With three big names joining OL Reign next month – Kim Little, Tobin Heath and Jordyn Huitema – the competition for playing time is bound to get a little tighter. Little is a former NWSL MVP and a standout at Arsenal, Heath is a two-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold medallist, and Huitema recently won Olympic gold with Canada.
While fans may understandably be nervous about the impact this could have on the locker room, with some players potentially losing minutes, OL Reign are fortunate to have a head coach in Laura Harvey who has created an environment focused on individual development and a team-first mentality.
“I think honesty and being upfront with the players and telling them the truth – and you know, not sugar-coating too much – is how I tend to always be generally fair in life,” said Harvey when asked how she balances roster decisions as these big names join the club. “I treat everyone pretty much the same. I think we have an environment where the players feel comfortable being who they are, and there’s not some kind of hierarchy in the dressing room of who is this or that…we’re trying to create an environment where people can just be who they are, which then shows up on the pitch.
In fact, it’s that club environment — which Harvey says has been part of Reign’s DNA since day one — that she says draws players to Seattle in the first place. “It’s something I’m really, really proud of and it continues to this day, because I think it makes it easier for those bigger names to come in.”
The transparent approach also comes with honest reflection on performance. Harvey noted that with successful teams, you always have to strive to be better and better. And while OL Reign are in a decent position after nine games – fifth in the table – the team’s lack of goal production has been a constant talking point.
Despite averaging 1.43 expected goals (xG) per game, the team only scored 0.78 goals per game. They create chances, but haven’t been able to finish them consistently. A push to be better means focusing on being more clinical in front of the goal, something Heath and Little can provide instantly, and Huitema should be able to add in the long run.
“Tobin’s ability to create and finish chances adds something unique which I think will help elevate our squad,” Harvey said in the club’s press release announcing Heath’s arrival. Little, meanwhile, left the reign in 2016 as the NWSL’s all-time leading scorer with 32 goals and 16 assists after three seasons. She went on to score a further 27 goals in 73 games for Arsenal.
Harvey noted at a recent press conference that a constant focus on improvement means considering whether there are players who could help the club now or help develop young players for the future. Heath and Little can do a bit of both, which really excites Reign’s head coach.
“We have a young group. This is probably the youngest group we’ve ever had at Reign. Obviously we have the OGs, but then there’s kind of an OG group and then there’s probably a few in their late twenties, and then everyone’s really 25 and under,” Harvey added. during an Equal Time Soccer conversation last week. with former Reign player Dani Foxhoven. “So I think bringing in Kim, Tobin, people who know what it takes to really be successful, I think that’s going to be great for the young players.”
Reign’s offense is particularly young. Bethany Balcer and Ally Watt are 25, this is Watt’s first full season after recovering from a torn ACL. This year’s first-round pick, Zsani Kaján, is 24 years old. Tziarra King is just 23, Angelina is just 22 and new signing Huitema is 21. Veronica Latsko is the oldest player on the front line besides Megan Rapinoe, and she’s 26.
The time has come to welcome Heath and Little as well. The club will be without eight players for the next three games, as Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle, Alana Cook, Sofia Huerta, Quinn, Huitema and Jimena Lopez will all join their national teams for the Concacaf W Championship, and Angelina joins Brazil. for the Copa America Femenina. With Reigns – along with the rest of the league – facing significant international absences in July, now is the perfect time to bring in veteran players who may be able to push the team to improve ahead of time. to enter the second half of the season.
Can Harvey do it? Well, she need only cite OL defender Reign Sam Hiatt’s experience from last season to this year as proof.
“You know, I use Sam Hiatt a lot for that. Last year when I came in, Sam Hiatt didn’t play a ton of minutes but learned a ton from Alana [Cook] and Lu [Barnes] and all the other people who were playing, and now she’s a regular starter for us.
Hiatt is second on the team in accurate passing per game, has won 67% of her duels and was named to the 59-man U.S. draft roster – a good indication that she will stay on Vlatko Andonovski’s radar if her good performance continues. Bethany Balcer, who had just 1,210 minutes last year, already has seven starts and 628 minutes for the 2022 reign.
Harvey hopes Hiatt isn’t the only example she can put forward by the end of the year and into next season. She still has to find the right players to introduce at the right time – and the players still have to shake off the final curse they seem to have – but Reign’s head coach will have an abundance of riches to choose from when she will do it. . Development isn’t always a straight line, and sometimes players just need a little extra push to reach their best.