Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Seattle Reign’s historic 2014 isn’t the season-record 54 points, 14 wins, 50 goals scored or plus-30 goal differential.
It wasn’t wrapping up the NWSL regular-season title with four matches to go or even last weekend’s dramatic semifinal victory, which set up Sunday’s championship match against FC Kansas City at Starfire Sports Complex.
The most remarkable thing is just how far the Reign has come since missing the playoffs in 2013, when Seattle lost nine of its first 10 matches and finished seventh out of eight teams.
“While I don’t look back on that season fondly, I think it was valuable,” midfielder Keelin Winters said.
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The players learned just how much they hate losing, Winters said, and the reinforcements got the message from Day 1.
Chief among the key offseason signings was Scottish international Kim Little, who was named the Most Valuable Player at the conclusion of her first season in the league on Thursday — one day after Seattle’s Laura Harvey was voted coach of the year.
Little was tops in the NWSL in goals with 16 and only teammate Jess Fishlock had more than her seven assists, with eight.
They lead a fearsome attacking lineup that includes United States women’s national-team standouts Sydney Leroux and Megan Rapinoe, the latter of whom has been an invaluable member of the midfield after missing the bulk of last season playing in France.
“I think (Rapinoe) is just another footballing brain,” Little said. “We can play one-twos with anyone on the pitch. It’s a lot of fun to play and very hard for opposing teams to defend.
“I think it’s quite unique, the amount of players we have on this team who … can read the game extremely well.”
They’ve also been relentless, barely even easing up when they rolled into the August stretch run with home-field advantage already locked up. It was best exhibited on July 27, when Seattle routed defending champion and regional rival Portland 5-0, with the final goal coming off Little’s boot in the final minute of stoppage time.
“We’ve been trying to be ruthless,” Winters said. “… I think that was a pretty iconic game in terms of being ruthless. It just goes to show that we’re not stopping.”
Just one more victory, and the ultimate turnaround will be complete.