Entering the 2016 NWSL season, the Seattle Reign were coming off being back-to-back NWSL Shield winners. They also entered the season being bested two straight years in the NWSL Championship Game by FC Kansas City. There were high hopes for a third straight playoff appearance but it was not to be as the Reign missed the playoffs by two points. They finished the season with a record of 8-6-6 (win-loss-tie), their worst since their inaugural season in 2013.
What could have been
There were many things that could have been for the Reign in 2016. They were trying to remain at the top of the table as one of the best in the league. Sadly, it would not happen as the Reign had a few distractions and injuries that caused them to miss out on the playoffs.
In the first game of the season, they lost for the first time ever at Memorial Stadium 2-1 to Sky Blue FC. They would bounce back the next week and trounce the Boston Breakers 3-0 on the road. They would follow that up with a 1-0 win against the two-time defending champions in Kansas City. After that, they would go winless in their next four games which included two losses (2-0 at the Orlando Pride & 2-1 at home against the Chicago Red Stars).
They would get their feet back under them as they would go unbeaten in their next four, two wins (1-0 at home against the Houston Dash & 2-0 at home against the Breakers) and two ties (two straight 0-0 draws against Sky Blue and Kansas City, both at home). Then enter the game that essentially kept them out of the playoffs.
On Saturday, July 9th, the Reign would travel all the way across the country to take on the Western New York Flash at Frontier Field. Seattle was forced to play on a much smaller field than expected and it even caused an injury to goalkeeper Hayley Kopmeyer. After their 3-2 defeat at Frontier Field, the Reign would get things rolling with wins against Western New York and Orlando. The Portland Thorns would put a hitch in their step as they defeated the Reign 1-0 before the nearly month-long break for Rio 2016.
Seattle would return and go unbeaten in four of their final games (3-1-1) which included a second half comeback against the Dash in the final week of the season.
As mentioned above, there were a couple of distraction during the 2016 season. Hope Solo was suspended from the United States Women’s nation team and eventually decided to sit out the rest of the season with the Reign. The Reign had a very capable backup in Kopmeyer and didn’t miss a beat.
Another distraction came late in the season when USWNT player and Seattle midfielder Megan Rapinoe decided to kneel during the National Anthem in a game against the Chicago Red Stars at Toyota Park. This caused a bit of an uproar and the very next game, the Washington Spirit’s owner decided to play the National Anthem while the players were still in the locker room preparing to come out to start the game.
Biggest win of the year
Outside of their 3-0 victory over the Breakers and a 3-1 victory over the Thorns, the Reign’s biggest victory had to come on July 23rd as they defeated the Pride 5-2. After struggling to score goals for most of the season, the Reign opened the floodgates on the Pride. They were helped by an own goal from Pride defender Toni Pressley in the 87th minute. It showed how dangerous Seattle could be at the time and that other teams in the league needed to be weary.
In a season when you lose only six games, there isn’t much to review in terms of “biggest defeat”. Seattle only lost one game by more than one goal and that was early in the season and it seemed to set them back. The game in question? That would be their game on May 8th at Camping World Stadium against the Pride.
When speaking with head coach Laura Harvey prior to their rematch with Orlando, she told VAVEL USA that they were extremely hard to break down and that it was probably their worst performance of the season when they played there. As it turned out, it would be Seattle’s only truly bad performance all year long.
When looking at the roster that has so many talented players on it like Seattle’s, it’s extremely hard to pick an MVP. At every position on the field, Seattle has a star player. Manon Melis and Kim Little both have to be the team’s MVP’s of the season. It’s hard to choose just the one. Little did what Kim Little does, terrorize the other team. She may have only scored six goals this season but what she does off the ball is just as impressive.
Melis joined the team prior to the season and after struggling in the early part of the season, she finished out strong scoring seven goals to lead the team. It seemed to take her awhile to get comfortable with the style and speed of the NWSL but once she figured it out, she was on fire.
Player(s) that had an off year
Even though she played in eight games and kept five clean sheets in those games, Hope Solo had an off year. Mainly because she didn’t play enough. She faced a total of 26 shots on goal and gave up only five goals in those eight games. Sadly, who knows how much better the team could have played if she would have been with the team the entire year.
Another player to add to this list is Carson Pickett. The rookie started the first handful of games for the Reign but saw a lot of time on the bench as the season went along only making a few appearances here and there. She played in 15 of the Reign’s 20 games. After what looked to be a promising start to her young career, she dwindled a bit down the stretch. Maybe the league figured her out quickly and Harvey didn’t want to risk having a rookie lock down the left back position. Expect Pickett to improve on her play from 2016 and help solidify the spot next season.
Improvements for 2017
Seattle will lose the only captain they have ever known in Keelin Winters as she decided to retire at the end of the season. They will need to find another rock to sit in front of the back line and dictate the game. Winters was so good at shutting down the opposing team’s playmakers. She will be tough to replace but knowing Harvey, she already has a player in mind.
It would also be nice to see Seattle add a little more depth for the midfield and back line. They have solid players that should be returning in 2017 but it’s always nice to have some added insurance. With Solo’s future up in the air, it would be nice to see Seattle add another quality goalkeeper to back up Kopmeyer if Solo decides not to return in 2017.
All in all, it was an okay season for Seattle. It would have been nice to see them make the playoffs for the third straight season but it was not to be. Laura Harvey will work her magic once again this offseason and bring in some more talented players to compete for this roster. Maybe she could find another Kim Little out there if that is even possible.