This is my third season playing in the NWSL and for the Seattle Reign FC. For the most part, it has been a great experience. Even during our first season, when we sat at the bottom of the charts, we had memorable moments together. It was that first season that started an incredible bond and it was that first season that helped us define the team we wanted to become.
Believe it or not, I knew even then — in that losing season — that we had something special in Seattle. Teresa and Bill Predmore set the stage for what would become a model franchise in many ways, and our coach, Laura Harvey, added her expertise to that vision. We continue to have laughs about our first season and joke about how it seemed like a lifetime ago.
Despite the losses that first season, we were developing our Seattle Reign style of play, and we remain true to that style today. Coach Harvey has always made us pass the ball with intent, and we have never resorted to playing scared despite the scoreline or standings. Even in those tough beginnings, we stayed true to what we wanted to become, and that commitment has helped us build a club that knows itself. That is always half the battle. Our motto is, “Be bold.”
We are a team of players who are bold and strong, and unapologetic in who we are.
Thursday’s game is a rematch of last year’s final. I’m happy we’re playing Kansas again, but that’s not what’s motivating me or any of my teammates. For us to take home the championship, it’s not about our opponent. It’s not about anything other than us, the 20 very different individuals who represent the Reign. If we play unapologetically and boldly, if we play Seattle Reign soccer, I am 100 percent confident that we can beat any team. I will take our mix of players over any other mix any day.
For that reason, I want to talk about our awesome and unique players. I want to share what makes each of them so special, and so amazing together.
Haley Kopmeyer is incredible in goal, a great teammate and an awesome athlete. She makes things look easy, which is the art of goalkeeping, and why so many efficient goalkeepers get overlooked. In America, we praise players who score goals or goalkeepers who turn goalkeeping into acrobatics. Goalkeeping is a fine art, not a circus act. Haley respects the position in a way many don’t. I learn from Haley’s efficiency, and she’s one of the best people and goalkeepers I’ve ever trained with.
Lou Barnes is one of my favorite center backs I’ve ever stepped on the field with and I’m so glad she got the recognition she deserved this year. She is the smoothest defender I’ve ever played with on the ball (she is left footed), and she’s fun to play with because all of us in the back like to pass the ball around. Playing with Lou and with our other center back, Rachel Corsie, allows me to enjoy soccer, to laugh, and to have fun within the intensity of a match. I owe them many thanks for bringing the joy of soccer back to me.
Rachel Corsie is solid, consistent, calm and someone you don’t want to mess with — the perfect qualities for a center back. She has my back, and knowing that makes me want to play that much better for her. It’s contagious, and it’s not something that can be coached. It’s either there or it isn’t, and our players are always there for one another.
Kendall Fletcher was an awesome center back last season. To see her evolve into an outside back has been inspiring. It is tough to play a position you’re so comfortable in and so great at, only to be moved out wide where everything changes — your footwork, your positioning and the amount of running. She took it like a trooper, and continues to elevate her game as an outside back. And don’t forget: our defenders score goals. Both Kendal and Rachel find themselves scoring. (Kendall has the better celebration with her patented flip and fist pump.)
I have played with Stephanie Cox for many years on the U.S. team. What I know about Steph is that she is a gamer — another calm, cool and collected defender who is incredibly gifted on the ball, and also very intelligent when it comes to organization. Without players comfortable on the ball, we would not be able to be the team we want to be: one who passes the ball around with confidence and ease. Her support off the field has always meant the world to me, and I want to win a championship with her, in part because of everything we’ve been through together.
Keelin Winters is the unsung hero on our team. She does all the little things right. She prides herself on these little things, and together, those amount to greatness. She can run endlessly, and she almost always connects her passes. Simplicity should never be overlooked, and the beauty in her game is her ability to make things look simple. That comes from her expertise, her experience, her maturity and her positioning. Keelin can always be counted on, and that is a solid trait for a captain!
Jess Fishlock is a BADASS. She is the type of player who other players hate to play against. She’s also the best teammate I’ve ever had. She is sophisticated, intelligent, skilled, and tough as hell. She prides herself on defense, which is hard to find in a midfielder of her caliber. Her intensity, and desire to win reverberates through everybody. She is a force to be reckoned with, and a player who I look up to. And wow, does she hate to lose!
Kim Little is the most talented player I have ever played with. Kim is great at everything — yes, including defense. Her ability to hold the ball is second to none. Her passing and vision and technical skill are what I believe to be the best in the world. We are lucky to have a player like Kim Little in this league, and I am honored to be able to say I have played with the best in the world.
