Celebrating women in sport on International Women’s Day: Laura Harvey

Celebrating women in sport on International Women’s Day: Laura Harvey post thumbnail image

The tactically astute manager who built OL Reign from the ground up.

Laura Harvey was one of the NWSL’s first-ever managers, building OL Reign into one of the most competitive and widely-followed clubs in the United States.

Harvey’s brief playing career included appearances for Wolves and Birmingham City but was cut short at just 22 years old due to a cruciate ligament injury. She decided to turn to coaching and since then has had a meteoric rise.

After her injury, Harvey became the assistant coach at Birmingham City while also working as an assistant for England’s Under-17, Under-19, and Under-23 teams. She later became Birmingham City’s head coach before being asked to join Arsenal.

After two years as an assistant coach with the Gunners, Harvey stepped up to manage the team, a period which she described as “difficult.”

“Arsenal was the hardest environment for me to understand. The most pressured. The highest in terms of expectations… I was 29 years old. I’d been friends with some of those players.

“I tried to change: to come across as this more authoritative person. But it’s not who I am. The players saw straight through it. ‘What are you doing? You’re a good coach. You see the game. Tactically you’re very good: that’s what we need from you. Do that.'”

After Harvey got over her initial fears of leading the team, she was able to guide the team to a league title. Her next season in charge, the Football Association introduced the Women’s Super League as a way to make the league more competitive.

“That was my team talk for the season done. Everyone wants us to lose. Are we gonna allow that to happen?”

In the inaugural season of the WSL, Arsenal went on to win the treble under Harvey. Her high-press system meant that the side only suffered two defeats the whole season.

Her style of play garnered attention from America, and when Seattle Reign (now known as OL Reign) asked if she wanted to be the club’s first ever coach in the newly formed NWSL, Harvey decided to take on the challenge.

Reign was a completely different project for Harvey than her previous endeavors. She came to Arsenal knowing what the expectations were for her at an already established club. However, in America, she was building a club from the ground up.

The early days were tough for Seattle Reign. Injuries and fluke goals meant that Harvey only managed a solitary point in her first ten games in charge.

“I was doing everything – strategy, preparation – no different to Arsenal. But whether it was an own goal or a handball in the last minute, nothing was going our way. Nothing… It was the darkest period of my life.

“What enabled us to get through it was that we knew we were doing the right things. And we knew we were really close, because we were losing games by the odd goal. We were competitive. We just needed to catch a break.

“June 26 2013 was the day our luck finally changed. We beat Boston Breakers 2-1 and everybody cried. Players, staff, every single person. All the emotion came pouring out. That night, we celebrated like we’d won the World Cup.”

After a tough first season, Harvey led the Seattle Reign during an unbeaten a run of 16 games. In her four years at the club, she won the NWSL Shield twice making her the NWSL Coach of the Year for both the 2014 and 2015 season.

After a brieft stint at the Utah Royals, Harvey spent some time with the United States women’s national team as an assistant and as head coach of the United States Under-20’s team before returning to Reign in 2021.

“I feel like there is some unfinished business left to do here,”

“I think that the culture that has been set there and continues to thrive is one where everyone wants the same thing – to go out there and put a product on the field that everyone can be proud of.

“I think it is all about building on the foundations that are already there and getting the players in a position where they can show their true potential as individuals and as a team.”

In her second spell at the club, Harvey has already won another NWSL Shield and an NWSL Coach of the Year award as well as the Women’s Cup.

Ahead of the 2023 season, which kicks off at the end of the month, she has her sights set on bringing home the club’s first ever NWSL Championship, the winner of the single elimination tournament among the top six teams in the final standings at the end of the NWSL season.

Harvey came close to winning it twice during her first period at Reign, finishing runner-up in 2014 and 2015.

“If I’m honest, they’re why I’m still here [in America]. I want to win that Championship. I desperately want to win it.”

Major achievements

  • Arsenal – FA Women’s Premier League: 2009/10
  • Arsenal – FA Women’s Super League: 2011, 2012
  • Arsenal – FA Women’s League Cup: 2011, 2012
  • Arsenal – Women’s FA Cup: 2011
  • Arsenal – FA WSL Coach of the Year: 2011
  • OL Reign – NWSL Shield: 2014, 2015, 2022. Second coach in NWSL history to win three NWSL Shields.
  • OL Reign – The Women’s Cup: 2022
  • OL Reign – NWSL Coach of the Year: 2014, 2015, 2021
  • United States Under-20 – CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship: 2020
  • FA Coach of the Year: 2014
  • FA Pro Game Female Elite Coach of the Year: 2014

Source: 90Min

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