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Laura Harvey cements OL Reign comeback with contract extension

OL Reign has extended coach Laura Harvey’s contract for two more years. (Michael Thomas Shroyer/USA TODAY Sports)

OL Reign announced Saturday that it has extended longtime manager Laura Harvey’s contract through 2025, a move that promises stability in the club’s front office for years to come. Harvey is the only NWSL manager to coach over 200 games, with three NWSL Coach of the Year honors and three NWSL Shield titles in her tenure.

Harvey and Reign general manager Lesle Gallimore spoke with Just Women’s Sports about the two-year extension, describing it as a high priority and an easy decision. Gallimore, announced as general manager by the Reign a little over a month ago, says the process began before she even accepted her position.

“It wasn’t like a demand of mine, but it was most certainly a part of the conversation,” Gallimore said about her desire to retain the three-time Shield-winning coach. “And then once I was hired, it pretty quickly became really high up on the list.”

For Harvey, the decision to stay in Seattle for another two years didn’t take a lot of persuading. Harvey was the manager of the original Seattle Reign from 2013–17, winning two Shields and reaching the NWSL final twice. She then stepped away from the NWSL to coach the USWNT U-23s, before returning as head coach of the Utah Royals from 2018-19. She returned again to the U.S. system in 2020 and 2021, coaching the U-20s and working as an assistant on USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s staff for the Tokyo Olympics.

In 2021, she returned to the Reign mid-season, bolstered by a new perspective from her time away.

“Without any disrespect to Utah at all, I don’t regret leaving. I feel like it was the right thing at the time for everybody,” Harvey said. “But it never felt right when I was gone.”

While Harvey says she loved her time working with U.S. Soccer, coaching at the international level during the COVID-19 pandemic was incredibly difficult and she missed the day-to-day of the club game.

“I was doing my pro license during 2020 as well as working for U.S. Soccer,” she said. “And in that sort of license, they really get you to dig in on yourself and be vulnerable and all this stuff. And that was what I came out with was I love coaching and I missed it.”

Gallimore found that shift in perspective to be one of the key reasons Harvey is still one of the best people to lead the club into the future.

“Even as someone that thinks the world of Laura, I would have probably been like, ‘Do we really want to extend her if she’s not gone and done something else?’” she said. “Success is one thing and her competency is obviously very, very high. But I know from experience, sitting in one place for too long can sometimes not be the right thing.”

The Reign made the best of difficult situations in the early years of the NWSL, turning the well-trodden turf field of Memorial Stadium into a fortress where they rarely lost and remaining competitive in the transfer market despite struggling to find a permanent home in the Seattle city limits.

“​​People laugh when I say this, like we literally had nothing when we started, it was so crazy. And to think that we became competitive so quickly was wild,” Harvey said.

“But the thing that’s so special about [OL Reign] is the people in it. And I always say to anyone that is thinking about coming to this club — player, coach staff — I can’t put my finger on why this place is so special. But you all feel it when you’re in it. And when you’re in it, you appreciate what it is.”

Harvey’s commitment to the Reign doesn’t come from a place of nostalgia; she’s all-in on the future, having made it through what could have been a breaking point. When she returned to the NWSL mid-season in 2021, she replaced Farid Benstiti, who was later found to have made inappropriate weight-shaming comments to players. She then had to navigate an emotionally reeling team through coming to terms with the release of investigative reporting that uncovered years of abuse in the league.

But the way the league responded with pushing for accountability, and the overwhelming public support of the players in the face of immense wrongdoing, inspired Harvey.

“The day after The Athletic article broke was the hardest day I think I’ve ever had as a coach, ever,” she said. “And I didn’t think we would — I was worried that we wouldn’t get through it. But to get through it, and not just get through it but then everything explode around it, has been so rewarding and so fulfilling that you like — of course you want to be part of it.”

(Michael Thomas Shroyer/USA TODAY Sports)

With a new contract signed, Harvey is focused on the unfinished business of winning the team’s first NWSL championship, a long-held goal that to this point has remained out of reach. She also doesn’t shy away from the way the Reign are evolving, in what is likely the final few years for the original Reign trio of Megan Rapinoe, Lauren Barnes and Jess Fishlock, whom Harvey lovingly refers to as “the three Amigos.”

Harvey wants her veterans rewarded with a championship.

“They’ve been huge in creating that culture and living that culture and holding whoever sits in these seats accountable for that culture, to make sure that this place continues to be somewhere where people want to play,” she said.

“This club has, almost more so than any club in the league or any iteration of the league, has an identity around a group of people whose backs that we will forever have stood on their shoulders and built this on,” added Gallimore.

But Harvey and Gallimore also both understand the need for a healthy mix of experience, and the Reign have gotten younger in recent years, bringing in new players who have worked their way into the talented roster’s rotation. The longtime coach will now guide the squad through at least one expansion draft, while simultaneously keeping the Reign relevant in a growing free agency market with a new emphasis on player choice.

“I don’t say this lightly — I said it to Lesle the other day — that there’s been periods last year and this year with the group that we have, where I can see the future without the ones that currently have been here so long,” Harvey said. “It’s sad, but you can see it.

“I think for us in our jobs, knowing that we have people like that in our roster who not only want to be the best version of themselves, and play the best and win, and for themselves, but they truly care about the club, too. So they’ll go above and beyond to make sure they hang up their boots when it’s the right time. They stay until we don’t need them to stay anymore.”

“Everything this club has done has been brick by brick, by brick, by brick, which is really, really fun to be a part of,” said Gallimore. “And when you can look back and see how far we’ve come, and maintained a very high competitive standard during that and won, the sky’s the limit.”

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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