Reign FC and Melbourne City have long had a connection and the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season will be no different.
No fewer than seven City stars will don a darker shade of blue for the Reign in 2019 as the Washington-based club look to once again make the playoffs.
Teammates in the Westfield W-League and the NWSL
Names: Lydia Williams, Lauren Barnes, Steph Catley, Elise Kellond-Knight, Jasmyne Spencer, Theresa Nielsen, Jodie Taylor
Westfield W-League club: Melbourne City
NWSL club: Reign FC
Hang on a minute, I thought this series was called 'Rivals United'...
Fair point. It is not strictly a rivals united scenario up in the USA's Pacific Northwest ... but that does not make it any less interesting, with seven Melbourne City players moving clubs yet remaining teammates.
Is this the first season this has happened?
It's not. City and Reign have long enjoyed a partnership that allows their players to remain teammates no matter the time of year.
It is certainly a good use of resources and may account – at least partly – for how successful City have been in the Westfield W-League, winning successive Championships in 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18.
That is a pretty extensive roster. How many of them have played international football?
Most. Aside from being a strong unit at club level, five of the seven have represented their countries at a senior level.
Williams, Catley and Kellond-Knight are well known to Australian fans given their exploits for the Westfield Matildas.
The highly experienced Nielsen has amassed more than a century of caps for her native Denmark since her debut in 2008, and forward Taylor has been part of the England set-up since 2014.
Taylor recently helped England's Lionesses to the title at the 2019 SheBelieves Cup in the United States, beating the world No.1 side USA en route.
So how did they go with City during the 2018/19 season?
Champions for three successive seasons, hopes were predictably high going into the most recent campaign. But new coach Rado Vidošić was unable to make it four-in-a-row for the Melbourne club, and they ended up fifth – albeit kept out of the finals series only by goal difference from eventual Grand Finalists Sydney FC and Perth Glory.
Disappointing given the club’s very high standards, what went wrong?
The pre-season loss of Westfield Matilda Alanna Kennedy and superstar Wales international Jess Fishlock did not help, while the players were always going to take time to adjust to the departure of previous coach Patrick Kisnorbo.
That adjustment did not happen quickly enough, and a sluggish start did for their chances.
City opened their campaign with a 2-0 reverse at Canberra United, and won only once in their first five matches, a run that included a 5-2 hammering in Perth.
That victory came at home to eventual Champions Sydney FC, courtesy of a hat-trick from Jasmyne Spencer, showing just how good the Melbourne club could be on their day.
Did anyone make a name for themselves?
Spencer (four goals) top scored for City in the campaign, to underline a reputation built during previous spells in Australia with Sydney FC and Canberra United. Youngsters Rhali Dobson and Sofia Sakalis also showed exciting glimpses of a bright future.
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Tell me about more about the Reign's history?
Founded in 2012 as Seattle Reign, the club – which from this season will play out of Tacoma in Washington state – was one of the inaugural members of the NWSL.
They were named partly in homage to the Seattle Reign basketball team, the first professional women's sports club in the Seattle area, although the name is also a pun on the region's reputation for damp weather conditions.
Their most successful spell came in 2014 and 2015, when they twice finished runner-up in the NWSL playoffs, having topped the ladder at the end of the regular season.
Near neighbours Portland Thorns – home this season to Caitlin Foord, Ellie Carpenter and Hayley Raso – are the Reign's biggest rivals. In September 2018, a record 21,144 fans turned out to see the sides do battle at the Oregon club's Providence Park stadium.
How are the Reign tracking for the upcoming season?
With a front-line as threatening as that provided by long-time goal-machine and US football royalty Megan Rapinoe, the prolific Jodie Taylor and the ever-dangerous Jasmyne Spencer, they will always be a force to be reckoned with.
Supported by a solid backline including Westfield Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams and defender Steph Catley, and given midfield thrust from Elise Kellond-Knight, coach Vlatko Andonovski will hope to take his charges even further than the playoff semi-finals they achieved in 2018.
Can the Reign put the finishing touches to an NWSL title-chase that was made in Melbourne?