A new era begins for Seattle Reign FC as the NWSL is set to kick off the 2018 season. A new head coach leads the team as Vlatko Andonovski departed defunct FC Kansas City last November before the team ceased operations. The two-time NWSL championship-winning coach, who led his former club to back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015, knows the formula and strategies it takes to win. The Reign also enter 2018 with a revamped roster, bringing on 11 new players through signings, trades, and the Dispersal Draft.
So, how will 2018 shape to be for the two-time NWSL Shield Winners? Will Andonovski work some championship-winning magic like he did with FCKC and lead the Reign to their third championship game and finally give the club their first NWSL Championship?
But first, a look back at 2017.
2017: No Postseason Again
It is always a disappointment to miss the NWSL playoffs, but for a team who missed the year before in 2016 after reaching the NWSL Championship for consecutive years along with NWSL Shields in 2014 and 2015, failing to reach the postseason for the second year in a row in 2017 was definitely another letdown.
In 2017, the Reign finished 5th in the NWSL standings, just on the outside of the top 4 that continue to the post-season. Had the Reign had a stronger defense, they could have easily slipped past the Chicago Red Stars with more wins, but allowing 37 goals, 9 of those conceded to Sky Blue FC in high-scoring contests in July and August. A 5-4 loss on August 19 to Sky Blue put a serious dent in Seattle's playoff hopes, which had been gathering serious momentum up, but it only exposed just how brittle the Seattle defense had become over the last two seasons, and the Reign were left to wrap up their season at the end of September and look to the off-season ahead.
The off-season began for the Reign with the announcement that Vlatko Andonovski would become Seattle's new head coach for 2018 on a two-year contract after the resignation of Laura Harvey, who at the time was moving on to a position with US Soccer (which never happened, leading to her hiring by the Utah Royals FC, but that's another story for another time).
Roster changes would also shape the Reign's off-season. But it was also important that the team re-sign returning players, including Jess Fishlock, Lydia Williams, Lauren Barnes, and Nahomi Kawasumi.
Up first in the wave of roster changes, the signing of English international, Jodie Taylor, who decided to move on from Arsenal Women to return to the NWSL for the 2018 season.The Reign also acquired Allie Long from Cascadia rival Portland Thorns in a three-team trade, which sent Reign players Rebekah Stott and Katie Johnson to Sky Blue. At the NWSL College Draft, the Reign's biggest acquisition was trading for Yael Averbuch and the 25th overall pick in the draft in exchange for Diana Matheson to the Utah Royals. And if that was not enough, the Reign signed goalkeeper Michelle Betos, another player who returned to the NWSL after spending time overseas.
In a trade with Orlando, the Reign also acquired Australian international Steph Catley and forward Jasmyne Spencer in return for Christine Nairn, Carson Pickett, Haley Kopmeyer as well as a 2019 draft pick.
Along the way, the Reign waived Scotland international Rachel Corsie and Australian forward Larissa Crummer, and traded defender/midfielder Merritt Mathias and a natural 2019 second-round pick for North Carolina's natural first-round selection in the 2019 NWSL College Draft to close out an active off-season.
Seattle Reign FC opened their preseason with a 3-1 victory over the University of Washington. It was the first of just two preseason matches scheduled by Andonovski. For the next preseason game, the Reign traveled to California to take on UCLA, winning 4-0.
Looking Ahead to 2018
Seattle has quite the roster, and they look like a team going into the season as contenders to finish in the top 4, and if Andonovski figures out the winning strategy and formation with this squad, they could very well win the NWSL Championship this year.
After all, Andonovski's resume within the NWSL is already impressive. The Macedonian native is one of the world's best head coaches, especially for how he studies hours and hours of film to improve his team; he is known for investing in his players, especially the unknown ones on his bench and developing them as starters that could compete with the stars of the NWSL. Most notably, he can form a system around a central player, like he did with Lauren Holiday in those championship years that made FC Kansas City a powerhouse.
This year, Andonovski has the complete support of an ownership fully invested in the team and players like Megan Rapinoe, Fishlock, Catley, Barnes to name a few. The Reign are one of the most well-rounded teams going into the season, and one that teams will know will pose a challenge.
Prediction: Seattle will finish 2nd, breaking the two-year post-season drought and reaching the NWSL Championship for the third time in the league's sixth year history, where they could very well win their first title.