2023 S-2 Briefing: OL Reign

Our third look at next season’s opponents is at one that’s at the same time familiar and fairly new; the club in Seattle, once the “Seattle Reign FC” and now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the monster club of the French D1F, Olympique Lyonnais, as “OL Reign”.

OL Reign

Year formed: 2013
The club that plays in Seattle has had a long and twisting history. I’ll try to give you the Clif’s Notes version.
2013 – An adman, Bill Predmore, bid to organize a club in Seattle called the (terrific name, BTW) “Seattle Sirens”. The bid was accepted, the name was not, and the club started play as the Reign and had an epically terrible first season under Laura Harvey
2014-2015 – Harvey’s work began to get results, however, by Year 2. Seattle made the Final both seasons but was thumped by Vlatko Andonovski’s FCKC both times, the latter here in Portland (where some enterprising ACES Riveter handed out blue shop towels with “Blue For A Day” spraypainted on them. Ah, thim wuz th’ days…)
2016-2017 – The Years in the Wilderness; Harvey’s club struggled on the pitch and finished below the red line. That led to a handover to Andonovski for the 2018 season.
2018 – Vlatko made over the club – probably best remembered here by his trading for Allie Long – and got back into the playoffs, but we knocked out here in the semi.
2019-2021 – …saw big changes for the club.
– First, a move to Tacoma in 2019 after the lease to the (appallingly ugly and inadequate) Memorial Stadium lapsed. Playing in a minor league baseball field the Reign resumed their playoff appearances, but were knocked out in the 2019 semi by the Damned Courage and from the 2020 COVID Cup by (hee hee!) the Thorns on the Morgan Weaver wonderstrike.
– In 2020 the club was acquired by the “OL Group” owned by French plutocrat Jean-Michel Aulas and was remade as “OL Reign”, with the “lion eating the potato chip” logo replacing the iconic Dark Queen (…that was perhaps the best badge in the league, you frog-eating chancres..!).
– 2021 was a mess for the now-Damnedelions. The French-appointed lout Farid Benstiti managed to banjax the club despite having a bunch of OL “loans” (that brazenly flouted the salary cap…). OL finally canned his ass, called back Harvey who worked the club back into second but was knocked out – again – in the semi by champs Washington. That brings us up to last season.

Owner: Olympique Lyonnais LLC.
(The organization that owns about 89% of the Reign is part of the sports conglomerate that owns both the men’s and women’s “Olympique Lyonnais” teams as well as…well, a bunch of other shit.

It’s complicated. Here’s the best way is to show you:

There’s the Damndelions at the bottom middle right in the red box. Note that the organization that holds the majority is the “soccer arm” of the corporation is the French soccer club management outfit. The Predmores might be in there somewhere, but they’re worthless now.

I won’t kid you; I have no idea who actually acts as the boss of this outfit and don’t really care. They’re corporate suits, and no different from any of the other corporate suits that have taken over and monetized the “people’s game” over the past sixty-odd years or so. Their business is business, and they’ll run the Damnedelions like a business)

Head Coach: Laura Harvey
(Yet another Brit. Harvey played for Wolves and Birmingham City in the early Oughts before an ACL sent her to the technical box. She managed in England until 2013, including stints with the England juniors. Since then she’s run the Reign and spent two seasons – 2018-2019 – with the then-Utah Royals, finishing below the red line both seasons. She’s coming back to Seattle after her third semifinal defeat with the club.)

Record:
The Reign in all their various incarnations have been a successful club overall; out of their ten seasons (discounting the mockery of 2020) they’ve made the playoffs every season other than the first and 2016-2017. Unfortunately for the Reign, that’s where they get knocked out; of the Final in 2014 and 2015, of the semifinal in 2018, 2019, 2021, and…

2022 – 11-7-4 (40 points; 1st of 12) 32GF 19GA +13GD
Season summary: The Reign struggled out of the gate, clawed up to 3rd by Matchday 6, but then slumped back to near the redline until the middle of August.

Then they went on a tear; 6-0-1 over the final seven, nicking the Shield on the final day due to, as we probably all recall, the Thorn’s appalling road draw at Gotham that handed the Reign the chance to go top.

Once though, though, Harvey’s squad shat the bed again. The usually-sound Reign defense failed to clear their lines and gave up a fourth minute goal to the visiting Kansas City Current and never managed to get back in the match despite swarming the Current in every statistical measure.
Meetings with Portland: 5/13/22 (scoreless away draw), 7/10/22 (2-2 home draw)

Outstanding players: Seattle rode the “defense wins championships” pony to the playoffs.

The attack was decent but unspectacular. Bethany Balcer with seven was the leading scorer but had lots of help; Megan Rapinoe (despite playing only 15 games) chipped in another seven (two PKs) and four assists, Rose Lavelle five, and Jessica Fishlock four. Nobody else had more than two. Sofia Huerta also had four assists.

