Seattle’s OL Reign made the playoffs. Here’s how to root for them

The professional women’s soccer team is vying for the first championship of its 10-year history.

Soccer players celebrating on the pitch

OL Reign players celebrate a goal earlier this season. Seattle’s NWSL team has secured the #1 seed in the postseason tournament. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

It has been an emotional roller-coaster for Seattle sports fans this fall. We’ve seen Sue Bird play her final playoff series, we’ve watched the Mariners mount a historic (but far too short) playoff run, and the Sounders… well, let’s not talk about that. The thing is, the ride isn’t over yet. We still have a pro sports team in the playoffs. OL Reign is just two wins away from winning the National Women’s Soccer League championship. If you haven’t been following professional women’s soccer in Seattle, now is a great time to start. This team is good and a lot of fun and, I’m telling you, they could win it all. If you think you can handle another postseason run, this guide is for you.

So, there’s a game coming up? When is it? Can I go?

Yes. The OL Reign are the #1 seed, which means that they didn’t have to play in the first playoff round last weekend. Instead they will start their postseason with the semifinal round on Sunday, Oct. 23, at Lumen Field. The kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. against the Kansas City Current in a win-or-go-home. If they win, they head to Washington, D.C., for the NWSL Championship the following Saturday, Oct. 29.

In their regular-season meetings OL Reign traded wins with Kansas City. OL Reign won the first meeting here back in May, while Kansas City picked up the win at home in July. So, yeah, home field matters and we’ve got it.

The team recently released more tickets for Sunday’s game, and is aiming to fill the lower bowl of Lumen Field. We’re looking at a possible attendance of close to 20,000.

If you’d rather watch from home, you’ll have to tune into CBS Sports Network on either cable, dish, or a streaming service like Paramount Plus or YouTube TV. If you would like to listen instead, you will need a subscription to SiriusXM.

Wait, is it a game or a match?

There’s no correct term. Whichever you’re comfortable using, the fact remains that OL Reign are a victory away from playing for the league championship and they need you and your friends to show up on Sunday and cheer them on.

Have they ever won the whole thing?

No. The Reign has been a part of the National Women’s Soccer League since its inaugural season in 2013, and while they have won three NWSL Shields, awarded to the team that finishes in first place at the end of the regular season, they have never won the NWSL Championship. Still, the club is regarded as one of the league’s premier franchises.

Should OL Reign advance to the NWSL Championship and win, then third time’s the charm for the club, players and coaching staff in reaching the ultimate prize.

You said they are the #1 seed. What makes them so good?

First, let’s talk about how they got that seed. Only six of the league’s 12 teams make it to the playoffs. For most of the 22-game season, OL Reign was in the middle of the standings. Then in September the team went on a tear, winning three matches in a week, all on the road, and ending the regular season at the top.

A trio of players have been with the club since day one: Megan Rapinoe (#15), Jess Fishlock (#10) and Lauren Barnes (#3) are known as the “Reign Originals” and are as much impact players on the field as they are clubhouse leaders. Fishlock won the NWSL Most Valuable Player award last season, and Barnes won NWSL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2016. And of course there’s Rapinoe, the two-time FIFA World Cup champion and the Best FIFA Women’s Player in 2019, which means she was the best player in the world.

OL Reign’s greatest strength is likely its defense, as the team gave up the fewest goals in the league this season. On the flip side, they have options for scoring goals: Ten players found the back of the net for the team this season.

Head coach Laura Harvey, meanwhile, appears to be on a mission. She was the club’s first coach, from 2013 to 2017, then returned midseason last year for what she said at the time was “unfinished business.”

Megan Rapinoe is still on the team, then?

Yes, and still one of the star players. Her impact on the field has been well-documented, but this season she is delivering in crunch time. Since August, Rapinoe has scored either a goal or an assist (which means she passed to a goal-scorer) in all but one of OL Reign’s matches.

OK, so what’s with the “OL”?

The Reign have gone through a couple of name changes over the years. From their inaugural season in 2013 until 2019, they were called Seattle Reign FC. Ahead of the 2019 season they moved down to Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium and rebranded as Reign FC. Then in January 2020, France-based OL Groupe acquired the team, rebranding it OL Reign. OL Groupe is the corporate entity that owns both the men’s and women’s soccer teams, Olympique Lyonnais, in Lyon, France, both of which have won a fair share of trophies and produced some very good soccer players.

And do they always play at Lumen Field? I thought they had moved to Tacoma?

They do always play at Lumen, now. When OL Groupe acquired the club from Bill and Teresa Predmore in 2020, the aim was to build a soccer-specific stadium in Tacoma that they’d share with Tacoma Defiance (the developmental team for Seattle Sounders FC), but the COVID-19 pandemic slowed everything down. The team needed an immediate stadium solution, as Cheney Stadium was no longer in accordance with league standards, so the stadium project was scuttled. Instead the club has returned to Seattle, moving into spacious Lumen Field, also home to the Sounders and the Seahawks.

