Kawasumi's return sparks Seattle in Reign FC's playoff hunt

For Seattle Reign FC head coach and general manager Laura Harvey, the decision was easy. If she had a chance to bring back Japanese forward Nahomi Kawasumi, who spent the 2014 season in Seattle, the team was going to do it no matter what the roster looked like.

“We could have been top of the league and scored 15,000 goals,” she said. “I’d have still signed Naho.”

And after several earlier overtures fell through, the 30-year old is back with Reign FC, with Seattle 2-1-1 since her return. It didn’t take long for Kawasumi to show Seattle what it missed in 2015 and the early part of this season, scoring three goals in her first two games. Harvey said the transition back to the team didn’t take her long because of her understanding of the game, and her ability as a player.

“Ultimately, it’s an easy process,” Harvey said. “She remembers the stuff that tactically we’re about from 2014, so she did one really good training session and that was it. Straight in.”

In her first stint with Reign FC, Kawasumi helped lead Seattle to the 2014 NWSL Championship match against FC Kansas City, scoring nine goals and notching five assists over the course of her first season stateside. At season’s end, she was named to the NWSL Best XI, recognized as one of the league’s top players for the year.

But with the Women’s World Cup looming in 2015, Kawasumi didn’t return to Seattle, instead spending the year back in Japan, and playing for the National Team, which ultimately took silver in Vancouver. It was her second World Cup stint for Japan, after appearing in the 2011 competition when Japan took home the gold.  

No one on the roster may be more keenly aware of what Kawasumi brings than fellow forward Beverly Yanez. Both first arrived in Seattle after playing together for INAC Kobe Leonessa in Japan.

“I’m really excited,” Yanez said. “I’m really excited for the club, I’m really excited for the fans, and I’ personally am so excited to have an opportunity to play with her again. She’s been such a great friend to me, and she’s been such a wonderful teammate and has taught me a lot about myself and myself as a player.”

Yanez, who had nine regular season goals for Seattle to finish fifth in the league in scoring, said you rarely see Kawasumi make mistakes, and that she’s a phenomenal player at a consistent level. 

“I think everyone thinks so highly of her, and we continue to think so highly of her,” Yanez said. “Our first practice back we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, okay, this is going to be great.’ … It was an energy that we needed, it was a crucial time for us, and we are so thrilled that she’s here and continuing to push forward as a team.”

With just six games left in the regular season (two at home), Seattle is currently in the thick of the NWSL playoff hunt. Though Reign FC sits two points out of the final playoff spot, the team is also just six points back of the top of the league standings, making the final weeks crucial to determining both if Seattle makes the postseason, and if so, what the path to a championship would look like.

No matter what, Kawasumi will play a major role in those key matchups.

“It’s just a great addition to the squad,” Harvey said, “and anyone that can get a Naho Kawasumi on their team is lucky to have her.”

For more information on Seattle Reign FC, or to purchase tickets, visit www.ReignFC.com.