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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.