The National Women's Soccer League preseason is wrapping up and the 12 clubs in the league are preparing for the eight-month grind with the Challenge Cup and the regular season looming. The 2022 Challenge Cup will kick off on March 18 with the cup final closing on May 7. Fans can watch the Challenge Cup opening weekend matches live and on-demand on Paramount+. For the full NWSL regular season schedule, click here.
OL Reign had a massive late-season turnaround after the dismissal of Farid Benstiti as head coach. Longtime Reign assistant coach Sam Laity took over midseason before Laura Harvey made her return to the club for the final stretch. Ahead of preseason, franchise founders Bill and Teresa Predmore announced they would step back from operational roles within the club but remain as minority owners with the OL Groupe version of the Reign.
Let's take a look at OL Reign ahead of the 2022 NWSL season:
Finish in 2021: The team struggled in the first half, but the coaching shift led by Laity kickstarted a turnaround as the franchise awaited the return of Harvey, with an eight-game unbeaten run to stay in contention for the NWSL Shield. They finished second behind Portland and were eliminated in the semifinals against eventual champions Washington Spirit.
Biggest losses: International superstars Eugénie Le Sommer, Dzsenifer Marozsan and Sarah Bouhaddi returned to Olympique Lyonnais after completion of their NWSL loan. The trio proved to be essential to the Reign's late-season success. Defender Cecilia Delgado Jimenez and forward Leah Pruitt were traded to Orlando Pride, and longtime Reign defender Stephanie Cox announced her retirement.
Biggest acquisitions: They acquired several players via trades in the offseason, including Nikki Stanton, Veronica Lasko and Phoebe McClernon. However, the biggest move for the club was player retention, as several Reign players were issued new contacts. Megan Rapinoe signed a one-year deal, plus 2021 NWSL MVP Jess Fishlock, Rose Lavelle, Lauren Barnes, Sofia Huerta, Bethany Balcer and Tziarra King each signed multiyear deals.
Biggest burning question
The club has had success on the pitch with two NWSL Shields and other individual awards under Laura Harvey's time with the franchise, but a championship has eluded the team despite their longevity in the league. Will this be the year the club finally wins the big prize?
What they're saying
USWNT defender Alana Cook is entering her first full season with the Reign ahead of the 2022 regular season after a short loan in 2020 and joining the club midseason in 2021. Cook, whose contract with the club runs though 2023, sat down with CBS Sports' "Attacking Third" podcast to discuss OL Reign ahead of the upcoming season.
"We traveled the first day of preseason and all kind of met up down in Arizona, it's always great when you can change your surroundings and be a little more secluded and just have the team be together," Cook said.
The Reign's impressive turn midseason took the team from an eight place team to second place in the standings, Cook's personal goals are to build off the success of last season.
"I was proud of what I accomplished last year and what the team achieved last year. So I think it's just going to be building on those little things."
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After spending some time in Arizona and Portland for the preseason, OL Reign have narrowed down their preseason roster ahead of the Challenge Cup. Defenders lead the roster with nine players. Despite losing some big names, expect the midfield to have success with Lavelle, Fishlock, and Quinn as options for the middle third.
Goalkeepers (3): Claudia Dickey, Laurel Ivory, Phallon Tullis-Joyce
Defenders (9): Lu Barnes, Ryanne Brown, Alana Cook, Sam Hiatt, Sofia Huerta, Alyssa Malonson, Jimena López, Phoebe McClernon, Sinclaire Miramontez
Midfielders (8): Angelina, Olivia Athens, Marley Canales, Jess Fishlock, Rose Lavelle, Quinn, Olivia van der Jagt, Nikki Stanton
Forwards (6): Bethany Balcer, Zsanett Kaján, Tziarra King, Veronica Latsko, Megan Rapinoe, Ally Watt
Expect OL Reign to build off their previous season with Laura Harvey and with familiar faces in the franchise. The team is likely to make another postseason appearance if players remain healthy, and continue to win titles along the way.