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2018 NWSL Team Preview: Changes afoot this year in Seattle

Nahomi Kawasumi and the Reign have a new coach. (photo by Lewis Gettier)

Seattle Reign FC

2017 Record:  9-8-7 (5th place)
Head Coach:  Vlatko Andonovski (1st season with Reign)
Home Grounds:  Memorial Stadium

’17 in Review: The 2017 were nothing if not dull. But they regressed defensively and as a result found themselves on the outside looking in at the playoffs for the second year running. Two of their matches against Sky Blue typified their season. On July 22 in Seattle the Reign coughed up a 4-0 lead only to be saved by Megan Rapinoe’s third goal of the match to win it 5-4. Four weeks later in New Jersey they gave up a 3-0 lead, and then a 4-0 lead to lose 5-4 in stoppage time even after a would-be go-ahead Sky Blue penalty hit the crossbar in the 93rd minute. The Reign then lost their two remaining home matches to finish on a 3-game losing streak at Memorial after being 29-2-12 there (including playoffs) since moving in for 2014.

What’s New: It’s all change at the Reign and it hasn’t entirely gone down well with some. But break down the roster in Seattle and add the fact the franchise has added the only coach to win two NWSL titles to lead the way, and you begin to realize things aren’t all that bad.

In Vlatko Andonovski, the Pacific Northwest club has a cool, calm and collected coach that won’t panic if his team underperforms out of the blocks, or get carried away if they set the pace. Despite his success in Kansas City, the Macedonian has big shoes to fill as he looks to win over supporters who are still nursing the wounds of losing the popular Laura Harvey.

It wasn’t meant to be like this with the former Reign coach expected to take on a role within US Soccer or with the England Women’s national team. Neither worked out for one reason or another, and the two-time NWSL Shield winning coach will now be in the rival dugout when the Reign face off against Utah.

A number of popular players have also departed, with the likes of Haley Kopmeyer, Christine Nairn and Carson Pickett traded to the Pride, and Rachel Corsie recently being picked up by the Royals after being waived during the off-season.

Andonovski has recruited sensibly to fill the holes created by those departures, bringing in the versatile (and underrated) Yael Averbuch, who he knows well from his time in Kansas City.

There’s plenty of competition in defense with Megan Oyster, who in a better side should catch the eye of Jill Ellis, acquired through the dispersal draft alongside Boston teammate, Christen Westphal. There’s an international flavor at outside-back with Australian Steph Catley coming in from the Pride and Danish defender Theresa Nielsen joining from Norwegian club, Valerenga. Did we also mention Lauren Barnes is still there having been one of the original members of the Reign?

Michelle Betos has returned to the club having played backup to Hope Solo in 2013, and she’ll offer stiff competition to one of the world’s best in Lydia Williams. Williams will miss time with the team for the Asia Cup, so Betos will definitely see some minutes on the field.

The area of the pitch perhaps creating most discussion, however, is in midfield. Allie Long, adored by those in the Rose City and a two-time NWSL Champion with rivals the Portland Thorns, has joined the Reign under somewhat of a cloud.

There is no denying that her no nonsense approach will have rubbed up some of the Reign faithful the wrong way, but what better way to beat a rival, than to recruit one of them. Long’s record in the NWSL is impressive. She has 30 goals, making her sixth overall for all time leading scorers in the league, and can play as a 6. 8 or even a 10 if required. Alongside the likes of Rumi Utsugi and the heartbeat of the team, Jess Fishlock, this is a midfield with bite and plenty of goals.

If Things Click: Only Orlando scored more goals than the Reign side last season, and now they’ve added the likes of the pacey Jasmyne Spencer from Orlando, and the EURO 2017 Golden Boot winner, Jodie Taylor.

Here in lies an opportunity to build up what Taylor can provide to the Reign. A physical hold up player that will bring into play the likes of wide players Naho Kawasumi and Megan Rapinoe, Taylor has scored goals for fun at almost every club she’s turned out for. Some Reign fans seem skeptical by her signing – they shouldn’t be. This is a player who feels at home in the Pacific Northwest, so she will be eager to impress and prove a few people wrong.

Add the likes of the always reliable Bev Yanez to the fold, the Reign has a dynamic forward line that looks even more frightening than last year. If things click, they should make the play-offs. And if they do that, in a one-off match, this is a dangerous roster that could match up against any side in the league.

What the opponents think

The Equalizer has asked members of NWSL coaching staffs to comment on opposition clubs around the league. They were all promised anonymity.

“I think Seattle is extremely dangerous this year. I would think that is the favorite to win it. I think they’ve got every piece. They’ve made some good changes. Vlatko’s way of playing will help them. They’ll be a very, very good team.”

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