Stephanie Cox was a starting defender for the Seattle Reign when it took the field in the NWSL final last October.
After a 1-0 loss to FC Kansas City, the Gig Harbor resident put her cleats away not just for the offseason, but for good. She is now co-head coach at Gig Harbor High School.
The Reign hated to see her go. But a club that earns the best record in the National Women’s Soccer League two years running isn’t often caught flatfooted.
Even as coach Laura Harvey was sending Cox onto the pitch, she also was preparing for the day when that would no longer be an option. And so with the 2016 opener looming this weekend, an heir appears to be in place: No. 4 overall pick Carson Pickett of Florida State.
“I watched Carson in her junior year and her senior year, and she was someone that I liked and thought that could fill the potential void of Steph Cox whenever she decided to retire,” Harvey said. “And the moment that we knew that Steph was going to not play again this season, Carson became top of our list for draft picks. … I’ve been really pleased with her. She’s worked really hard and she wants to learn and wants be better.”
Pickett is expected to make her professional debut at 4 p.m. Sunday, when the Reign opens the fourth NWSL season against Sky Blue FC at Memorial Stadium.
“So far, it’s been nothing short of amazing,” Pickett said. “… Every player on this team has been able to help me along the way and to get me to where I need to be for the start of the season.”
Pickett made 103 career appearances at Florida State and started all 25 games last season when the Seminoles reached the College Cup for the fifth consecutive season. She is 5-foot-8, 22 years old and from Fleming Island, Florida. She was born without a left arm below the elbow.
“Having one arm has helped me to inspire others along the way,” she told GoalNation.com. “I just hope that each time I step on the field, I am showing someone that no matter what stands in your way, you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Pickett says her transition from college to the pros has been eased by the Reign’s style of play, which is similar to FSU’s. Like most rookies, she has noted the faster pace of the pro game.
“I think the amount that she has been able to absorb probably is one of the things that sets her apart,” veteran midfielder Keelin Winters said. “… You come in from the college game to the pro game, it’s much different, it’s much faster. And we do some things defensively with our formation and shape and everything. To be able to come in and act like a sponge and be able to soak everything up and actually apply it is I think something that she’s doing really well.”
The Reign will begin the season without U.S. national team forward Megan Rapinoe, who is working her way back from an anterior cruciate ligament injury with no clear timetable for return. But the club returns veterans such as goalkeeper Hope Solo, midfielders Kim Little and Jessica Fishlock, Winters and enough experienced talent to project once again as a contender for that elusive league title.
The team has never lost at Memorial Stadium and hopes to extend that streak against Sky Blue, a New Jersey-based team that has missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
“We love playing at home,” Harvey said. “We think this is a really special place for us, and we feel that because of how we perform here. I think we’ve got to show early that we can get back to that championship game for the third year.”
Gates will open at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Rapinoe will be in attendance and sign autographs before the match. … The NWSL and Fox Sports on Thursday announced an agreement to televise six NWSL games, starting Sept. 7. FoxSports1 will show three regular-season games — including the Reign’s Sept. 25 match at the Houston Dash — along with both playoff semifinals and the final.
Seattle Reign FC 2016 schedule
Sky Blue FC
at Boston Breakers
FC Kansas City
at Orlando Pride
Portland Thorns FC
Chicago Red Stars
Arsenal Ladies (friendly)
at Portland Thorns FC
at Sky Blue FC
at FC Kansas City
at Western New York Flash
Western New York Flash
at Portland Thorns FC
Portland Thorns FC
at Chicago Red Stars
at Washington Spirit