Raising a flag wasn’t exactly a dream for Jess Fishlock. But during the era when OL Reign trained and played at Memorial Stadium, she’d often glance up at the Space Needle and took notice when Seattle’s pro sports teams had their banners waving from the Needle’s iconic top.
At a time when the Seattle area has been pleading for rain, Fishlock, teammates Lu Barnes and Megan Rapinoe and coach Laura Harvey raised the Reign flag atop the Space Needle as the precipitation finally sprinkled from the gray skies. Friday morning’s event was a first in the club’s 10-year history.
“It’s a lot of pride and we’ve come a long way,” Barnes said after taking turns with the others to pull the rope raising the flag. The Reign is an NWSL charter club that played its inaugural season in 2013 at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. The training and playing site moved to Memorial from 2014 to 2018.
When the current owners, France-based OL Groupe, purchased the Reign in 2019, the team played games at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma from 2019 to 2021 and signed a multiyear deal to now host home matches at Lumen Field.
“It’s kind of fun to see the flag and then Memorial where it kind of started just right down there,” Fishlock said of the field that was visible behind her about 605 feet below. “When you see all of the other kind of teams and their flags up there, you kind of go, it would be pretty cool if we had ours up there. Looking at it now, it’s cool that it’s up there. I don’t know if it was something we’d dream about, but it was definitely something that we should have up here.”
Karen Olsen, chief operating officer and chief marketing officer for the Space Needle, said the honor is typically reserved for a team’s postseason run or championship win, although the Storm did raise their flag when the WNBA All-Star Game was held in Seattle in 2017 and the NHL’s Seattle Kraken has had theirs fly atop the Needle.
Bill Predmore, who founded the Reign along with his wife Teresa, didn’t recall asking to have the team’s flag atop the Needle when they played for NWSL championships in 2014 and 2015. When the Predmores became minority owners in 2019 and the Reign returned to the postseason, they were Tacoma-based.
The Reign are making their sixth postseason appearance Sunday when they host the Kansas City Current at Lumen Field. The team won its third NWSL Shield — a trophy given to the team that finishes first overall in regular-season standings — and earned a first-round bye. The Current upset the Houston Dash in Texas last weekend to advance.
Sunday’s winner will play the Portland Thorns FC-San Diego Wave winner for the NWSL championship on Oct. 29 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.
Barnes, a defender who wears the captain’s band, said seeing the flag wave gives her an added boost for Sunday’s match. Rapinoe, the club’s all-time leading scorer (50 goals), joked that she hopes the match is easier than raising the flag.
“It was the scariest and most treacherous and definitely the hardest, I had a little trouble — it was windy,” said Rapinoe of where the flag raising ranked among the things she’s done globally from speaking at the White House, winning a FIFA Women’s World Cup in France and launching multiple businesses. “This is very much home, so to be able to do this in Seattle and be a part of this and have the city recognize our club like this is really special.”
Other businesses are also showing their support for the Reign this playoff weekend. The Seattle Center Monorail system temporarily renamed its trains to the OL Red and OL Blue train, a nod to the team’s colors. Multiple Seattle-area landmarks will light up in the club’s colors at night.
But the flag will come down Friday night for safety reasons, according to Olsen.
“There’s a real shift that we’re now seeing, not only here in Seattle or the U.S., but all around the world around women’s soccer,” Reign CEO Vincent Berthillot said. “People are now starting to understand that if you push and if you invest in women’s sports generally, it’s going to grow, it’s going to grow fast and you’re going to get a return on that. We’re really at the starting point right now, we can really feel it and I’m confident in the future because everyone is realizing now that the potential in sports is more in women than in men at this stage.”
Harvey, the winningest coach in NWSL history, said the team will finalize game tactics Friday and Saturday. The sides split during the regular season and this is the Current’s first playoff run.
The Reign dropped their semifinal match to the Washington Spirit at Cheney last year.
“Being able to be up here and see our flag flying just shows the explosion of women’s soccer and the level of impact that our club is having,” Harvey said. “Hopefully we can take that momentum into the game on Sunday.”