Updated: Jan 1, 2020
The 1990 Italian national men’s team.
The 2014 Argentinean national men’s team.
The 2015 French national women’s team.
What do these three teams have in common? They were the greatest teams of their time…to never win.
Joining this list? The 2014-2015 Seattle Reign. The greatest team to ever play in the NWSL. Led by Head Coach Laura Harvey, captained by midfielder Keelin Winters and powered by Kim Little, the Reign ran roughshod over everyone in their path. Right up until they got to the finish line.
In 2014, Reign scored 51 goals combined in both the regular and post season. Scottish international Kim Little, first of her name, destroyer of teams and scorer of goals, put 16 of those in the back of the net herself, confounding defenders and keepers alike. Standing at 5’3, Little would speed around the field, finding empty pockets of space and exploiting them, getting the ball between every defender and slamming it home, wham bam thank you ma’am. By the time players realized what had happened, she was already gone, looking for her next victim. She won the Golden Boot for her 16 goals and league MVP for 16 goals and 7 assists.
However, a player like Little is only as good as her team, and what a team she had behind her. Though she was a midfielder, her team had no problem treating her as a forward. Naho Kawasumi and Sydney Leroux had their fair shares of goals, adding to the impressive tally of the team overall.
The backline was nothing to sniff at either. Lauren Barnes, Steph Cox, Elli Reed and Kendall Fletcher were everything you could want. The communication between them was flawless. So flawless that Hope Solo barely needed to raise her voice. Then again, when you have the greatest female keeper at your back, it’s hard to give anything but your best.
But arguably the very best part of this team? The midfield. Keelin Winters. Beverly Yanez. Jess Fishlock. Megan Rapinoe. Those four horse riders of the apocalypse struck fear in the heart of every team they played. Jess Fishlock was one of the few internationals in the league that year and she made a NAME for herself. Tough, hard-working, not afraid to make the risky plays. She ended the season with eight assists. She was the player you wanted in your midfield and she never ever quit on any play.
Beverly Goebel (now Yanez) was already a talented veteran by the time she signed with Seattle. She was drafted back in the WPS days, playing for the Washington Freedom and then Western New York Flash before signing with a Finnish team in 2011. She would really come into her own as a star player whilst playing overseas in Japan where she scored 13 goals and won the league’s Golden Boot. She was the perfect fit for Seattle. Watching her play is nothing short of majestic. She’s sneaky in all the right ways, roaming the field while seeming to mind her own business before stripping her opponent of the ball and sending it down the field to whoever was ready to put it away. The way she is able to read the play and intercept passes is a gift bestowed upon her by the soccer gods. She played one of the biggest roles that year and still does here in 2019.
And leading this group of superstars? The Mighty Keelin Winters. I won’t wax poetic about her because I’m capped at a certain amount of words. But before Becky Sauerbrunn, there was Keelin. A captain’s captain. She led by example, knowing her position so perfectly, you often wouldn’t notice her, that’s how good she was. She had perfect command of the midfield and her players. She was the most well-respected captain in 2014.
Seattle feared no one, going into every game confident they could win but playing like they were about to lose and needed one last-ditch goal. Their pace and playing style were never frantic, but carefully controlled chaos. Every player knew exactly what was expected of them and never strayed away from their game plan, even on the rare occasions they were losing. They clinched the #1 seed in the playoffs and the coveted NWSL Shield, with 54 points. They only lost two games the entire regular season. Racking up numerous Player of the Week and Month awards, the only thing missing for this club’s trophy case was THE trophy itself. And the only thing standing between them and that trophy? FC Kansas City.
John Lennon once wrote, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
FCKC walked into Seattle’s stadium and smacked them right in the mouth with two goals, stunning the greatest team and NWSL fans everywhere by winning the whole kit and caboodle.
2015 was a World Cup year. Losing Solo and Rapinoe wasn’t a big deal for a team still stacked to the gills. Adding Merritt Mathias, Amber Brooks, Rachel Corsie and Michelle Cruz, the Reign were more than ready to weather the World Cup storm. They stayed top of the table for 18 of the 21 weeks, winning several Player of the Week and Month awards. More players stepped up that season as well; Yanez would score nine (!) goals and Fishlock racked up eight of her own. Little would continue being the play maker but Winters really deserved a lot of the credit of keeping this team together. Little would score 10 goals, but ultimately was Golden Boot runner up to Crystal Dunn and her 15 ‘cut me from the world cup roster will you’ goals.
They once again rose to the top, winning the NWSL Shield a second time with 40 points and again facing FCKC in the final. FCKC had been having a bit of a rough year, barely scraping into the playoffs. Maybe even more so than the previous year, Seattle felt this was their chance to rid themselves of their demons and hoist the Championship trophy, capping it off with what would truly be the gaudiest looking rings.
It’s truly something to behold, watching a team realizing that for a second time in a row…they have failed. It defies logic. This team had it all: a stacked roster, explosive offense, a great coach and (almost) all the awards. They had come out the other side of the World Cup tunnel with minor bruising, they had scored all the goals. Even Superman managed to defeat Lex Luthor! So why couldn’t they win when it really mattered? FCKC was truly Seattle’s kryptonite, foiling them at every turn and robbing the NWSL’s superstar team back to back. A curse was born this year. Whoever won the shield was destined to lose the championship. It’s been broken at the time of this writing, but for a while there…it was real.
The team looks different these days. They are now coached by the very same man who robbed them of glory and most of the old guard are long gone. But still, we will always wonder what went wrong. Ms. Ariana Grande said it herself, “Almost is never enough.”