Beverly Yanez is consistently good in every game. She does the unselfish running that allows for others to have space. She is a true team player, and she puts her heart and body on the line every single game. She makes us all smile and laugh, and has such a kind heart. Her love for the game shows with every touch she has. And when she scores, the entire team lights up along with her because we know she’s excited that WE as a team scored.
Megan Rapinoe — Pinoe, to all of us — is flashy and brilliant, and a game winner. She serves the best ball in the game, and she loves offense. She loves to create. She takes her time, or suddenly breaks towards goal. She’s unpredictable and brilliant, and that makes her impossible to defend against. You could study all the film in the world on Pinoe, and you still wouldn’t have a chance at slowing down her creativity. Her ideas are endless.
Merrit Mathias works her butt off every single game. Some forwards only feel great about themselves if they are scoring goals. What I admire and respect about Merrit is that she knows her role, and she embraces it. She doesn’t need goals for self -confidence. She knows that what she brings to this team by sheer work ethic and is irreplaceable. She does what she is told without complaint. She will sprint endlessly to pressure the ball, and make it easier for the players behind her to win the second or third ball. She is the player we were missing last year in the final.
Caroline Stanley is a young goalkeeper out of USC. She reminds me of myself when I was that age, always wanting to do more, to train more, and to work harder. I can’t wait to see her grow into herself. It’s fun to sit back and watch her mature. It makes for an incredible mix with the three of us.
Dani Foxhoven brings us all together. She stays after practice to work on shooting, and is always ready when her name is called to go into the game. She gives us exactly what we need as a sub, keeping her energy level high when we need to secure a win, or when we need a goal. She shows nothing but happiness no matter what, and that’s a quality I really admire. It’s a great example of the how I learn from the individuals on this team daily.
It was really hard to come back from the World Cup, and not have Elli Reed as our right back. I had built such a great relationship with her on the field. I really had become reliant on her in the box — she cleared the ball off the line at least three times that I can remember. What is awesome to see is just how versatile she really is. She can go in as a midfielder or as a forward, especially in games where we need a defensive presence higher up on the field. As sad as I was to see her gone from the right side, I have a newfound sense of excitement when she comes into the game.
Amber Brooks has incredible talent. She is another midfielder who stays calm, and has real talent on the ball. She is young, and will only continue to grow into a complete midfielder. She has all of the tools to have the perfect mix between talent and toughness (which is a rare thing).
I always have so much fun playing with Michelle Cruz, another young player with so much talent already, and even more potential. She plays center back when Rachel is on call with her national team, and when Cruzie slides in, it’s seamless. Playing center back is difficult as a sub because you don’t want change when it comes to defense. But she asks questions, and studies both Lou and Rachel so she can come in and keep the standard high, the line the same, and the shifting the same. It’s a mature thing for such a young player, and it is very selfless and helpful to all of us. I can’t wait to spend more time playing behind Cruzie.
Katrine Veje came to us all the way from Denmark. She is fast, and dynamic. She has an excellent outside shot, and always gets back on defense from the wide forward position. Her pace brings a whole different element to our team, and she’s unlike any player we’ve ever had. Katrine has been so fun to get to know, and I hope we made her experience here enjoyable.
Kiersten Dallstream went to Wazzu, but we’re still friends anyway. She’s another versatile player who comes in to run down opponents, and keep the high pressure on. Kiersten is harder on herself than any player I’ve ever played with — so much so that we all crack up at her sudden bursts of emotion — but the truth is that she has high expectations, and is committed to meeting them. She stays after everyday to work on the things she feels she needs, and that is a quality everyone looks up to.
Mariah Bullock preserves our wins. How would anybody like to have that kind of pressure? She comes in to help us close out games, in some of the most stressful situations, and she does it better than anyone I’ve ever seen. She wins airballs. She’s tough on both offensive and defensive set pieces. She connects passes and helps us get the ball out of the back and up the field. She blocks outside shots and marks players running in. (Whew! I’m stressed just writing about the expectations we have for her.) Without her, we wouldn’t be as dominant in the closing minutes of many games. And my favorite moment was when she came in, and scored that incredible goal against D.C. in the semifinal.
Of course, we wouldn’t be who we are without our fine assistant coaches. There’s Sam Laity — Thumbs Up Sam — who brings fun and enjoyment to every training, And there’s goalkeeper coach Ben Dragabon, who has single handedly kept me sane and focused through many ups and downs. He has always kept me motivated and on track to help me fulfill our team’s needs, and my personal goals, too.
So that is our team, and we are short of nothing. We’ve been the best team in the league two years in a row. As long as we all play our own individual style — whatever that style may be — and combine it into the way we play together, I believe we’ll be victorious Thursday at Providence Park.
Let it Reign!