Projected Opening Day Lineup
The Seattle Reign gave general manager and head coach Laura Harvey a contract extension through the 2017 season in late August, a critical vote of confidence after a deeply disappointing first season in charge of the Pacific Northwest club. The Reign likely had designs on being one of the league’s glamour clubs upon its establishment but instead were a side that couldn’t defend, couldn’t score, and couldn’t extricate itself from the nether regions of the table when all was said and done. True, they weren’t that lucky with their allocations or injuries, losing Amy Rodriguez to maternity leave, Hope Solo through injury for half the year, and Megan Rapinoe to European club commitments, also for half the year. But the team built around the cadre of stars was exceedingly poor, though Harvey didn’t take over as GM until the middle of the season.
Harvey, newly in her dual roles with the club, tried to juggle her squad through trades and signings, but when all was said and done, she could only do so much to turn over a team that played with little in the way of a pulse for so long in 2013. Come the offseason though, Harvey was relentless in her pursuit of a revitalized squad, offloading a giant chunk of the squad, mainly through trades. There was a clear focus on bringing in offensive reinforcements, with Harvey perhaps as bored to tears as many neutrals were in watching the attack challenged Reign last season. The most notable piece was Sydney Leroux, but Harvey also brought in the likes of Kim Little, Nahomi Kawasumi, and Beverly Goebel to bolster the attacking ranks.
Fixing the defense? Well, the changes were less overt. Stephanie Cox will be here from the start after missing most of last season on maternity leave, while Amanda Frisbie and Kendall Fletcher also join up to add depth. But there’s not a star in sight, and some may wonder if Harvey’s done enough to fortify a rearguard that kept zero clean sheets last season. It’s a question that’ll have to be answered in the affirmative if Seattle is to challenge for honors this year.
Harvey entered the league last season with a massive reputation thanks to her work with Arsenal in England. She helped turn the club into the dominant power in English women’s football before making the move across the pond to lead the charge for the Reign. It was a trial by fire, and though Harvey couldn’t have anticipated many of the problems she faced as the season rolled on. The 0-9-1 start was distressing enough, even through the long line of injuries and absences. The 1-5-0 finish? More worrying, considering Harvey had Rapinoe and Solo in the lineup. With playoff hopes finished, it’s hard to come away without a feeling of the club having mailed it in late. The contract extension should erase questions of Harvey’s job security in the short-term, but given the aggressive moves in the offseason, another season near the foot of the table could prove unsurvivable for the Reign’s boss.
From rueing the lack of options in attack, Harvey instead finds herself needing to find the right balance with her weapons while also keeping her all-star cadre of attackers happy with their minutes. Harvey figures to be picking five from six when everyone’s available, with Sydney Leroux, Naho, Megan Rapinoe, Jessica Fishlock, Kim Little, and Beverly Goebel all battling for a spot in the first XI. Leroux looks likeliest to spearhead the formation, while Rapinoe and Naho figure to be on the wings, though which flank each will line up on is still in question. Fishlock and Little may be placed a little deeper to allow for their predatory runs into space down the center. Harvey will be hoping Fishlock doesn’t have to do quite as much defending this season from midfield.
Defensively, Keelin Winters will shield a back four that may actually be three-fourths of the unit that finished up as starters last season. Good thing? Bad thing? We’ll see in time, though it largely depends on Stephanie Cox returning to her prime form and Amanda Frisbie making the impact expected of her. If the defense can’t come good? It could be a roller coaster ride that ends earlier than hoped.