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For the Reign, this championship run began with a meeting back in 2022

(Photo Credit Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

The day after OL Reign fell to the Kansas City Current in the 2022 National Women’s Soccer League semifinals, October 24, 2022, Laura Harvey summoned her team to a meeting. The Reign had won the Shield for the third time in club history, but the big prize, the NWSL Championship, still eluded them. Harvey didn’t want to go into the offseason with another loss hanging over everyone’s head.

“The only thing I remember,” Tziarra King said, “is that I didn’t want to go. But Laura said it was very important.”

“Looking back on last year,” Quinn said, “there were moments where we looked beyond that semifinal. We were already looking at the final. We were not…expecting to win…but we let our minds go too far.”

“Just to be able to hash things out as a team is the best way to really pinpoint things, but also to move on, and it’s something we haven’t done before” Lauren Barnes, who has started all 10 Reign playoff games dating back to 2014, said.

Normally when a season ends, the players pack their things, have their exit interviews with the coaches, maybe firm up an offseason loan, and they’re on their way. The Reign have had their share of not only playoff losses but playoff heartbreak. Two years ago was a semifinal loss to the Washington Spirit after the Reign went ahead in the 3rd minute. Last year was the Kansas City Current who went ahead early, this time in the 4th minute. But the Reign couldn’t equalize and instead went down 2-0 just after an hour. Both matches were at home.

“(When) you come back you don’t want to revisit the game and the loss,” Jess Fishlock, also a Reign original added. “Last year we came in the very next morning to talk as a team. Something was holding us back as a collective. The floor was totally open to everybody to talk through how they felt in the moment.”

Laura Harvey said during Media Day that it is sometimes difficult to look fondly on all that the Reign have accomplished seeing as they have yet to scale the highest available mountain. It was her idea to call the meeting, an effort to reset things heading into the offseason instead of having the cobweb hang overhead at the start of the next preseason.

“Obviously it was really hard,” Fishlock said. “Very hard, very honest conversations. But it took us to another level where we kind of cemented what this group and this organization expects.”

Fishlock continued, “A little bit more accountability on the loss. Normally you don’t get to do that kind of reflection. This was kind of ‘no we’re not doing that this time. Now we’re coming together to take responsibility and accountability for us to actually be able to move forward.’”

Barnes said it was the best time to have the meeting because after teams lose and their season ends, everyone is anxious to get back at it and make things right. Sam Hiatt said it would have left a bad taste in her mouth to say goodbye to her teammates without letting out some of the bad feelings.

“It was a come together, get some closure, get it out of our system, and then into an offseason but everyone knew we were coming back to kind of right some wrongs and get further than we did last year,” Hiatt told media.

This season was unlike the last two in that the Reign had to scratch and claw to get into the playoffs. They controlled things heading into Decision Day but were also scoreless against the Red Stars at halftime. Megan Rapinoe hit a pair of screamers to set the tone early in the 2nd half. The 3-0 win got the Reign to the playoffs and other results helped them earn a home quarterfinal. In two games since, they ground out 1-0 wins over Angel City FC and away to San Diego Wave FC.

“Mentality,” Fishlock said when asked how the remnants of the meeting helped in this year’s playoffs. “Understanding what this game is, that it’s not a regular season game. We have to understand what the game gives us. Sometimes we can’t do what we want to do, but we have to do something else different for the game. And then kind of growing in maturity in understanding what these knockout games actually are. This year we’ve taken these knockout games a bit differently.”

One more to go.

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