OL Reign have to prepare for Friday night’s NWSL clash with Washington Spirit knowing it is likely to be Megan Rapinoe’s last at Lumen Field.
The Reign topped the regular-season standings last year to claim the NWSL Shield, having been runners-up in 2021. But in 2023, their playoff prospects are precarious with just two league games left to play.
They must beat the Spirit to stay in control of their destiny and even if they do make it to the post-season, they would need favorable results elsewhere to finish top four and secure a home tie.
That’s why the soccer-loving city of Seattle plans to send its star name off in style Friday, whatever the result. Over 32,000 tickets have already been sold for a match billed ‘Forever Reign: A Celebration of Megan Rapinoe’, ensuring the all-time NWSL single-game attendance record will be broken.
The pre-match media conference saw Rapinoe sitting alongside head coach Laura Harvey, who would dearly love to extend a Reign working relationship that began over a decade ago by a few more weeks.
They spoke about expecting a stern test from a Spirit team they haven’t beaten since 2018. There were also reflections on the magnitude of what has been achieved during Rapinoe’s career, both on and off the field. “My marker of success is, how much better is it for everyone?” said the two-time World Cup winner.
There were tears, too. Harvey anticipated them — “I’m not even going to look at her as I’ll get upset”, she warned a reporter — but she couldn’t stop herself from crying when asked what she had learned from Rapinoe.
“Too much to even go through in a press conference,” she replied.
“I think there’s a lot. I was a young coach when I came here, I was 32, and I’d never lived authentically, really. And I think being around someone like Pinoe…”
Harvey chastised herself for getting emotional but needed a moment to recover. A nudge and a joke from Rapinoe helped her to carry on.
“... she gives you the platform to think that you can be whatever you want.”
“She was always willing to put herself in front of all of the bullets…to try and better the club.” Laura Harvey on Pinoe’s impact with the Reign. “She gives you the platform to think you can be whatever you want.” Harvey, through tears, on Pinoe’s impact on her. pic.twitter.com/vD7IFx9kRt— leigh (@twocutemedals) October 6, 2023
The LGBTQ representation that Harvey helps to provide may not have received as much attention as that of Rapinoe or other members of her Reign squad such as Quinn, Jess Fishlock and Tziarra King — who announced their engagement a year ago — and Nikki Stanton.
However, as her comments at the press conference suggest, Harvey has grown into her authenticity and visibility since first arriving at the Reign in 2013.
Rapinoe had come out publicly the year before, but back home in Britain there were few out role models in soccer for LGBTQ women at the time. It wasn’t until 2014 that then England captain Casey Stoney — now head coach at San Diego Wave — came out publicly, and England forward Lianne Sanderson spoke to the media about her engagement with Boston Breakers team-mate Joanna Lohman (the couple would later separate).
Harvey grew up in the West Midlands and played for Birmingham City before an ACL injury sent her down the coaching route, where she excelled. Having risen into the top job at Blues, she left for Arsenal in 2008 and soon rose up once more to become manager, winning multiple league titles and domestic cups.
Her first stint at the Reign followed, and she guided the team to back-to-back NWSL Shields.
Clearly, the inclusive culture which Rapinoe played such a pivotal part in creating in Seattle had an effect, because in her next job at Utah Royals, Harvey was participating in Pride Game conversations and talking about being an out gay woman in soccer.
"Being an openly gay woman, it is a huge thing that we represent that.— Utah Royals (@UtahRoyalsFC) June 26, 2019
You stand there with a big smile on your face and be really proud of what we can accomplish by allowing people to be who they are." -@LH1505 pic.twitter.com/IdB477bm6j
After returning to the Reign, she also featured in the club’s uplifting Pride video last summer alongside Rapinoe, Fishlock, King and other players.
On her Instagram account, Harvey shows how she is living authentically. Amid beautiful shots of the Pacific Northwest coastline and snaps from concert trips to Vegas, she proudly displays photos of days out with her nephew and other family members, alongside birthday and Valentine’s Day messages to her partner, Gina.
Now 43, she is tipped by many to be the next head coach of the U.S. women’s national team, replacing Vlatko Andonovski who resigned after the team’s shock last-16 exit in the World Cup in Australia. Andonovski’s assistant Twila Kilgore has been in temporary charge.
ESPN reported late last month that U.S. Soccer is evaluating the “human skills” of the remaining candidates, having whittled down the shortlist to just over 10 names.
Harvey is surely among them, and the high esteem in which Rapinoe holds her — as demonstrated by that moment at the press conference — can only enhance her chances of getting the USA job, if she wants it.
The mutual respect was also evident in Harvey’s response to a question about Rapinoe’s off-field impact.
“We always knew that the most powerful voice in the room was Pinoe,” she replied. “And the thing that I’ve always loved is she never shied away from that.
“She was always willing to put herself in front of all the bullets that everyone was willing to throw at her.”
She added: “It’s phenomenal to think where we started to where we are now. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.”
Whether you look at the Pinoe factor on the professional level of women’s soccer or the personal level of empowering others, the effect cannot be underestimated.
The Reign must first focus on beating the Spirit before they can concentrate on celebrating Rapinoe, but for Harvey and so many others at Lumen Field — on the pitch or in the stands — it will be a farewell to remember forever, and sure to bring a tear to the eye.