OL reign getting ready for the start of the NWSL season, starting with the second edition of the Challenge Cup. Last year has been a year of trying, tweaking and getting to grips with a new system, coach and identity, all in the midst of a season shattered by a pandemic.
With a year under the leadership of Farid Benstiti, Reign are looking to improve on the club’s seventh place in 2020.
Ride of the Valkyries will preview each area of the team ahead of the season opener on April 16, against the Houston Scoreboard. In this overview, we’ll take a look at the seven defenders listed on the depth chart.
Ageless wonder, Steph Cox returned to competitive football in 2019 when a scourge of injury swept through OL Reign’s roster. Cox renewed his contract in 2020 for the Challenge Cup and Fall Series, continuing his role as a right-back starter and team leader.
Last year, Cox compiled eight games, starting in all of them, playing as a mix of left and right-backs. She had an assist in the fall series, in the game against the Utah Royals on September 26.
Cox is back for his third season after his retirement. Due to the youth of OL Reign’s squad, she could once again return to a starting position, probably left-back. However, the return of Celia Jimenez Delgado from Lyon will provide another versatile player. We’ll get to Celia in a moment.
Whether she’s just starting out or becoming a defensive super-under, Cox has no signs of slowing down.
Lauren Barnes, life member of Reign, is entering her ninth season with the club. Barnes was on loan throughout the fall series, but was with the Challenge Cup reign.
During that tournament, Barnes played four games as left center-back. Next, Barnes traveled to Sweden to make 11 appearances with Kristianstads DFF.
Barnes is back in the United States and will likely be one of the starting center-backs. And with Barnes returning, the Reigns have something they didn’t have on the fall series last year: depth.
After some time in Houston, Amber Brooks returned to reign in 2020. In her first season at Tacoma, Brooks cemented herself in a starting role, as a right center-back.
With Barnes on loan, Brooks starred primarily alongside Kristen McNabb in the fall series. However, Brooks is a versatile center-back, as she featured as a left-center-back in the Challenge Cup, when Alana Cook took the right place.
Brooks spent 2020 getting to know his new teammates and a new roster. With a year under her belt, she will return in 2021 with the aim of reclaiming her starting role and having a greater impact on defense.
The Spanish defender returns to Reign after a loan to OL Reign’s parent club / partner, Olympique Lyonnais. She hasn’t made any official appearances with Lyon, but training with some of the best players in the world doesn’t create a bad atmosphere.
Celia can be used anywhere in defense and has also played a defensive midfielder role for the reign. Considering the defenders currently on the roster, look for her as the future starter.
The creator of the story – Madison Hammond was the very first Native American player to feature in the NWSL – got plenty of minutes in the fall 2020 playoffs due to Barnes’ loan to Sweden. Hammond started two of his four appearances, totaling 195 minutes. Hammond played his first 90-minute game against the Utah Royals on October 17.
Barring big surprises, Hammond will be Barnes’ replacement in 2021. Do not rule out, however, that she will act as a replacement.
Machaela George was signed by the reign ahead of the 2020 Challenge Cup, but did not appear for the club until she was loaned out to Fortuna Hjørring in Denmark for the fall. Her training time with Reign’s players and knowledge of the Benstiti system will come in handy, as will her playing time in Denmark, where she has appeared eight games and scored three goals in all competitions. She will likely be a substitute this year, but with many more games on the schedule, it’s likely she will see a few minutes. The former Santa Clara made 88 college appearances, scoring six goals and providing 14 assists.
Sam Hiatt compiled 11 minutes against the Utah Royals as her only action of 2020. She is a young player who the team clearly sees potential, having signed a new three-year contract during the offseason. Like the other young players, it is unlikely that she will appear as a starter right away, but she has now had a year to learn the Benstiti system and can help newcomers to the squad learn the roster. Benstiti.
- Only one defender is a risk for international duty: Celia (Spain). The defense is expected to remain pretty much intact this year, barring injuries.
- Both Kristen McNabb and Quinn have both featured as defenders before but are currently listed as midfielders for the team, so don’t rule out that they step back a line if necessary.
- All defensemen are going to have a new voice behind them, after Michelle Betos was picked by Louisville in the expansion draft and Casey Murphy was traded to North Carolina. Karen Bardsley will likely be the preferred starter ahead of the season, but she will be on international duty with England to start the Challenge Cup, meaning Cosette Morche or Ella Dederick will be behind defense for at least the first two games.