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April 12, 2014 at 12:15 PM

A chat with Reign FC coach Laura Harvey: ‘We have a roster that people will talk about.’

Reign FC’s season opener is just around the corner as the team is set to host the Boston Breakers at 4 p.m. Sunday at its new home, Memorial Stadium at the Seattle Center. I had a chance to catch up with Laura Harvey, coach and general manager, after Friday’s practice, and here is a transcript of our 10-minute chat:

*     *     *

(When you sat down and reflected at the end of last season, what were the main things you wanted to take from Year 1 and improve upon in Year 2?) “I think we established a good style of play toward the back end of the season and we became a team that people didn’t want to play against, but it took us too long to establish that. So we then looked at, ‘What do we need to keep that style of play going?’ I think part of that was recruiting players to fit that style of play, and I think we’ve done that. I think that’s the exciting thing for us this season is, from my perspective and I think definitely from (owner Bill Predmore’s) perspective, we worked really hard in the offseason to make that happen. Fingers crossed, no disasters in the next few days … everyone’s going to be fit and healthy and ready to go for the game. That’s the No. 1 factor, I think, in this league: keeping fit and healthy, and let’s try and get the best 11 out of the 20 that we’ve got, which is a strong 20, to beat whatever opposition is in front of us. That’s definitely our mindset.”

(I think everyone leaguewide has noticed the strength of this roster. Has the team or have you picked up on expectations now on your team to be one of the league’s best?) “A little bit. I think within the group we’re still quite grounded. We’ve just spoken about being hard to beat all preseason, because it’s great having the exciting, attacking talent we’ve brought in, but the reality is we didn’t keep a clean sheet last year. If you don’t do that, you make it hard for yourself. So a big focus of preseason is being hard to beat, and we’ve got to make sure we do that going forward. That’s going to be a big part of our season. It’s been a big part of our preseason. We’ve got to make sure we do that.”

(How do you feel the organization as a whole is on better footing going into Year 2?) “Well, we’ve got two people (on the team staff) next to me who weren’t here last year. Our staff has grown. We’ve got good people in the positions we’ve needed to make this a more marketable club going forward. I think that was a big part of it. I think we got the behind-the-scenes things ironed out last year, but we had to make sure we got expertise in areas that are not mine and Bill’s expertise. We’ve had to make sure we’ve done that, and I think we have. We now need to put it all together and push it forward. We’ve made some big decisions in the offseason, one of which is moving to Memorial Stadium, and there has been a lot of work that has gone into that. It’s probably taken up a lot of people’s time, but we think it’s worthwhile. That’s been a crucial part of that, and we’ve moved our office — we’ve done a lot of things behind the scenes to make the organization run more smoothly. Ultimately, it’s all about making sure we provide a platform for the players to perform and provide a platform for the fans to be excited. It probably doesn’t get much better than this.”

(The reality is you were far from full strength at the start of last year and it made it difficult. How refreshing is it, knock on wood, that you’ll be at relatively full strength to start this year?) “It’s huge. It makes my job more difficult because I have a team to pick. It’s huge. I think the experience and talent of the players we had missing last year was a huge factor, which I definitely didn’t take to heart before the season started. Obviously when we got into it, without those experienced and talented players from the national team, it made our job 10 times harder. When they came in, our jobs became a lot easier. To have that and to have extended that further by getting (Sydney Leroux) in, and (Stephanie Cox) now becoming an allocated player, and a lot of the players we’ve brought in, I think we have a roster that people will talk about. I’ve said it before, you don’t win anything on paper, so have to make sure that we put all that talent that we have on paper onto the field. If we do that, I think we have a chance to be competitive, for sure.”

(You were allocated a U.S. forward last year in Amy Rodriguez who couldn’t play as she started a family. Is there a certain confidence you get as a coach knowing you have one of the best forwards in the world in Leroux, especially as that position was a huge question mark last year?) “Yeah, it’s huge. And I think the way our formation is, we’ve not gone from getting one forward, we’ve gone from getting four. With adding Syd to that, adding Bev Goebel to that, adding (Nahomi) Kawasumi to that, adding Megan Rapinoe, on a goal-scoring front, adding Kim Little to that — I always forget to talk about her — we’ve got options to score goals. We just have to provide them with the opportunity.”

(Do you get any sense of pride seeing a Leroux goal set up by Rapinoe with the national team Thursday?) “I just get jealous that it’s not in our kit. … I watched last night, and I have to be honest, I’m a little too selfish. I sit there just praying that they come off not hurt. When the sub board goes up and it’s not them, I’m cursing. (laughs) … No, I’m pleased for them. It can only benefit both parties if both players are in form and work together. It’s obviously beneficial for the national team, and I think if they can convert that to here, then it’s exciting for sure.”

(We see the club-and-country dynamic with the Sounders and them losing players throughout the year. How much is that just something you’ll have to manage, as well?) “It is. I think the thing is you have to be realistic. The women’s national team is such a high-profile team, probably bigger than any club or professional team or national team in the world. There is a lot of demand on them and a lot of people want to see them play. They create a lot of revenue, and without that revenue, this league probably wouldn’t exist. I think it’s a double-edged sword, but that’s the reason people want to come out and watch us play, too. We have to make sure that we manage them properly off the field in terms of recovery and making sure they’re fit and healthy and all that, but one of them was watching practice a bit today [Ed note: It was Hope Solo] and that just shows you how committed they are — that even though they got off a plane having played 90 minutes before, they want to come down and say hello. Massive testament to the type of characters we have, too.”

(Do you think any dynamic in the league will change with the USWNT amid a coaching change? Will some players on the bubble will think that window is open again?) “I think that’s always the case when a new coach comes into any team, especially the national team. It’s sort of a clean sheet. For those who have been there and done it, they have to do it again. For the ones who maybe haven’t had the opportunity before, it might be a chance for them to show what they’re made of. There is probably no better environment than this league. For me as a coach, it’s always sad when somebody loses their job. From a player’s perspective, I’m sure the ones who have worked with Tom are disappointed, but the ones who really want that extra shot for an opportunity with the national team I’m sure will have that extra edge about them and want to prove themselves in this league.”

(A lot of fans and readers will want to know if the USWNT players will be available Sunday. Does that fall in line with your first answer, where fingers crossed, if everyone gets back from their flights OK, they’ll be ready to go?) “That is exactly the answer. Yes, as it stands, they are all available. I’ve just seen Hope from 60, 70 yards, so I’m guessing she’s OK. I haven’t spoken with the other ones, but I know they came off the pitch unhurt.”

(So 55 minutes for Rapinoe and 75 minutes for Leroux aren’t a concern?) “No, not really. Maybe toward the end of the game. But we’ve got some talent here, so whatever front four we look at, we’ve got a fifth one who won’t be playing who can come on and probably change the game. That’s an exciting thing to have, for sure.”

(Lastly, at the start of last year there was a sense of the unknown as a brand-new team. Is that still the case this year with all the changes?) “I think every coach who goes into a new season, from your own perspective as you have new players, you just wonder, ‘How are they going to feel in that environment?’ I think, especially from the opposition’s point of view, Boston has a new coach, they’ve got new players — how are they going to be? You can look at last year, but can you take too much from that? I think first games are always hard to judge where it’s going to go. For us, as I’ve said to the players, we just have to take care of ourselves. I think if perform well and we’re hard to beat, I think anybody who faces us will have a tough game.”

| More in Reign FC, Stop and chats, USWNT

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