UPDATE 8:22 p.m. — Here is our game story.
UPDATE 5:23 p.m. — Reign FC earned a 1-1 road tie Sunday in Chicago, getting an early goal from rookie Christine Nairn. Seattle next plays at Portland on April 21.
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It’s game day for Reign FC, the first time for the brand-new team in the brand-new National Women’s Soccer League.
Seattle’s is on the road for a 3 p.m. game against the Chicago Red Stars at Benedictine University Sports Complex. There is expected to be a live stream available on the team website (and above).
In a few team notes, two forwards will be unavailable for the Reign. Tiffany Cameron, a Canadian international who signed as a free agent, is completing her studies at Ohio State University. Lindsay Taylor traveled with the team, but is recovering from an eye injury suffered in training. She is expected to be back for an April 21 game at Portland.
Another note to consider is Seattle midfielder Keelin Winters was acquired in a preseason trade with Chicago.
After the jump is lots of season preview material from GM/coach Laura Harvey from media day last week.
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LAURA HARVEY, GM and head coach
(At what point do you think you get a sense for the quality of the team?) “I think it’s hard to say exactly how you’re going to end up at the end of things now. Obviously we haven’t played anyone in the same league as us. But I think in terms of what we’ve got, what we’re good at, and what we think we need to keep improving on: We’ve got a good idea of that. The Japan trip was massive for that because we played against one of the best – if not the best – club teams in the word in (INAC Kobe Leonessa). And after only four training sessions when we played them, it was a really useful exercise for us, to see what the players were about without having coached them. We (had them) for four sessions, hardly time to instill exactly what we want. But then obviously after the INAC game (a 2-0 loss) it became a lot easier to see the things we’re good at, these are things we might need to improve on, and we managed to do that throughout the time in Japan and since then through the preseason. It’s been a really useful month or so to lead into what hopefully will be an exciting season.”
(What would you categorize as the strengths of this team and some areas you need to improve on?) “I think first things first: We are a team. We’ve got areas of the field that we think we’re very dominant in. I think we’ve got a very good experienced midfield unit, proven international players, played at the highest level before. We’ve got a good strong back line. Obviously the injury to Hope is disappointing, but we’ve manged to build a squad around that, to make sure that the back line is something that we can prioritize to be as strong as it possibly can be for when she’s back. And then the front line’s been something that we’re working on. Goal-scorers are probably the hardest thing to find in soccer, and we’ve just got to try and get the right fit and get the right players in the right positions. We feel we’re pretty much there, especially for the first game.”
(With the history of women’s pro soccer, can you worry about playing beautiful soccer or do you have to play to win by whatever means necessary?) “I think the reality for the league is as a group of clubs it’s our responsibility to make it sustainable. And you can’t deny that having a product on the field helps that. If the product on the field is exciting to watch, you win; I think that helps your franchise be successful. But ultimately one franchise isn’t going to keep the league sustainable, so it’s important that both on and off the field collectively as a league we work together to make that right because we have to learn from what’s happened in the past. I’ve been fortunate to be involved in leagues that are successful; fortunate enough to be involved in a club that’s be successful on the field but also off it for a number of years. And I think from our franchise’s point of view, that’s a massive positive in terms of us moving forward, and hopefully we can help make this league as sustainable as possible for the future.”
(Do you know much about Chicago?) “We’ve managed to get a little bit of footage on them. To be honest, because they’re a team that’s been around for a while you get to know traits about them. They’re a new team the same as anyone else, but there will be traits that they’ve kept as a team throughout the number of years that they’ve been together. Obviously the allocation process has meant that they haven’t got a proven international goal-scorer in their ranks either, but I think they’ll be maybe a similar team to us: hard to beat, hard working, a collective group. And I think it will be a pretty exciting game, because when you have that mix of two teams playing against each other, the games tend to be nice and open and really competitive. That’s exactly what I think Sunday will be.”
(As a coach and GM, do you have a sense of the talent around league?) “I’ve said this before: Back home in England you’re dealing with a puddle of players. There aren’t many to choose from. Over here, it is huge. I’ve worked really hard personally to make sure I get to grips with how everything works with the draft systems and all that. The reason why the States have been such a dominant force for how long is girls want to play soccer. And we’ve got to not only make the generation now want to play it and be the best that they can be at it, but we’ve got to inspire the next generation to be as good as they possibly can be. We’ve got a responsibility for that on and off the field.”
(Outside of Solo and Rapinoe, who are some of the players who will lead this season?) “People know who (Solo and Rapinoe) are because what they’ve done on the field. That’s something you can’t take away from them. When we get them back on the field, that’s going to be a massive boost to our team. But I think the girls who people maybe don’t know too much about at this minute are going to be the ones who surprise people. We’ve got some great talent. Christine Nairn, our first college draft pick has come in and she’s exactly the type of player I like to work with: very technical, good on the ball, exciting, sees passes that other players don’t see, and wants to be better and wants to learn. And Jess Fishlock, who I brought over from Britain, I think will probably be one player who people look around and say, ‘We can understand why she got brought over.’ The country that she’s from (Wales) means internationally she hasn’t gotten a lot of recognition, but we like it that way. We want people to be surprised about what we’re going to do on the field. I think just to name two of them would be wrong of me because I think a lot of our players are going to surprise people. We’ve got a lot of players who in the WPS maybe didn’t do as well as what they would have liked to do, and they’ve spent their last 12-18 months working on their game, and they’ve come back and they look like completely different players. And I think that in itself has been another reason why this league is important, because players who were in the WPS were so disappointed it left that they either left the sport or worked really hard, and the ones who worked really hard are getting their chance again.”
(What has it been like coming from Arsenal Ladies, a club with so much tradition, to one that’s brand new?) “It’s actually been a bit of a blessing, really. The previous organization there’s a lot of tradition, there’s a lot of things that have always worked, and they’ve always been done in a certain way, and sometimes that’s hard to change. Whereas here, everything is new — from the players on the field to the front office staff. We’re evolving all the time. It means that we’re able to stamp our authority, whatever that may be, both players, staff, behind the scenes, on what we want this organization to look like. I think if there’s been past experiences, negative and positive, sometimes when new staff comes in to try and change that into what you ideally want, it’s a little bit harder. So I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a great ride so far and we’re really looking forward to Sunday.”
(How much are you a coach that tries to instill your style of play to your team or adapts a style of play to the talents of your players?) “A bit of both, really. We’ve got some talented players who potentially are going to play in positions that they might not have players before. We’ve got players who have loads of experience in playing in one type of system or another, but I think the big thing for me as a coach is they’ve got to have some ownership over what they want to do. And I can’t speak for them, but I think that’s something that we’ve tried to instill in the environment that we’re creating. It doesn’t matter what we do as coaches, when they cross the white line, it’s pretty much down to these lot what happens on Sunday. We can prepare them the best we can, but they’ve got to believe in it. I think if you don’t get players believing in what ultimately you want to see at the end of the it, then sometimes the result isn’t exactly what you want. That’s pretty much my philosophy. Yeah, there will be players playing in positions that might not have been in before, but as long as they believe in what we’re doing, then we’ll be OK.”
(How much to players snicker when your English vernacular comes out?) “They haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about. They have no idea what I say half the time. We have like a Rosetta Stone to use on a daily basis. (laughs) … It’s just constant.”