OL Reign Win Their Third NWSL Shield

In their last regular season game, Oct. 1, the OL Reign won their third National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) shield in a 3-0 victory over the Orlando Pride. They did so in front of a crowd of over 10,000 people at Lumen Field, setting a standalone attendance record in the process.

The NWSL shield is awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the season. The Reign finished with a record of 11-4-7, and 40 points overall, beating out their rival team the Portland Thorns, who had 39 points. The team last won the shield in 2015, and before that in 2014. Third-year Marketing major Grant Balcer, goalkeeper for the Seattle University men’s soccer team and brother of Reign player Bethany Balcer, cited the increase in NWSL teams and competition as reasons for why it has taken the Reign seven years to win another shield.

“Women’s soccer has definitely [become] more competitive,” G. Balcer said. “Obviously there’s more teams that have gotten added, so it’s a lot harder to win it now.” 

But how did they get here? The Reign started their season out slowly, not winning a game until their fifth match. From there, they were able to pick up the pace, and ended their season with a nearly undefeated record at home, winning 10 out 11 games played on Lumen Field. 

Kacey LaBoda, a senior defender on the Seattle U women’s soccer team trained with the Reign this summer and found the attendance hike exciting. 

“I think that the crowd definitely gives the team light and a little bit more excitement,” LaBoda said. “It’s exciting to see [the crowd] being excited as well.”

Leading up to their final game of the season, the Reign were riding a winning streak lasting seven games. The showdown against the Pride also marked 2019 Ballon D’or Winner Megan Rapinoe’s 100th regular season appearance, which G. Balcer and LaBoda said could have had some impact on the team coming away with the win.

“Obviously playing 100 games no matter the season is a big accomplishment,” G. Balcer said “I think it’s definitely special for [Rapinoe], and obviously she wanted to put on a show.”

And put on a show she did. Rapinoe scored the first goal of the game in the eighth minute. She was followed by two other goals in the first half, from teammates Jordyn Huitema in the 24th minute and B. Balcer in the 31st. The team was able to keep up that momentum in the second half and deny Orlando Pride any goals, securing the three points they needed to top the Portland Thorns on the leaderboard. All of this happened in front of their record-breaking home crowd of 10,746 people, something First-year Premajor student Emma Garcia was thrilled to see.

“I know in the past when I’ve gone to their games it’s never been like a huge crowd like you would see with the Sounders,” Garcia said. “The games I used to go to were like 2,000 people. It was not ever like a big thing.”

Fans hope to see the support from the local community continue through the postseason. The Reign have a bye for the first round of the tournament, so their first playoff game will not be until Oct. 23 at Lumen Field. Garcia thinks the extra week will benefit the team.

“They have time to physically prepare themselves,” Garcia said. “They also have the time to mentally get into the headspace of going into a game that’s that big.”

For fans however, all of this hopeful NWSL news might have been overshadowed by the Oct. 4 release of the Yates Report by US Soccer. The report was issued following an investigation into three former NWSL coaches being accused of sexual abuse and misconduct by former players. It brought to light a serious problem within the league about teams not protecting their players from potential harm and allowing dangerous environments to persist. Despite not being named in the report, the Reign issued a statement showing support for everyone who came forward about their experiences and were able to bring this issue to a bigger stage.

LaBoda, as an athlete whose goal is to play soccer professionally, was thankful that the issue of abuse in the NWSL was being brought to light. She was also proud of the players for standing up and facing this issue head on.

“I think that the strength of these women in the NWSL really is going to drive them to grow and be better,” LaBoda said. “There is a strength and almost a family of players who are going to support and stop this from happening.”

The playoffs are still moving forward despite the release of the report. 

“Be there Oct 23. If you want to watch soccer, it’s a huge opportunity,” G. Balcer said. “It’s right in front of the OL Reign too, they have everything: Home field, semifinals, Sounders aren’t playing, Seahawks are away, they’re ready to be in the spotlight that night.”

It’s a big night for the OL Reign. All eyes in the Emerald City will be on the team to back up their regular season dominance where it counts. If they get the same fan support they did at this last game, the team’s record tells us that they will.