For their first season at Lumen, the seating configuration was conservatively set at 10,000 and regular-season attendance averaged 6,844. The team has the ability to open more sections if the demand calls for it. Three times this year, OL Reign set new single-game stand-alone attendance records at Lumen Field: First, they drew 7,519 in July, which broke the existing club record of 7,479. That record was broken the following week with 9,032. At the regular-season finale earlier this month, a new record was set with 10,746 in attendance.

The record for NWSL attendance for a single match, by the way, was set back in September by San Diego Wave FC during a regular-season game that attracted 32,000 fans. Last weekend, San Diego had 26,215 at their playoff match.

Fans holding up team scarves

OL Reign fans cheer during a game against the Houston Dash at Lumen Field, August 7, 2022. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

OL Reign fans cheer during a game against the Houston Dash at Lumen Field, August 7, 2022. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

Let’s say I go to a playoff match. What do I need to know to get the most out of it?

If you’ve been to a Sounders FC match before, you’re pretty much going to get the same experience — which is entertaining soccer. You can be in the supporters’ section with The Royal Guard and learn their songs and chants, just like you may have at a Sounders FC match with the Emerald City Supporters. Or you can grab a seat anywhere that’s available as there’s no bad seat at Lumen Field.

Can I get a team jersey?

If you were to ask me “Should I buy a jersey?”, I would answer “Yes.” But the answer to “Can I buy a jersey?” is more complicated. Acquiring an OL Reign jersey, or any NWSL jersey for that matter, is itself an adventure thanks to supply chain issues and the historically inadequate investment in women’s sports merchandising — but that’s a conversation for another time. Check the OL Reign’s online shop and Lumen Field on matchdays, and you might luck out.

I saw a headline that said NWSL players are protesting. What’s going on? Are there likely to be protests during the match?

Earlier this month, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates released a report on the systemic abuse that has plagued the NWSL since its inaugural season — in some cases predating the league’s existence and even seeping into the sport’s youth levels. The Yates Report, as it’s commonly called, was done at the request of both the NWSL and U.S. Soccer after bombshell reports last year shed light on the abuse that’s destroyed lives and careers. There’s no eloquent way to say this: It sucks. Simple as that.

Fans in the stands will most certainly display messaging supporting the players and the victims and calling for consequences for the abusers and those complicit in the cover-up. Whether or not the players themselves will do anything on the field before, during or after the game remains to be seen.

While the Yates Report focused on three head coaches (Paul Riley, Rory Dames and Christy Holly), there was mention of former OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti’s dismissal over inappropriate comments about player fitness and nutrition and the club’s lack of a permanent training facility. To date, OL Reign trains at Tacoma’s Bellarmine Preparatory School. [Update: On Thursday morning, the club just announced that its athletes will train at Tukwila’s Starfire Sports Complex starting February 2023.]

It’s worth noting that the rot is not exclusive to the NWSL, nor to women’s professional soccer. It’s across all levels, all genders of the sport. The removal of the rot is ongoing, it’ll take time, and more horror stories will be told, but it’s necessary for the sport often described as “the beautiful game” to be exactly that.

I jumped on the Mariners bandwagon and they broke my heart. I don’t know if I can go through something like that again. Do you really think the Reign can win it all?

This team is loaded with veterans who have won on some of soccer’s biggest stages, with a coaching staff that’s been here before. Last season OL Reign lost in the semifinal round, and it left a bitter taste in their mouth. This team doesn’t have aspirations to be playing for the NWSL Championship, they expect to be there at the end of October. As defender Sofia Huerta succinctly put it, “It’s time and we want to win.”

OK, I’m in. How do I follow what’s going on with the team?

The Seattle Times’ Jayda Evans covers OL Reign along with her fantastic coverage of Seattle Sounders FC. Fansite Sounder at Heart also has a dedicated Reign section and runs a Twitter account, Ride of the Valkyries, for general news and matchday commentary with a dash of fan personality. And yes, I must disclose that I am part of that Sounder at Heart coverage team.

There’s also the YouTube channel Circling Seattle Sports, which has had interviews with OL Reign players in addition to general coverage.

You should also follow OL Reign’s official Twitter and Instagram accounts. The players have their individual social media accounts as well. They are most active on Instagram, where they post pictures and share slices of their lives off the field. Of course, for the next couple weekends I expect their attention — and ours — will be on the field.

Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.

Donate

About the Authors & Contributors

portrait

Jacob Cristobal

Jacob Cristobal is a contributing writer at Sounder At Heart and has covered the Reign FC since their inaugural season in 2013.