How Laura Harvey leaving Seattle forecasts her promising future with the USWNT
Laura Harvey is set to leave the Seattle Reign, just not for the job many expected.
Though the Reign head coach has been linked with the vacant England women’s national team job, Harvey instead looks set to increase her role with U.S. Soccer, sources tell FourFourTwo USA. Already previously in charge of the federation’s Under-23 women’s national team, Harvey is expected to take on an expanded role within the program, one which may put her on track to eventually succeed Jill Ellis.
The role, which is expected to be an informal one in the short-term, will allow the 37-year-old former Arsenal and Birmingham City boss to stay active with the U.S.’ age-level teams, as she was in early 2017. The position will also allow Harvey to aid Ellis as the U.S. women build toward the 2019 World Cup.
Over the next few months, Harvey’s role within the U.S. women’s national team setup is expected to be made clearer. Still, it is unlikely the Reign boss would be leaving her Seattle post without being convinced of a promising future with U.S. Soccer.
Harvey’s route out of Seattle
Harvey has been a rising coaching star on the U.S. landscape since engineering the Reign’s turnaround in 2014, going from next-to-last place in the team’s inaugural season to an NWSL Shield-winning performance in 12 months. That rise was exemplified by her growing involvement in U.S. Soccer, though her regard within the program goes beyond her initial U-23 post. The reputation Harvey’s won for building the Reign’s culture has earned her the respect of many within the U.S. program.
Now, Harvey could have a more hands-on role in that setup, departing from a Seattle team she guided to two trophies in five seasons. Though injuries and absences undermined Harvey’s first season with the team, casting the Reign into seventh place out of eight in the National Women's Soccer League’s inaugural season, Seattle rebounded with back-to-back NWSL Shield-winning performances. Over the last four seasons, the Reign has never finished in the bottom half of the league, and although the team missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons, Harvey ends her time in Seattle with a 53-33-26 record, overall. Harvey’s teams have outscored her NWSL opponents by 50 goals over five years.
In the process, Harvey has established a reputation for playing one of the most attractive brands of soccer in the NWSL, with Seattle’s relentless high pressing and willingness to spread out opponents becoming trademarks of Reign soccer. While Harvey won’t be in a position to fully impose those characteristics on the U.S.’ senior national team, Ellis has expressed a want to have the U.S. leverage more of its dominant physical qualities. Combined with the connections she’s always made as a player manager, Harvey should prove an invaluable addition to the national team setup.
The bigger picture for the U.S. women
Harvey will join a program that already features one prominent former boss: Tony Gustavsson, whose last head coaching position saw him lead Sweden’s Tyreso to the UEFA Champions League final. Previously a U.S. assistant under Pia Sundhage, Gustavsson is largely in charge of implementing and training the team’s attacking tactics, leaving the defense to Ellis. Where Harvey could fit into that equation will have to be worked out.
Speculation will naturally arise regarding Harvey’s place as an in-cycle replacement for Ellis. With only two games remaining on this year’s schedule, though, the U.S. seems unlikely to make any big changes. How the team does at next spring’s She Believes Cup, however, becomes all the more interesting.
In the long term, Harvey’s hire, should it go beyond its informal stage, could prevent her from being drawn into another role, be it the England women’s national team or one of the country’s Women Super League teams which are becoming bigger players in the international market. It also gives the U.S. national team a coach it can groom in anticipation of Ellis’ eventual departure. Come the fall of 2020, after the next summer Olympics, Harvey should be intimately acquainted with all the factors influencing U.S. women’s soccer.
What now for Seattle?
For Seattle, no two NWSL coaches have more similar approaches than Harvey and Vlatko Andonovski, the person Bill Predmore has brought in to become the franchise’s second coach.
That similarity allows for the most seamless transition for the Reign, as Andonovski’s style perfectly fits Seattle’s talent base. Harvey leaves behind an enviable roster of elite talents, with players like Megan Rapinoe, Nahomi Kawasumi, Jessica Fishlock and Rumi Utsugi providing a level of quality that’s uncommon for teams changing coaches. The Reign has finished one place out of a playoff spot each of the last two seasons, and with a few changes, a new coach can hope to return Seattle to the postseason.
The Reign offer another aspect that isn’t always present in women’s professional soccer: Huge ownership commitment. Though we have documented the challenges ahead for Seattle, Predmore’s willingness to take on the challenges to keep the NWSL in Seattle speaks to his dedication. While his hands-on approach could be seen as a negative, Predmore is also considered a very good owner, with Harvey willing to give a glowing endorsement of her soon-to-be former boss. Compared to the lack of resources and involvement that are common in women’s professional soccer, Predmore’s Reign would be a relative paradise, for some.
Those pluses are unlikely to assuage sorrowful Reign fans, who will no doubt mourn Harvey’s departure. More than any player on the field, Harvey had come to embody the energy around the club. In five years, she had become an icon, one the club will struggle to replace. Thanks to her work, though, the team was able to lure Andonovski, who will preside over Seattle’s first game without Harvey in charge.