OL Reign’s Laura Harvey interview: British coach of top US team on always attacking, true star quality and 'soccer' versus 'football'
As much as she loves winning, she really, really hates losing
[Laura Harvey is on her second spell as coach of the Reign. Photo credit: OL Reign]
What words might you use to describe Laura Harvey?
Resolute. Resolved. Determined?
Something like that, for certain.
The 43-year-old head coach of one of America’s most successful women’s soccer teams, really loves winning matches. But you sense, as much as she enjoying coming away with those three points, even more powerfully than that, she despises losing.
After a brief playing career was halted when she ruptured her ACL at Birmingham City, she turned to coaching. At Arsenal, she ended a happy and successful spell - bagging three consecutive league titles, two Continental Cups, and one FA Women's Cup
In 2012, she travelled to Seattle and became head coach of the Reign, for what was the first season of the women’s soccer professional league. She spent five years in Seattle, before heading to Salt Lake City, where she coached Utah Royals FC.
Harvey, who was born in the English midlands, has coached for England’s national team at a junior level.
She has also coached at a junior level in America. From the summer of 2020 to July 2021, she was the head coach of the US’s women’s under-20 team.
In 2021 she returned to Seattle, finishing second in her first season back, and then heading the league and winning the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) Shield for the third time.
At the time of writing, in the 2023 season, her team, now named OL Reign, is currently placed third, having played eight games, won four and lost three. Harvey is celebrated for her team’s attacking style and its use of what’s called the “high press”. Her team includes Megan Rapinoe, one of women’s soccer’s true international celebrities.
I’ve had the opportunity to watch the team a handful of times, and attended some of Harvey’s press conferences.
She was kind enough to grant an interview to talk about the differences between the sport in the US and UK, the magic of one of her top players, and whether it’s “soccer” or football”.
When we spoke, the Reign were having to play three games in eight days. (The next day the Reign defeated the Houston Dash 2-0)
[One of the Reign’s international stars is USWNT defender Emily Sonnett. Image credit: OL Reign]
Q: You had a good win the other week, and then a draw midweek. Tomorrow’s it’s Houston. What’s the battle plan?
A: I think we’ll get through tomorrow. It might not be the prettiest game you'll ever see. But I think we're in a position where we just want to try and win our home games. That's important for us.
So we put a plan together to try and go out and obviously put it to Houston a little bit. But we have to mindful that with the short turn-around and the amount of games we’ve played so quickly, it might not be the prettiest way of winning.
Q: Last month you were talking about this desire to always be on the offence, but in the game against Chicago [which the Reign won 5-2] you conceded a couple of goals you maybe should not have. Is there a danger of overextending?
A: No, I think the goals that Chicago scored were [from] us switching off and not concentrating on doing our roles right on the ball - which then gave them an opportunity to break on us. Which has been a focus for us since that game.
[In 2022 OL Reign won the NWSL Championship for third time. Image credit: OL Reign]
Q: You spent four years coaching at Arsenal. You also played in the UK. What are the major differences between women's soccer in the United Kingdom and here in America?
A: On the field, the biggest difference is the desire and priority in hurting a team when they're expansive, when you win the ball back in transition, pushing that forward. In the US that is a big priority.
Q: Sorry. Did you say “hurting” them?
A: Yeah, if they’re trying to play, and you win the ball from them, back home the priority would be to keep the ball. Here, it's go and score. I think that has been something that's transcended the global game lately, men’s and women’s. But it’s something that’s been embedded in the US culture ever since I've been here.
I think in the past, some people have seen that as being a chaotic way of playing. For me it’s a really effective thing that really hardens up.
[In October, England beat the US women’s national team 2-1 at Wembley Stadium in London before a crowd of 76,893, the largest for a friendly in US history.]
[Harvey’s playing career with Birmingham City was ended after she tore her ACL. Image credit: OL Reign]
Harvey: When other nations pick that up, I think it will level the playing field probably with the US. Even at the international level, the game at Wembley, where England dominated possession and all those things that ended up winning the game, arguably the US didn't play its best football. But they had multiple chances in transition and could have scored more goals. They had one ruled out for being offside.
I think that's what the culture over here is built off. If someone's going to try and be expansive and try playing, you can win the ball off them. That’s something I've enjoyed the evolution of for sure.
[Harvey says she always wants her players to be attacking the opposition. Video credit: OL Reign]
Q: What are the greatest similarities?
A: The willingness to want to defend is a similar mentality. I think the difference between home and here, is that everyone wants to high press all the time. I think back home, there's maybe a little bit more strategy and a little bit of patience over it, but a willingness to want to do that is similar. I think the culture over here is evolving. There's are some more possession-based teams now, which is very similar to back home.
[One of the biggest stars of the OL Reign, the US team and the world of women’s soccer, is Megan Rapinoe. The 37-year-old has won an Olympic gold and two world cup winning medals. She’s an icon, known for her activism for the game and for LGBT+ rights.
With the 2023 world cup in New Zealand and Australia just a few months away, and given she has exceeded the age for most players at this level, her appearances for the OL Reign have tended not to be for the entire game.
On several occasions, including a home match against the San Diego Wave, Rapinoe’s late entry to the game, lasting perhaps 15 minutes, utterly changed the match’s trajectory. She had several shots herself, and the pressure she applied was crucial to an injury time winner by Olivia Van der Jagt, a home grown star, who was born in nearby Kent.]
[Megan Rapinoe is one of women’s soccer’s true global celebrities. Picture credit: Wikicommons]
Q: What are the sort of qualities you have to have, to be able to [come on late in the match and] do something like that?
A: She's just unique. Honestly, I think she has the ability to destroy someone, one by one, without it being about pace. He has the ability to hurt you on both sides, inside and out. She can take you down the outside and cross it probably better than most female players in the world. She has the ability to cut you inside, and shoot better than most people in the world.
And she's super smart. She understands the game. Her understanding of the game is very high level. So she's world class at being who she is, and she's very effective at doing that.
Q: The World Cup is less 80 days or less away. The US is seeded that number one. The UK is seeded number four. Who do you think is the better team?
A: England have got major injuries that impact that. The US currently have one major injury - hopefully no more.
The depth of the US is much bigger than England’s. Something that not enough is spoken about here, is that the amount of players the US has to pick from is gigantic.
The US might not be able to replicate [currently injured forward Mallory] Swanson. But they're going to get someone who's pretty close. I don't think any other nation has the ability to do that. I think the overall depth of what the US can bring, makes them a better team.
Q: A couple of fun questions - what are three favourite things about Seattle?
A: I love the water. I'm from the middle of England. So growing up, not near the ocean. Being able to be close to the water is something I really like.
I really like the summers in Seattle. I've spent a lot of time in different places around the world, and I don't think there's many places better than Seattle in the summer. And it's got a really good food culture.
Q: Who is right - those who say soccer, or those who say football?
A: Football, always football.
What do people think - soccer or football? And who's the best player in the women's game?