We're four games into the season with Sky Blue in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), and though we've tied two games and lost two, we're feeling optimistic. I even scored a goal in the game against Portland. (Well, it kind of bounced off my leg, but I'll take it!)
I'd lost a little rhythm not playing as many minutes with the national team so far this season, but it's nice to know my Sky Blue teammates are always looking for my leadership and respect my input. With such a young league, and so many young players, part of my job is teaching them what it means to be a professional, both on and off the field. If anyone knows what it truly means to be a pro soccer player it's me -- after all, at 18 years in, I've been at it for longer than anybody!
The early years of a startup league aren't necessarily easy. I'm not complaining -- I get to do my dream job! But here's what people don't usually know about the life of a pro soccer player:
We play for two teams. You might think it's easy to hop back and forth from the national team to our league teams. It's all soccer, right? But for a lot of us it's a completely different role on each team, so you're constantly adapting. With Sky Blue the girls are looking for me to give them feedback. It's almost like a coaching role in a way for the younger players. With the national team, on the other hand, I'm playing more of the traditional captain's role while always competing to keep my spot on the roster.
It's not glamorous. In the beginning years of a league there just isn't a lot of money. The minimum salary is something like $6,000 for March through August, so nobody's getting rich here. And the travel isn't easy. We do a lot of busing to get to games, and we don't always get to play in a professional environment. Last year a lot of the girls on Sky Blue were spread out, living with host families, which made it hard to hang out as a team.
But the dedication is high. Even without making much money, we live and breathe this sport, making the right choices and taking care of our bodies on and off the field. We put in long days of practice, but it's fun and rewarding to go to train and know everyone wants to get better. Everyone wants to play their best, elevate the players around them and make this league the best.
There's no PTO. With most jobs you can take a day off now and again, but not this one. Last week our travel schedule made it so I missed my daughter Rylie's spring concert, where she had her own solo. We miss weddings. We miss birthday parties. But we make it work. My husband taped the concert, so I watched it with Rylie when I got back home. And every year we celebrate my other daughter Reece's birthday in Portugal at the Algarve Cup. This year it was a princess theme (she was Elsa from "Frozen"), and the whole team wore paper crowns.
Our bodies may be a little beat up. For me one of the biggest sacrifices of playing pro soccer is the wear and tear it can put on your body. Right now I'm nursing a flare-up of foot pain that's essentially arthritis in my big toe, as well as a painful bone condition. Lots of ice and Advil! Since we don't get the same level of treatment in the NWSL as we do with the national team, with dedicated massage therapists and things like that, you might have to take care of things on your own. We each need to do our part and act like a professional. What can feel like a grind in the early years is what will make the league successful.
The fans are our lifeblood. Having a fan base is huge for us right now. The more fans we can get, the more we can show everyone that the league is here to stay. So please, come out to our games!