MONTCLAIR, N.J. — I’m often asked, “What is the most challenging part of being a professional soccer player?”
My response never has to do with events on the field. From the outside, I have a glamorous lifestyle. I spend a couple of hours out at the field daily, get to travel the world, get sent pretty new Nike cleats, and occasionally get to compete in front of big crowds and win championship games. I feel fortunate to have the career I do, but playing professional soccer, especially on the women’s side, isn’t always as glamorous as it may appear. In fact, it can be difficult.
The toughest part for me isn’t finding motivation to train in the off-season, retaining my confidence after a disappointment or poor performance, or disciplining myself to eat well and get enough sleep. I struggle most with the lack of stability. As 2013 begins, I took a moment to look back at 2012, which was certainly the most tumultuous year of my life. The list below will illustrate that while I love my job and would not rather do anything else in the world, it can be tough on the mind and body.
In 2012, I …
¶ Struggled to decide which Women’s Professional Soccer team to sign with. I wanted to be at home in New Jersey, liked the playing environment in Western New York, yet needed to be assured that I would see meaningful playing time. After a long and tough decision-making process, I chose to play for the Atlanta Beat, where I thought I would be most needed on the field.
¶ Trained with the U.S. women’s national team before it narrowed down and selected the roster that would go on to compete in the Olympics and win a gold medal. As you can imagine, I dealt with the disappointment of not being involved.
¶ Got the news that there would be no W.P.S. season and once again began my search for a team.
¶ Went to Russia to continue my professional career with Rossiyanka. My experience there was tough, and I returned home after a month.
¶ Spent the summer coaching and playing for the New Jersey Wildcats of the W-League.
¶ Continued to search for opportunities in Europe, and after many frustrating weeks of contacting anyone I could think of with a connection abroad, had the opportunity to sign with Kopparbergs/Goteborg. I moved to Sweden for three months, hopeful that I would find a home in the lineup and have a chance to get some games. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of play and have loved playing for the club.
¶ Watched Barcelona play Manchester United live and witnessed Lionel Messi work his magic.
¶ Saw Juventus play in its beautiful stadium.
¶ Got to compete in the UEFA Women’s Champions League with two different teams (losing in the quarterfinal round with Rossiyanka and then beginning the 2012-13 competition with Kopparbergs/Goteborg).
¶ Traveled to nine different countries: Russia, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, Serbia, Norway, Italy and Denmark.
¶ Came home from Sweden and immediately spent 10 days in the hospital with a complicated and serious case of pneumonia.
¶ Was excited by the announcement of the National Women’s Soccer League, but conflicted about whether to terminate my contract for 2013 with my wonderful Swedish club. It has always been my dream to play professionally in the United States, and while playing in Europe is a fun adventure, I want to support a domestic league and look forward to one day building a life here. My contract with Kopparbergs/Goteborg extends through 2013, but I wondered if I should scrap it and return home to play.
This felt like an easier decision and it would ensure me being seen by the new national team coach, Tom Sermanni. I was pressed to make a decision, and opted to stay with my Swedish club, which will compete in the quarterfinal of the UEFA Women’s Champions League in March. There are a lot of questions surrounding the N.W.S.L., and in Sweden I know what to expect and know that I will be happy on the field and have a place to express myself as a player and grow in an environment where I am greatly appreciated. I am taking a leap of faith and trusting that if I am happy and fulfilled on the field, then everything else will fall into place.
¶ Got to enjoy the holidays with friends and family, and make a trip back to the University of North Carolina.
So, that was my 2012. I played the game I love on various continents, with many different players with many different styles, and in an array of conditions. I was forced to make stressful decisions about my future when nothing seemed right. I felt the anxiety of waiting to find out information that would decide my fate, yet over which I had no control. I feared for the unrealized dreams that I am working to keep alive. And, I found myself, for a couple days, actually scared for my life.
The toughest part of being a professional soccer player is sometimes going against everything in my nature that has gotten me to the highest level — my passion, discipline, initiative to control my ascension, work ethic. At times, given the reality of my situation, I must throw those to the wind and simply have enough faith to go with the flow.