The other thing about the Reign’s attack is that it was hugely lopsided towards the final third of the season. This chart showing the goals scored by the two sides makes it obvious:

TeamsMatchday 1-8Matchday 9-15Matchday 16-22
OL Reign goals61016
Opponents goals685

We’ll see in a bit, but the biggest reason for this was that it took nearly the first two-thirds of the season for Harvey to get the XI she wanted on the pitch. When she did? Holy fuck, then it was Katy, bar the door.

Goalscoring breakdown aside. the real strength of OLR last season was the midfield and in back. The DMs, Quinn and Fishlock, were outstanding, and the backline – anchored by Alana Cook and Sam Hiatt with Lauren Barnes at left back and Sofia Huerta at right back – was a wall in front of Phallon Tullis-Joyce. The club’s 19GA was the best in the league, and that was nearly all on the backline.

Tullis-Joyce was not the liability that she’d been predicted to be when she took over from Sarah Bouhaddi; in 2022 her defensive differential (xG against to concessions, remember?) was -0.29/game, just fractionally better than Kailen Sheridan. But she wasn’t up there with Haracic or Naeher or Bixby in the half-a-goal-per-game stratosphere.

Sheridan’s backline gave up 22.59 xG in 20 matches, though – about 1.1xG/game. To put that in perspective, our backline let opponents have 1.39xG/game against Bella Bixby.

OLR’s backline? 1.02xG/game, 23.69 xGa in 23 games, nearly 10% less than San Diego and damn near 40% less than our defense allowed.

So OLR didn’t score a ton (until the end of the season, anyway), but they didn’t concede a lick, and that got them the Shield in the end.

How did they score?

Here’s Arielle Dror’s xcoring chart. Again, I’ve broken down the Reign numbers:

The Reign scored more goals from open play – 78% – than any other club, and the closest in percentage is Orlando, behind them by nearly half the total raw goals.

The remainder of the Reign scoring is a truly weird and eclectic melange; corners, free kicks (including those “other setpieces” which must be indirect free kicks if direct kicks are called out separately), PKs, and one from our favorite rookie sensation, Own Goal.

What’s curious is that with a middling-scoring attack and a lockdown defense you’d think that 1) a lot of Reign games would be low-scoring grinds – and you’d be right; OLR scored more than twice on only two occasions last season, both at home; the 4-1 demolition of Gotham in August, and the 3-nil beatdown of a hopeless Orlando on the final day, and 2) that the danger for the Damndelions would be going down early the way they did in the semifinal.

Here’s Dror again, though:

Turns out that those rascals took more points from behind that anyone else in the league last season. They weren’t great at holding leads – better than we were, but, shit, everyone but the Damned were better at that – but they were the Comeback Kids up there with KCC and Houston.

The key with them seems to be, as it’s been for some time, Balcer. She’s key, and we’re going to take a hard look at that when we look at “how did they look”, because there’s some important things we, in particular, need to consider.

Changes for 2023

Not very much, really.

The Reign waived only one player from 2023 that had anything but trivial minutes, Sinclaire Miramontez. Tobin Heath is a free agent and so far as I can tell remains unsigned after a 2022 lost (again!) to injury. There seems to be only two players who were tendered offers and are not yet reported to have re-signed: Olivia Athens and Olivia van den Jagt.

The “book” on Laura Harvey has always been that she notoriously distrusts the American college system to create quality players. She’s not a picky drafter and always seems to kind of blow off the draft with “whatev…” sorts of picks, relying instead on trades and picking up unsigned players. This coming season is shaping up to be very Harveyesque.

As of today she’s picked up two veterans on draft day:
Elyse Bennet – from Kansas City (with a pick) for Bermanbux, and
Emily Sonnett – from Washington for picks.
The Sonnett deal is actually kind of shocking, given that the Half of The Former Great Wall of Emily was a first round pick in her day and is an international. This is the second time Mark Parsons has traded Sonnett away, so I wonder if there’s something there he really doesn’t see.

The only two players drafted were:
Shae Homes (centerback) – second round, #19 overall, and
Natalie Viggiano (midfielder) – fourth round, #45

Both were very much Harvey sorts of draftees. Henderson graded Holmes with a “C”, Viggiano with a “B” but seemed unenthusiastic about either one. Given Harvey’s priors I’d bet that both will be no more than deep depth this season

As with San Diego, the Reign had a solid squad ticking at the end of last season, was retained that group, and look to repeat their success with that group in the coming season.

How Did They Look?

Changed. Reeeeally changed from the opening weeks to the semifinal, and that’s pretty crucial to understanding what we can infer from last season’s meetings to the coming season.

