Alana Cook Talks Signing With OL Reign for Challenge Cup

PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 27: Alana Cook of PSG during the UEFA Women's Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match between Paris Saint-Germain Women (PSG) and Chelsea Women at Stade Jean-Bouin on March 27, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Alana Cook plays as a defender for Paris Saint-Germain and has also appeared with the USWNT. The 23-year-old is currently on loan from PSG, after signing on to play with OL Reign in the upcoming NWSL Challenge Cup. We spoke to Cook about what went into that decision and how she’s feeling heading into the Cup. 

You’ve now been in camp with the Reign for a couple weeks. How is that going? 

It’s been going really well. I think one of the awesome things about Reign is they have quite a few established veterans who are, I think, very vital to the team culture, the team environment. And I think everyone kind of follows their lead, in terms of looking after each other, helping each other be better. I’m enjoying the time here, and I think I’ve learned a lot. I’m continuing to develop under another staff and the leaders here.

When did you first realize there was an opportunity to play for OL Reign and how did that come about? 

We kind of just had to monitor the situation as the pandemic evolved, to see what the French league was doing and if there was going to be a NWSL season. Almost as soon as this tournament was put together, we were able to put together some of the terms of the loan deal and get it worked out with both Reign and PSG. Speaking with Bill [Predmore, OL Reign owner], it was clear that this was a win-win. We’re both hoping I can contribute and help the team, and that playing with the team can help me continue to develop as well.

How long have you been back in the U.S.? 

I think the French season was officially canceled maybe in May. But we had been suspended since probably the first or second weekend of March. And once things started to get a bit crazy in France, when they started looking at doing a total shutdown, I decided it was best to just come home. So I’ve been home in the U.S. since I think March 12 or 13. Right when things started to really pick up in France with the pandemic.

After you got out, were you just training at home and waiting to see what would happen?

I think when they first suspended league play, they were very much taking it day by day, week by week. We were told to be ready to come back at any time to continue playing. So I was just at home in New Jersey, doing my best to kind of train, and if there were any fields open, try to go to those. Obviously, New Jersey was hit pretty badly with its proximity to New York. So most of the public parks and everything shut down, so then it was kind of just, how much fitness can I do in my backyard and in my basement?

How much were you able to do? I can’t imagine your basement had enough space for full on soccer workouts. 

It was a bit difficult. I mean, I used all the online resources I could to find workouts and all that kind of stuff. You know, you make it work, you do what you can.

How does PSG feel about you playing in this tournament? 

I think they’re happy for me to be able to continue training and continue developing. And hopefully if I get some game time I think that will only benefit me when I go back to playing with PSG.

After a few practices with OL Reign, are you seeing differences in the French game versus the American game? 

It’s kind of the stereotype we all kind of assume between the French game and the American game. I think here it’s a little more athletically based. There’s a lot more, I would say, focus on counter-attack and the transition game. Whereas I think over in France, maybe Europe in general, it’s a little more, I don’t know… not necessarily possession based, but I think you’re less looking to strike on the counter-attack. Less looking to use your athleticism and speed to get behind unbalanced defenses.

Having grown up in the U.S., something I’ve noticed is that I think we focus a little more on just the tactics. And I think we spend more time specifically nailing down every detail of a defensive scheme, how things work. And I think over in France, maybe it’s just a little more ingrained in how they grew up playing. They don’t necessarily focus on it as much in training. It’s more assumed that you understand the relationships between the positions and stuff like that, and I think it’s just assumed that you then can apply that to different formations and different tactics.

So I would say here we’ve spent more time just slowing things down. We’re in our spots, looking at what we’re doing. Whereas in France, if you get told we’re playing a 3-4-3 or 4-4-2, you’re kind of expected to just know how that functions.

Would you say you’re more comfortable in one style? 

I mean, I’ve played at lot of 4-3-3. At PSG, we played some 3-4-3, 3-5-2. So I think either way, I’ve gotten used to those formations and I feel comfortable. And I think a lot of my coaches have done a good job teaching me the relationships and how to apply them in any formation. With that said, I am a big fan of a 4-3-3.

How are you feeling heading into the tournament? What are your thoughts on going into the bubble?  

I feel good. I think we’ve been doing really well in training, and I think the coach has been happy with the progress we’ve made. Obviously, it’s not a long preseason. We had to put the pieces together as quickly as possible. But I think we have a really good chance of doing well in the tournament, so I think morale is pretty high over here.

In terms of the bubble, I think everyone is doing the best they can to keep all the players safe and make sure the proper environment is maintained so that we can just play. With that said, I think everyone’s a little uneasy about being so secluded. I think we’re all willing to try to make it work. But it will definitely be an experience. There may be some character building along the way.