The off-season has been a bit of a whirlwind for the Seattle Reign. The team has been riddled with retirements, new signings, transfers, and injuries. Still, as they enter their fifth season in the NWSL, the Reign have the potential to be a contender in the postseason if they play their cards right.
Here’s a look at what the Reign has going for them leading into 2017:
Laura Harvey made two key changes to the roster in the off-season when she picked up defender Rebekah Stott and forward Larissa Crummer. Stott is a young defender who, at the age of 23, has already appeared for her New Zealand’s National Team 42 times, scoring three goals for the Ferns. Stott has been a key player in Melbourne City FC’s W-League dominance and could help re-build a backline that lost a big piece in Kendall Fletcher. With her pace, Seattle could have a strong defense once again.
As for Crummer, the Australian National Team forward is just 21 has earned herself 13 international caps, debuting for the Matildas in 2015 and grabbing two goals. Crummer also plays for Melbourne City, and won the W-League’s 2015 Golden Boot and was named the Young Player of the Year for that season. Crummer brings plenty of championship experience to her new team, having appeared in three W-League title games and winning two, including the most recent Grand Final in 2017.
These two have the potential to benefit Seattle in a big way, especially since they have already spent the last months playing with Jess Fishlock, Beverly Yanez, and Lauren Barnes in Australia. For those who may not follow the W-League, this past season City won the Championship with the aforementioned players providing a crucial role in their success. Even if their talents don’t match those of Kim Little, the convenience of having five of your players playing together for the same team in a competitive atmosphere during the off-season is sure to have a positive impact on their quest for success in 2017.
The Reign also brought Christine Nairn back to the Seattle area, and her presence on the pitch should help to soften the loss of Scottish international Kim Little. The return of the ex-Washington Spirit midfielder should be a special one, as a Nairn was not only the team’s first draft pick back in 2013, but she scored the Reign’s first-ever goal. Nairn, simply put, is a play-maker, and was a consistent player during her time with the Spirit scoring 16 goals between 2014 and 2016. Her play and leadership helped the Spirit to consecutive playoff appearances and last year’s first-ever trip to the Championship game.
The Reign also have Haley Kopmeyer finally being the team’s first choice at keeper this season to look forward to. Kopmeyer began her career at the Reign as the second-to-last player drafted overall in 2013. Since then, she has proven herself as a starting goalkeeper by not only becoming a league leader in wins and shut outs during Solo’s time away during the 2015 World Cup, but also making 41 saves in only 11 starts in the 2016 season. Now that she seems to be reaching her prime, it will be exciting to see her shine as a starter rather than in the shadows of the Hope Solo.
Another factor that I’m hoping can be correctly placed into the “good” category is the full return of Megan Rapinoe. If Rapinoe is back to her old self, the self that was one of the best and most creative wingers in the game, the Reign could be lethal this season. After seeing her for a brief ten minutes in the USA vs. Russia game, it’s clear that she’s been improving from last year, but for lack of time,t it’s still unclear if she’s in full form. Having Rapinoe back, especially with the loss of many key players, is going to be extremely critical for the Reign this season.
The Reign have lost more than a few impactful players since the end of the 2016 season. One of the biggest losses is that of midfielder Kim Little to her former Arsenal team at the end of last season. Little had been one of the most threatening players who has ever graced the pitch for the Reign. She appeared for the Reign 67 times, scoring 27 goals. Little was the league MVP and clinched the Golden Boot in 2014, and contributed to the Reign’s two-consecutive Shields in 2014 and 2015. Though Seattle has now gained Nairn, it’s hard to imagine someone being able to match what Little brought to the midfield.
Two players who felt indispensable to the team, Keelin Winters and Kendall Fletcher, also announced their retirement during the off season. Winters provided leadership in the strong Seattle midfield, a role that may now be left to Welsh National Team member Jess Fishlock, while Fletcher held down the backline. As Captain, Winters was considered the heart and soul of this club, playing solid in just about every game. She did all the little things right on the field, creating opportunities for her teammates or tracking back to win the ball. Winters’ hustle and her overall passion for the game was unmatched.
Meanwhile, Fletcher was the anchor of the defense, keeping it organized and steady. She even managed to get into the attack every now and then, contributing five goals while playing 66 times in the Reign kit. Fletch became a fan-favorite thanks in part to her goal-scoring celebration which was coined the Fletch-Flip. Both Winters and Fletcher will be heavily missed but will always be a part of the Reign family.
The last loss for the Reign, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise, is that of the long-time keeper and National Team member Hope Solo. The decorated goalkeeper was the prominent starter for Seattle over the last four years, appearing 54 times. Solo was vital in the turnaround of the 2014 season after a forgettable 2013 in which they went 5-14-3. She was instrumental in the Reign’s path to their two Shields and has always been one of the most recognized faces of the NWSL, and women’s soccer entirely.
One unexpected incident that has been the Reign in an extremely unfortunate position even before the season opens is the loss of Diana Matheson. Because how could it be a season for the Reign without a good old-fashioned ACL tear? Matheson, a Canadian international and member of the 2016 bronze medal team in Rio, was acquired from the Washington Spirit and holds the record for most goals scored there. I think it’s safe to say that her presence on the Reign would have game-changing for a team whose midfield has some holes. Especially since her former teammate, Christine Nairn had joined Seattle’s forces as well. For now, Matheson will continue to recover and hopefully join back up with the Reign at some point in the future.
For all the reasons above, I am giving the Reign the title of this season’s “Wild Card” team. Their potential for 2017 is pretty staggering, but a few mishaps have given us reason to not automatically count them in as a playoff team.
Regardless, it will be a treat to see what Laura Harvey can bring to the pitch for the 2017 season.
2017 Seattle Reign Roster
Goalkeepers (2): Haley Kopmeyer, Madalyn Schiffel
Defenders (7): Elli Reed, Merritt Mathias, Lauren Barnes, Rachel Corsie (INTL-SCO), Carson Pickett, Maddie Bauer, Rebekah Stott (INTL-NZL)
Midfielders (6): Christine Nairn, Lindsay Elston, Jessica Fishlock, Diana Matheson (FED-CAN, SEI), Kristen McNabb, Rumi Utsugi (INTL-JPN)
Forwards (6): Beverly Yanez, Kiersten Dallstream, Megan Rapinoe (FED-USA), Nahomi Kawasumi (INTL-JPN), Katie Johnson, Larissa Crummer (INTL-AUS, D45)