Here’s the ReignXI in the first Portland game, the scoreless draw here in May – Seattle is attacking towards the top of the image:

Here’s the second meeting, the 2-2 draw in Seattle in June – note that Seattle is now attacking towards the bottom of the image:

And here’s the Reign in the semifinal, also attacking down:

The thing is that we saw the Reign during that troubled, turbulent early part of the season, before Harvey had her preferred XI set. She kept plugging people in and out of her standard 4-2-3-1, but the people we saw weren’t the people she wanted. I’ve prepared a little graphic to give you an idea of how much that changed. It lists each player for both Portland games…and then the final four regular season matches and the semi. The Reign are attacking towards the bottom:

Note the key next to the names in the center forward block. The players we saw are highlighted in gray. The players that played most of the final five games are highlighted in yellow.

The backline doesn’t change – much – but the midfield and front line are like musical chairs through May and June. But by September?

It’s hammered in; Huitema top, Balcer-Lavelle-Rapinoe right behind her, Quinn-Fishlock at the back of midfield, Barnes-Hiatt-Cook-Huerta across the back.

And the results? 0-0-2, 2GF/2GA for the first two games. 4-1-0, 9GF/3GA for the last five.

So the results from last season are effectively worthless for predicting how we’ll match up to OL Reign in 2023.

Instead we’re going to have to look at what they’re likely to look like and think of how we’re going to match up.

How they’ll look next year?

Here’s another look at Harvey’s preferred XI, this one from the 3-nil curbstomping of Orlando in October:

Here’s Henderson’s prediction for what we’ll see from them in 2023 (attacking up instead of down, mind you:

That’s kind of a…“no, duh” moment.

So, yeah. That’s pretty much what to expect, and that was damn deadly last season once things came together for that squad.

Will that continue? I see no reason to assume otherwise.

Summing Up

The Damnedelions have been a persistent nuisance to Portland since 2013.

I never really took them seriously as a “rival” for those early seasons, though.

Mostly because we had rivals; first Western New York, then FCKC. Both of them were more dangerous and more irritating – especially Kansas City; Vlatko’s people were the most thuggish in the league by a long chalk, taking their lead from the “old” Shea Groom who played like she wanted to send players limping off – than Seattle. To me calling them “rivals” was letting the Timbers-Sounders relationship color the women’s clubs.

Then things began to change.

I think it started when Vlatko took over in Seattle, and was cemented when Long moved north. La Blanquita reeeeally seemed to want to take a chunk out of the Thorns and reveled in doing it.

Then there was Aulas buying the club and turning it into an OL sockpuppet, including his “haha fuckez vous I do what I want” French-mercenaries-cap-evasion cynicism.

Losing the Shield on the last day of 2022 drove that sumbitch home. I now hate the Reign as much or more than I do our most recent rivals, The Damned Courage.

So the ugly facts are:

The Reign are now a “rival meeting” club, making each match a six-pointer, and

The Reign are a damn good club, one that starts 2023 with the squad that tore up the end of 2022…including being way better than the group that we could only manage to scavange two points in two games.

That’s kinda worrisome.

Predictions?

Playoffs again, for sure. I’m not going to bet against another Shield except Kansas City looks significantly improved and San Diego is going to be tough, as well. A definite contender for the top two, and a clear shot at the title.

Will they be dangerous? Yes. Way more than they were back last spring and early summer.

Can the Thorns beat them? We couldn’t in May or June when they were a hot mess, and that’s not how they ended the season. If we can, we can’t afford a passenger (sorry, Sinc, looking at you…) and our defending is going to have to be significantly better that it was last year.

Frankly, I think that both we and Kansas City got lucky last season; the Current to sink them in the semifinal and us not to have to face them in the Final. Next season? I think we’re gonna have to depend on making our own luck to get past these damn Frenchies.

Next up: The Chicago Red Stars

Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

4 thoughts on “2023 S-2 Briefing: OL Reign

  1. I agree with Seattle being tough to beat and smart money would have been on them against the Thorns in the Final in 2022. but in 2023 I am inclined to think the Thorns might be the slightly better team. First of all Seattle added Bennett and Sonnett by trade and two very low draft picks whereas the Thorns added three draft picks that could be very good and two of them were first round. Secondly, I think more of the Thorns starters could be much better this year. I see Weaver improving a lot, Coffey will continue to improve and Smith even though she is already a very finished product she can improve even more and I am sure she will. On top of that I think that Dunn, if she can return to her level before she came to Portland, will make the Thorns a really tough team to play.
    The Reign on the other hand don’t seem to have as many players that are going to improve a lot. Rose, Pinoe, Quinn and Fishlock are all finished product; great but not going to improve massively. Balcer, Huitma, and Huerta are all good players but I think are close to finished products. I prefer our front three, the midfield I think is about even, the back four I give the Thorns the edge but slightly. At goalie, well Bixby is our keeper and I give her the edge over Tulllis Joyce who is very respectable.
    Coaching, well we know Harvey is a good coach and we really don’t know much about Mike Norris. He is a “known unknown.”

