first annual season awards, plus Jeremiah's bonus long-form piece on the Reign rebuild after season one. And this one's more of a preview than a review, as we look to the changes that will affect the team in the offseason heading into their second year.
The biggest changes from seasons one to two will be the results of the massive roster overhaul head coach and GM Laura Harvey has conducted over the offseason. If you've followed the team at all this winter you'll know that the Reign have been by far the most active team in the league, earning Harvey her own novelty website.. and earning the Reign what looks like a much more talented roster heading into year two. The overarching story of that series of moves is incremental improvement. None of the individual moves were necessarily lopsided (except maybe the deal for Sydney Leroux, who wanted to move closer to home), but it's a testament to Harvey's ability to relentlessly make small improvements that the net effect of all of them is that the 2014 team will be, at least on paper, substantially more talented than the 2013 team.
But that improvement comes at a cost if you were attached to the 2013 roster. By my count, 23 players appeared for the team in 2013 and of those somewhere between 9 and 11 are expected to suit up next season. More than 50% turnover is a pretty remarkable achievement, but it's an indication of how disappointed the team was with a second-to-last place finish in their first year. Now with Leroux leading the line in front of Scottish international Kim Little, we should expect Harvey to be able to implement her 4-3-3 with confidence and the team to substantially improve on their 22-goal total from last season.
The national team allocation is what sets NWSL apart from the failed US pro women's leagues of the past, and while it provides some financial stability, it also provides some headaches. It was easy enough (though not particularly well executed) to divvy up the subsidized players in the initial allocation, but with a dynamic pool of allocated players — as the American, Canadian, and Mexican federations adjust their player pools — and with expansion teams joining the league (including the Houston Dash this season) it's not at all clear how the system will work going forward.
One thing we do know is that if a player is no longer subsidized by a federation, it's up to the team to sign the player to keep them, which is what the Reign did to keep Keelin Winters.
The league has previously indicated that federation changes to their allocation list wouldn't force teams to get rid of players, which could be an issue for FC Kansas City, who at one point had 5 players likely to be on the subsidized list in 2014. But KC's decision to deal Mewis (who would have been one of those allocated players) to Seattle for A-Rod (who probably wouldn't) might have been a hint that the league was taking a harder line and trying to keep all of the teams around the target of 3 US players. And we have no indication of what will happen for the Dash's allocation. . whether they'll just get the next 3 available US players (and there are indications that Christen Press may be looking to join NWSL next season) or whether the league will try to make them whole by 'encouraging' teams with excess US allocated players to make moves.
And that's just the US allocation. The Canadian federation is in similar circumstances as they put together their national team going forward, and the Mexican federation is apparently less than pleased that the majority of their allocation got little playing time in the league and are looking to cut the number of players they subsidize.
For the Reign specifically, the net effect of their series of moves is that they should still be at 3 US players (Leroux, Hope Solo, and Megan Rapinoe), but with defender Stephanie Cox a possibility to become subsidized if she's part of the US World Cup squad. For their Canadians, they dealt Kaylyn Kyle and Emily Zurrer left for Europe. They added defender Carmelina Moscato, but are currently one Canadian short of the target of two. And from Mexico they still have Jenny Ruiz, but lost their other allocated player (who was at one time Teresa Noyola and then Renae Cuellar), though they do have the NWSL rights to Alina Garciamendez (and if you're a Reign fan, that's an addition you very much want to see happen). If the Mexican federation does indeed cut the number of subsidized players, then one plus the rights to another may end up being where the team stays.
The 2014 NWSL Draft will be conducted on January 17 — a day after the MLS draft. Draft picks have also been casualties of the team's overhaul, but the most important trade involving picks was made before Harvey was GM, when the team dealt its first round pick in this draft to Chicago for Winters before the 2013 season started. We know now that that would be the #2 overall pick. In retrospect, that's a pretty steep price to pay with player like Crystal Dunn and Maya Hayes likely to be taken at the top of the draft. Overall, the team would have had the 2nd, 12th, 20th, and 29th picks in the draft, after accounting for the league slotting the Dash into the pick order. But after 7 trades that involved picks, the team is now holding the 7th, 17th, and 29th.
That 7th overall keeps them barely in the first round and is likely the only pick to net a potential regular contributor. Given the current roster construction, the attack looks pretty deep and the biggest holes are in defense and at backup keeper. A GK backup for Solo should be available in the later rounds, so I'd expect that first pick to be used for help in defense. Some of the top defenders in the draft are Portland's Amanda Frisbie, UCF's Marissa Diggs, and FSU's Kassey Kallman. Kallman was just called up to U23 national team camp and both Kallman and Diggs made TDS's Best XI First Team this season, but if I was Mocking an NWSL draft I might pencil in Frisbie as a converted midfielder (like Kate Deines) who can handle the ball at her feet.
Odds and Ends
The 2013 kits were a rush job — given the short lead-in to the season — and used a standard
adidas Nike template. But I haven't heard any indication that there's a change planned for 2014. The team is obviously heavily focused on roster construction and building up the back office, so it's possible it's just too far down the priority list for next season. That would be unfortunate. The current kits are 'fine', but they're a little generic. The Red Stars kits are setting the standard in the league and a little bit of customization would go a long way.
The team has also apparently been busy working on the website, which was glaringly sparse in year one. They relied mostly on Facebook for official messaging, but that left them without the basics of even a roster page where fans could find pictures of the players. Given the feedback they've received, I'd expect a substantially improved site for 2014.
Otherwise there shouldn't be major changes. The team will still play at Starfire, which — despite some parking and traffic issues — is one of the best venues in the league. The season will kick off again in the second week of April and season tickets are still available, with the team offering a 25% discount to people who buy them before January 10. The full season schedule should be available around the end of January with single game tickets likely going on sale shortly afterwards.
Instead the major changes should be on the field, where the team expects a radically different 2014 — a season with a realistic shot at the playoffs, which would help integrate the Reign into the massive soccer support base in Seattle.