New from the NWSL camp – JWS
The hardest thing about the NWSL Challenge Cup is waiting for it to start. Especially this year.
A month from now, on March 18, Racing Louisville FC and Kansas City Current will kick off the third edition of the nearly two-month tournament. With two expansion teams entering the mix after a trade-filled offseason, the league is going to be very different in 2022.
Each week, we’ll take you behind the scenes at NWSL training camps, giving you insight into how teams are formed, what coaches and players are saying, and the occasional fun off-the-record update. land you didn’t know you needed.
This week’s entry takes you coast to coast, with thoughts on the Washington Spirit, North Carolina Courage, San Diego Wave and OL Reign.
Washington Spirit seeks to start from scratch
2021 NWSL champions Washington Spirit have undergone some big changes on and off the court. Y. Michele Kang became majority owner of the team on February 8 after a very public dispute with former majority owner Steve Baldwin that lasted nearly six months. On the field, 11 players are currently absent from the squad on international duty, including seven with the United States Women’s National Team at the SheBelieves Cup.
Head coach Kris Ward and players Andi Sullivan, Tara McKeown and Karina Rodriguez recently spoke to the media about Kang, who acquired the interests of Baldwin and Bill Lynch to become the NWSL’s first non-white female majority owner. Although they said the news was a relief, they also seemed exhausted from all the activity of the past few months.
“There are a lot of things we still have to recover from,” Ward said.
The coach has tried to check in with each player individually to assess how they are doing after a tumultuous season. In the space of several months last year, head coach Richie Burke was fired amid accusations of verbal and emotional abuse, a COVID-19 outbreak within the team led to two games lost, the ownership dispute reached a tipping point and the Spirit overcame everything. win the 2021 championship. Meanwhile, the NWSL was dealing with the fallout of multiple abuse scandals that rocked the league with firings and resignations.
“It’s definitely easier, but there’s always some fatigue, that’s for sure,” Ward said. “That part of suffering is still going to take some people to recover, the fatigue of the last six months, eight, nine, 10 months – however long it really lasts.”
The Spirit still needs a home, too. They spent the first two weeks of preseason at a public sports complex in Virginia.
On the bright side, the team considers the absences of 11 players a good problem to have.
“Having to lose them multiple times throughout the year is what top clubs have to deal with, so we have to be able to adjust and adapt to that reality,” Ward said.
While veterans Andi Sullivan, Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett are away with the USWNT, Ward is counting on Sam Staab and Dorian Bailey to be leaders, with help from Gaby Vincent.
7️⃣ players from your 2021 NWSL Champions are on the USWNT roster for January Camp. That’s 27 percent of the total list!
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) January 12, 2022
North Carolina Courage Goes Forward
While North Carolina Courage players faced their own emotional turmoil last season after head coach Paul Riley was fired on charges of sexual coercion and emotional abuse, coach Sean Nahas took a very different approach.
“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t talk about last fall at all,” Nahas said. “I don’t want with the players. I want to stay forward and focused. We should never be stagnant and complacent with where we are.
Nahas said the new CBA is a huge step forward for the league and Courage has improved to provide players with support and resources, such as housing and doctors. A CBA clause also gives players up to six months of paid mental health leave.
On the pitch, Nahas was extremely pleased with the energy and physical condition of the players, saying they are the best he has seen at the start of pre-season. As it sounds, the Courage have been training at a higher intensity than the majority of other NWSL teams so far. With so many coaches encouraging their players to familiarize themselves with the pre-season environment, especially after everything that happened last season, Courage seems to be a bit of an outlier. Both Nahas and veteran Denise O’Sullivan said the players set this high standard for themselves.
Casey the cook
On the West Coast, when San Diego Wave FC head coach Casey Stoney isn’t at the practice facility, she focuses on food.
“Am I a cook? No,” she said. “But I love to cook. I think it’s quite therapeutic. You can be creative and make decent recipes, and I also like making people happy through food. I think you can have a real pleasure in cooking a good meal for someone.
She also cooked up a storm on the football field, building the expansion team from the ground up while instilling a culture. The main ingredient? Trust.
“A lot of the players here haven’t experienced an environment where they can trust people, so build relationships and build care into our environment,” Stoney said.
The coach regularly checks the players, especially the rookies. When Stoney first met them, the first question she asked was, “Can you cook?” Those who couldn’t, she said, would be enrolled in cooking classes and given nutritional menus, preparing them to be the best football players possible.
Cowboys and Chihuahuas in Seattle
Perhaps the most underrated news from the NWSL camps this week is that OL Reign roommates Lauren Barnes and Jess Fishlock are considering getting a dog. Barnes said it would likely be a rescue and a small dog like a Chihuahua or Jack Russell Terrier.
Apparently, this is news for OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey.
“It’s going to be an interesting journey,” Harvey said. “It should be featured on something, Instagram or something, because watch out.”
During this time, Harvey discovered his newfound passion for country music. The trainer has pledged to create a playlist at some point and “rock out” to show everyone his new “favorite” jams. It should probably be chronic too.
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.