NWSL Preview: Off-Season Acquisitions Bolster Veteran 2018 Seattle Reign Squad

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Editorial (March 22, 2018) – Vlatko Andonovski is joining the same team that he beat twice in the NWSL Championship match.

After five seasons as the head coach of FC Kansas City — which included NWSL championship wins in 2014 and 2015 — Andonovski joined the Seattle Reign on Nov. 7, 2017.

Andonovski is familiar with the Seattle Reign, but the players are a bit foreign to him. Much of Seattle’s roster isn’t the same as it was back in 2014 and 2015.

However, a familiar face made the move with Andonovski up north.

2018 Seattle Reign NWSL Preview

Yael Averbuch joined FC Kansas City in 2015, staying with the club for three seasons. Partnered on defense at centerback with Becky Sauerbrunn, the former U.S. Women’s National Team player made 63 appearances under Andonovski.

“[Vlatko’s] a constant student of the game and he loves being out there just as much as the players,” Averbuch said to The Bold, the Seattle Reign’s official news website. “His approach and his faithfulness to the style that he believes in I think will make the players will absolutely love playing for him.”

“It’s really a joy when you can all buy into something and know that you’re going to work through it and continue to get better at it throughout the season,” Averbuch continued. “Every year I’ve played for Vlatko our team has consistently gotten better, it’s a really cool feeling.”

Andonovski made defense a high priority during the off-season. Joining Lauren Barnes on defense include Megan Oyster and Christen Westphal, who were claimed in the Dispersal Draft after the folding of the Boston Breakers.

Also joining the defense are Steph Catley of Australia and Theresa Nielsen of Denmark.

Two of Seattle’s biggest offseason moves included the acquisitions of Allie Long and England Women’s National Team forward Jodie Taylor.

Long was acquired in a trade with the Portland Thorns, where Seattle gave up the rights to Caitlin Foord and sent over a 2020 NWSL College Draft second-round pick. Long featured in 21 matches last season in Portland’s NWSL championship-winning run. She scored two goals and provided one assist.

As for Taylor, the British 31-year-old — and former Portland Thorn — spent the 2017 season with Arsenal Ladies in England. She made 17 appearances, scoring 10 goals.

Taylor has been a professional soccer player since 2002 and spent the recent off-season with Melbourne City. She scored two goals in six appearances.

Player to Watch

Megan Rapinoe certainly turned heads last season with her offensive firepower. However, this season the stage belongs to Nahomi Kawasumi.

The Japanese Women’s National Team veteran — she holds 82 appearances since 2008 for Nadeshiko Japan — was Seattle’s unsung hero last year.

While Rapinoe’s flashy antics took the spotlight, Kawasumi was right on track with Rapinoe. Kawasumi finished the season with six goals and nine assists in 24 appearances.

Rapinoe scored 12 goals, but only provided one assist.

Both players have formed a key partnership and are proven veterans. Andonovski has the luxury of depth in the forward position and has a veteran-heavy team. Despite still learning the English language, Kawasumi understands Rapinoe and her American teammates.

Since her arrival to Seattle in 2016 — and also a brief spell on loan to Seattle in 2014 — Kawasumi hasn’t missed a beat.

Another player she molds well with is fellow forward Beverly Yanez.

Kawasumi also isn’t the only Japanese member of the Seattle Reign; international teammate Rumi Utsugi, a midfielder, joined the Reign in 2016.

Thoughts on Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski

Andonovski is a proven winner.

After two championship seasons with FC Kansas City, hard times plagued his last two seasons in Kansas. However, his talents for building a roster — especially rosters loaded with veterans — never ceased.

Andonovski lost a lot of players in the off-season, but he replaced them fast and with a solid core group of athletes.

Instead of wallowing in losing goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer, Andonovski reached out and passed a free transfer to acquire goalkeeper Michelle Betos from Norwegian club Vålerenga.

Andonovski has always had a knack for bringing in defensive players. Combining the Dispersal Draft and College Draft picks, he selected four defenders out of six players.

Add those four players with Averbuch, Catley, and Nielsen and that makes nine defenders acquired under Andonovski.

However, he hasn’t turned his back on attacking players, bringing Jasmyne Spencer into the group in a trade with the Orlando Pride. Signing Taylor from Arsenal was probably his most successful attacking addition since his NWSL coaching career began.

A proven winner just took over the team he defeated twice in the championship match. After two lackluster seasons in Kansas City, Andonovski wants to return to the final match.

How fitting would it be for him and Laura Harvey, former Seattle Reign coach now with the Utah Royals, to face off one more time?

Off-Season Losses

Despite the many acquisitions, Andonovski lost a lot of players.

Losing Kopmeyer was rough, but the club quickly rebounded by bringing in Lydia Williams and Betos. However, a player that is tough to replace is that of midfielder Diana Matheson.

The Canadian international now calls the Utah Royals home. She joined Utah after they sent Averbuch to reunite with Andonovski.

Matheson spent the 2017 season on the sideline with an ACL injury. In 2016, she featured for the Washington Spirit, scoring four goals in 12 appearances.

Her time with the Canadian Women’s National Team includes 193 appearances since 2003, where she has scored 17 goals.

Matheson is a veteran leader and now she joins Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, and Harvey down in Utah.

While Seattle never got to see what she could do on the pitch, her reputation spoke for itself. One of Canada’s most consistent players — who is on her way to her 200th appearance with the national team — she has a long history of winning.

Other key losses include Carson Pickett and Christine Nairn joining Kopmeyer down south with the Orlando Pride. Meanwhile, Rebekah Stott and Katie Johnson have departed Seattle for Sky Blue FC.

Season Prediction

It’s tough to go against a talented roster that includes Rapinoe, Kawasumi, Oyster, and Taylor, but with so many different players it’s hard to imagine that transitions will be smooth off the bat.

Andonovski might be a proven winner, but he has to get his group working together in cohesion first.

There’s a lot of different skill sets on this roster. While Rapinoe is notably the biggest name on the roster, there are tons of players that can’t get left behind.

Andonovski has the beautiful dilemma of too much depth. Right now, he has 21 roster spots filled. The last cut of the Seattle Reign roster, whomever it may be, will certainly affect the team.

I believe that the Seattle Reign will barely miss the NWSL playoffs and finish the season in sixth place, ahead of the Portland Thorns, Sky Blue FC, and the Houston Dash.

2018 NWSL Preview Series
Chicago Red Stars
Houston Dash
North Carolina Courage
Orlando Pride
Portland Thorns
Sky Blue FC
Utah Royals
Washington Spirit

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