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Reign stayed the course in 2013, now reap rewards

Laura Harvey stayed on as coach of Seattle Reign FC despite a second-from-bottom finish in 2013 and now has the club in a second straight NWSL Championship match. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)
Laura Harvey stayed on as coach of Seattle Reign FC despite a second-from-bottom finish in 2013 and now has the club in a second straight NWSL Championship match. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Laura Harvey stayed on as coach of Seattle Reign FC despite a second-from-bottom finish in 2013 and now has the club in a second straight NWSL Championship match. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

There is a defining moment in the short history of Seattle Reign FC which is lost on even some of its most endearing fans.

August 22, 2013 was the day. Reign FC owner Bill Predmore announced that Laura Harvey had been given a four-year extension as head coach of the club.

“Our goal is to build one of the world’s premier women’s soccer clubs,” Predmore said in a statement at the time. “Laura and I share a vision on how we can achieve that objective. We understand that such ambition requires a long-term perspective, stable leadership, consistency in our approach and a relentless drive to improve the club on and off the field.”

The club had just finished a dismal 5-14-3 season, taking 18 points from 22 matches and finishing second from the bottom. Harvey recently referred to that time as “the dark days of year one.”

“That year was a test of character and a test of belief that I had probably in myself and whether we could shape the club to what we wanted it to be,” she said.

[LAULETTA: Who will win the NWSL Championship? Position-by-position analysis]

The team at the bottom of the table, the Washington Spirit, fired coach Mike Jorden midway through that inaugural NWSL season. Earlier that August, Lisa Cole was fired as coach of the Boston Breakers, who ultimately finished one place out of the playoffs.

But Predmore didn’t bat an eye at the idea of dismissing Harvey. In the cutthroat world of professional sports, it isn’t a given that owners will have patience with losing (wait a few weeks for the annual chatter about the NFL’s hot seat). Predmore, however, got ahead of any speculation regarding his coach and gave her a contract extension through 2017.

“Despite what was obviously a brutal first season, it was pretty obvious to me and I think a lot of people that Laura was an excellent coach,” Predmore told The Equalizer last week.

He continued: “I don’t think there’s been a single day – there were a lot of bad ones the first season – there was never a question in my mind that Laura was the right person to lead the team. I just never had that doubt creep in.”

The rest is history. Harvey and Predmore spent that offseason – a process which began mid-2013, Predmore says – rebuilding the team’s roster through a series of signings and trades. Practically every week, Seattle was making headlines: Signing Kim Little, trading for Sydney Leroux, bringing in Nahomi Kawasumi and Beverly Yanez. The moves kept coming, and in 2014, so too did the accolades.

Seattle began that 2014 season on a league-record 16-match unbeaten run, running away with the league and winning the NWSL Shield before falling to FC Kansas City in the NWSL Championship match.

On Thursday, those two teams meet again in Portland, Ore., in a rematch of last year’s final. The Reign are again the Shield winners and Thursday’s championship match offers the winner the opportunity to lay claim as the best team in the very young history of the league, with a repeat on the line for Kansas City and a first title possible to join those two Shields for Seattle.

My, how far the Reign have come and how easy it is to forget. It isn’t that there were bad players on the squad; several players remain on today’s world-beating team from the inaugural season. But injuries and absences added up, and the slight uptick in results in the second half of the 2013 season wasn’t enough to erase the historically bad start the team endured.

[LAULETTA: FC Kansas City preparing for championship match, Holiday’s farewell]

Megan Rapinoe’s arrival from France in June 2013 soon brought the squad its first win and a shot of life. Hope Solo missed a chunk of the season with a wrist injury. Both are integral parts to this current Reign team, along with holdovers Keelin Winters, Jess Fishlock, Lauren Barnes, Haley Kopmeyer, Kiersten Dallstream, Ellie Reed and Stephanie Cox.

So now, the team which scored the most goals in the league the past two seasons celebrates every one of them like they may never score again. And to those who look on quizzically, some Reign originals will say, ‘You weren’t here in year one.’ Those failures live with them even today.

“It’s no coincidence really that we have a good niche of us involved in the squad now because that season and that challenge has shaped us to be who we are now,” Harvey said. “Without that learning curve…I’m not sure that we go on to have the season that we have (in 2014).”

Now, two years removed from that brutal season, the bar is much higher in the Emerald City. The Reign are in their second straight title game, against the same opponent and in familiar Northwest confines once again. Revenge is an easy buzzword to toss around, but this blue-collar group sees Thursday’s NWSL Championship as culmination of three – not just two – years of work.

“Probably the only worse feeling that we had than the first season,” Predmore says, “was losing that championship game last year.”

Harvey, thanks to a little patience amid adversity, was in charge for both of those moments. She hopes Thursday brings a different result.

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