Less than eight hours before its match against the Houston Dash, OL Reign announced Farid Benstiti has resigned as head coach. Sam Laity, an assistant coach who has been with the Reign since the team’s inaugural season, took over as interim head coach.
“We are appreciative of Farid’s many contributions to the club over the past 18 months and wish him the best in all his future endeavors,” Reign CEO Bill Predmore said Friday in a statement. “We have great respect for Farid’s talents and all he brought to the organization, but in our recent conversations there was a collective agreement that new leadership was required to achieve the performances and results needed to satisfy our ambitions.”
Benstiti resigns following a difficult start to the 2021 season, as the Reign have won just two of its first eight games, including the team’s most recent defeat, a 2-0 loss to the Houston Dash on Friday night.
Falling to the Dash keeps the Reign on seven points, ninth in the NWSL and only above Kansas City, an expansion team in its first season. It’s also struggling to score goals, finding the net just five times in eight games, tied for lowest in the league. The results are even more confounding considering it boasts international stars Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle, Dzsenifer Marozsán, Sarah Bouhaddi, and Eugénie Le Sommer.
“I don’t think we necessarily need to hit the reset button,” Laity said following Friday’s loss. “What we need to do is we just need to work on the relationships around the place. I’m not talking about personal relationships. I’m not talking about cultural relationships. What I’m talking about is the relationships of their roles and responsibilities on the field.”
Hired in January 2020, Benstiti was brought in by the Reign to replace Vlatko Andonovski, who became head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team.
Part of Bestiti’s appeal came from his familiarity with OL Groupe, the Reign’s majority owners. He began his career at Olympique Lyon in the 1980s and played for various French clubs until he became manager of FC Lyon, the women’s side that would eventually rebrand as the powerhouse Olympique Lyon Feminin. Benstiti led OL to four consecutive Division 1 Feminin titles between 2006-10, as well as three Coupe de France trophies.
The French manager spent time in Russia, simultaneously coaching the Russian National Team and WFC Rossiyanka, before returning to France to coach Paris Saint-Germain’s women’s team from 2012-16, guiding PSG to four second-place finishes behind OL and a UEFA Champions League Final. He spent time in China, winning league titles with Dalian Quanjian before joining the Reign.
As head coach of the Reign, he led the team through the 2020 and 2021 Challenge Cups, as well as the 2020 Fall Series. Benstiti finished his Reign career with a record of 6-9-5. Laity was not willing to comment on the reasons for his departure. The team found out about the resignation on Thursday, and had one day to prepare with Laity before the match against Houston.
While the Reign prepare to move on under a new regime, forward Sofia Huerta said the team’s confidence in each other will help them turn their season around.
“It’s unfortunate timing, but it’s not an excuse,” she said. “This is sport, it happens all the time and it’s never easy, but I think we can all agree that the last year and a half hasn’t been easy at all, so we just have to stick together. At this point we’ve lost a few games in a row so we just have to get that win and start scoring and I think it will come together.
“We all know sometimes in sports we go through droughts and unfortunately we’re kind of all going through it together, so we’re going to pick it up soon.”
The Reign get a break this week, getting a nine-day reprieve after a stretch of four games in two weeks. Its next match is against a Kansas City squad still searching for its first win. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. on July 11.