How OL Reign and Lyon forged a special footballing brotherhood – JWS
Almost exactly a year ago, France’s top scorer, Eugénie Le Sommer of Olympique Lyonnais, was in Tacoma, Wash. The Wales national team player took the yards of free space in front of her, fired a shot from the top of the 18-yard box and sent the ball flying into the top left corner of the net to contribute to a dominating 5-1 win. for OL Regne.
A game like this is nothing new for Fishlock and Le Sommer, who together and separately have helped build two of the most dominant clubs in the world.
Le Sommer was then on loan with the Reign in the NWSL, burying eight goals during the 2021 season. She was accompanied by her Lyon teammates Dzsenifer Marozsán and Sarah Bouhaddi.
On Friday, they and the rest of their Division 1 Women’s Lyon teammates will return to Washington State, where the Reign will host them at half-time of Sunday’s game against Gotham FC. Lyon then travel to Portland, Oregon to take on Chelsea FC in the first round of the Women’s International Champions Cup on Wednesday, while Reign travel to Louisville, Kentucky to contest the Women’s Cup.
Players and coaches from both teams took time to reflect on the clubs’ intercontinental relationship before meeting in person this weekend, sitting down for talks with Just women’s sports and for a three-part video series on the OL Reign website.
“We miss you, Eug,” Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock told Le Sommer on one such call. “When you come, when I see you, I will rob you.”
Fishlock is one of the main reasons Le Sommer went to play for the reigns in 2021. They first met when Fishlock joined Lyon on loan from 2018-19.
“We had a great time together,” Le Sommer said.
Friendship represents greater brotherhood between the two teams. The clubs are linked by the same owner, OL Groupe, which acquired the Reign in 2019. Sunday’s visit will be an opportunity not only for players like Fishlock and Le Sommer to reconnect with friends, but also for athletes and coaches who have yet to meet their sister club counterparts.
“It’s important,” Lyon assistant coach Camille Abily said of the visit. “We can meet, and I think we can learn more about the OL Reign team.”
Due to their busy schedules, Reign head coach Laura Harvey and Lyon coach Sonia Bompastor had never spoken until our three-way phone conversation, just two weeks before the visit of Lyons at Lumen Field. But just watching each other’s success has helped them grow in their own roles.
“The support is there on both sides, but I think there’s always an appreciation and respect,” Harvey said. “I can only speak for myself but from my side who Sonia is and what she has done in the game as a player and obviously now what she achieves as a coach speaks for itself. , really.”
Heading into Sunday, Reign and Lyon members spent time discussing the three core values that keep them connected and motivating each other overseas: competitiveness, women’s empowerment and sustainability.
Both clubs have featured some of the most decorated players in women’s football. This includes Fishlock, the reigning NWSL MVP who joined the Reign in 2013, and Le Sommer, who has 178 goals in 213 appearances for Lyon since 2010. Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe won the Ballon d’Or in 2019, the year following its allocation. to the Lyonnaise Ada Hegerberg.
Olympique Lyonnais could be considered the best women’s football club in the world, having won all 14 Women’s Division 1 championships between 2006 and 2020, seven Champions League titles and 11 Women’s Coupe de France trophies. Across the pond, the Reign have consistently been one of the strongest teams in the NWSL, with back-to-back NWSL Shields in 2014 and 2015 and five semi-final appearances in eight seasons.
Harvey and Bompastor teamed up for a conversation about female empowerment in the video series. While Harvey won the NWSL Coach of the Year in 2014, 2015 and 2021, Bompastor is the only woman to win the UEFA Women’s Champions League as both a player ( 2011, 2012) and coach (2022).
For her, Harvey said the level of success of the reign can be attributed in part to the fact that Fishlock, Rapinoe and Lauren Barnes have remained loyal to the club since its inception in 2013.
“They’ve been able to allow us to build a culture of what’s expected,” she said. “And then new faces and new standards that we set every day in training and around games, those three who have been here all this time understand what that means. Then they can help the new ones put that implemented.