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    1. I think I did something wrong, because I don’t get your points.
      1) Seattle was better than when we met them in 2022 and we couldn’t beat them then.
      2) Draftees are a crapshoot, and more to the point the Thorns draftees, while promising, are a) unlikely to be as good as Seattle’s starters and b) probably not on the pitch until the World Cup period. I don’t see them giving us much if any advantage.
      3) I’ve hoped to see a big jump from Weaver and haven’t. Coffey is already good but no better than Quinn or Fishlock. Smith is better than Balcer, but I don’t think she’s going to get MUCH better next season.
      4) Dunn has shown nothing much so far other than one golazo, so there’s no telling what we’ll see this season and that’s assuming Soubrier doesn’t get hired in LA and she forces a trade to ACFC.

      So I repeat what I said in the piece; I think we got lucky not to have to face these people when they were at full strength and I don’t see that changing this season. I think we’re going to have trouble with them, and will need to be at our very best form to be confident of taking three points off them. Can we? Sure! When we’re on we’re on and few clubs can run with us.
      When we’re not we ship three goals at Gotham, FFS.

      We need to treat these people with respect, put the boot in early and often, grab the points ans run like thieves.

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  2. No you didn’t do anything wrong. I read what you said, but I am looking more optimistically at the Thorns. Sophia had 7 goals 1 assist in 2021 and Weaver had 1 goal 3 assists. In 2022 Smith had 14 goals and 3 assists and Weaver had 7 goals and 3 assists. I think that is great huge improvement or both! Only one player in the league had more goals than Soph and only 8 had more goals than Weaver.
    Both of those are dramatic improvements and I would allow that both players could still improve their finishing, especially Weaver, but I can see both improving this season.
    And I wasn’t saying Coffey is better than Quinn or Fishlock, but I still think given her age she has more upside. Sonnett is definitely an improvement to their back line but I still favor our back line.
    And yeah we don’t know what will happen with Dunn 2023, but 2021 was not a good year for her, for whatever reason; and I will cut her some slack for 2022 because she had a baby in May. If she plays in 2023 we are going to see a very motivated Dunn.
    As for the rookies I really think Reyes is a legit starter.
    Maybe I should start my posts with the disclaimer “Rose Colored Glasses” here.

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    1. Hmmmm.

      Well…

      Smith with 14 goals was within one of the Golden Boot. Previous winners have scored (in reverse season order): 15, 10, 18 (Kerr, the alltime record holder), 16, 17, 11, 15, 16, 12. That suggests that Smith’s 2022 is very likely to be a career year. I’m not sure how she could improve on that.
      Weaver? Her college record is 43 goals in 85 games (just over 0.5/game), and so far as a pro she’s scored 19 in 30 games (0.63/game), so, she’s actually well above her historic mean. I’d love to see her get into, say, double figures. That said, it’s not often that clubs have two attackers with more than 10 goals and nearly all of them are the Damned; they did it in 2021 (Debinha 12 and Ordonez 11) and 2019 (Williams 12, Debinha 10) and 2018 (Willams 14 McDonald 10). We’ve never done it, suggesting our system doesn’t work that way.
      Would I love to dee her go from 7 to, say, 10? Ohhellyes! But I’m not sure that 3 more goals over a season is going to flip the matchup with Seattle.

      Coffey is going to be hell on wheels at her peak, I agree. Will she peak next season? Since players usually peak around 27…no. Her projected peak is around the 2026 season. Quinn and Fishlock are peaking now. I don’t see the advantage there – two years? Yes! This April? Mmmm….

      I haven’t posted it yet – it’s in the Chicago piece I’ll drop tomorrow – I ran xG-against for the six playoff teams – that is; how many good looks the opponents got from their backlines.
      Chicago was the worst – 1.55xGa/game
      We were next-worst – 1.39
      Seattle? Best of all six, 1.02, nearly 40% better than we were.
      So we may like our defenders…but the numbers don’t.

      And Dunn? We literally have no idea if she can play anything like she could when she was running with the Damned greyhounds. Or after her old man getting canned whether she even wants to.

      I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer. The Thorns are a solid squad and the defending champs. I’m just saying…all playoff leagues incorporate massive doses of luck, and we caught ALL the breaks in 2022…well, except for the draw at Gotham that pissed away the Shield. But, still.

      The Thorns are going to have to be prepared to see better (or just as good) from several clubs they got lucky against in 2022; KCC and Seattle, unfortunately, look like two that will be better – or MUCH better – than when we met them last season.

      It’s good to have faith and hope.

      But you’d better have your preplotted targets locked in tight, too.

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