Retaining multiple talented players for years is difficult in the American professional league due to salary caps and movement of players via trades. The system is not necessarily set up to keep winning since the NWSL seeks parity.
Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, who is also reigning president, will often use the brand on the men’s side to elevate the women’s club. This relationship is not as common in the United States, where the NWSL is separate from Major League Soccer (MLS), the men’s professional league.
“We can take everything that’s good in the men and try to do the same with the girls,” Bompastor said of Lyon.
The relationship between the clubs is only getting stronger as they take advantage of loan and training opportunities. OL Reign’s Bethany Balcer and Sofia Huerta trained with Lyon in 2020, and Rapinoe played for Lyon in 2013 and 2014 before the partnership was even established.
Reign keeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce said acquiring Le Sommer, Marozsán and Boudhaddi on loan last season was “that little spark” Reign needed to qualify for the playoffs.
“I think that’s the interesting thing that you have now with this collaboration between the two teams is that you can just continue to increase your forces on each side and go back and forth,” said Tullis- Joyce.
Fishlock and Le Sommer said the loans helped them learn new styles of football and broaden their skills.
“Also a different level of understanding from your teammates, because Lyon works like a machine,” Fishlock said. “They are like a cog, and they really helped me understand better how can I help my teammates.”
“It was really different from my time in Lyon,” Le Sommer said of playing for the Reign and the physics of American football. “But it was something too, for me, to be more open and to see another [style of] football and another way of playing and how you can also win from another way of thinking… It was amazing to me.
The unity the Reign and OL are forging between American and European football is also helping the growth of women’s football as a whole, even as the media and fans continue to debate which league is better.
“There are different ways of playing, different ways of understanding football,” Le Sommer said.
“The only thing that matters at the end of the day is, are you affected and winning at what you do? That’s the most important thing,” Fishlock said. “I think that’s why it’s really good to have to keep that kind of relationship because it’s going to kind of solidify the current approach and allow us to be in the same space at the same time, which is what women’s football should be able to do and take from space.”
They also push each other to take space off the pitch, using their platforms to fight for environmental sustainability. Tullis-Joyce and Camille Abily teamed up for a video last week. on this specific subject.
Last year, Lyon named an organization it has worked with for more than a decade, Veolia, its official “environmental partner”. The teams meet monthly to discuss environmental issues around the club and initiate initiatives such as the use of reusable water bottles instead of plastic bottles. By signing MG as a transport partner last year, Lyon has also started using electric cars and installing charging stations at its training centre.
Across the ocean, the Reign is striving to become one of America’s most enduring clubs. With Barnes in the lead, they pay close attention to the everyday products they use, the merchandise they sell, and the food they eat.
The Reign’s commitment to the environment made the decision to join the club a no-brainer for Tullis-Joyce, who enjoys scuba diving in her spare time.
“I just thought it was absolutely amazing, how forward this team was in thinking about being environmentally friendly,” she said. “I wanted to be all about it. And now I’m kind of trying to work my way up to be like a little ocean girl. We’re saving the planet, and then I’ll just say, “And the ocean too.” “
As both teams focus on the present and the future, the partnership is not without a certain nostalgia for the club that once was: Seattle Reign. In 2019 the team moved to Tacoma and was renamed Reign FC. In 2020 they changed their name to OL Reign.
“It was tough,” Fishlock said of the rebrand. “But it was something we had to do for our club.”
She fondly remembers the old images and the shirt crest the team and fans loved so much.
“I don’t think we’ll ever forget Seattle Reign, the badge and the history, and I don’t think you can because we had such a great history,” Fishlock said. “But obviously we want to bring that kind of facet of who we are into our new kind of brand, which I think is super important because you can’t forget our history.”
Harvey coached the Reign from 2013 to 2017 before returning to the team in 2021. While she appreciates the club’s origins in Seattle, she knows the rebranding hasn’t changed her identity. They have continued to foster the same competitive, challenging, sustainable and inclusive environment as their European sister club.
“What comes with OL,” Harvey said, “elevated who the reign wanted to be.”
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.