Four FC Wisconsin Eclipse alums have been in pre-season training camp with the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL over the past 5 weeks. Read about what its like to be a professional women's soccer player!
Four FC Wisconsin Eclipse alums have been in pre-season training camp with the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL over the past 5 weeks. Cara Walls, a target forward, was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 NWSL draft and Monica Gonyo (GK), Val Gonyo (D), and Mary Luba (M) were free agent pick-ups. The 2015 season should provide opportunity for a lot of young players, as during the Women’s World Cup several Red Stars will be representing their country and missing multiple NWSL games. (Chicago has 8 international players that will be playing in the World Cup: for the USA - Christen Press, Lori Chalupny, Shannon Boxx, and Julie Johnston; for Canada – Adriana Leon, Melissa Tancredi, and Karina LeBlanc; for New Zealand – Abby Erceg.)
The club alums recently took the time to answer some questions on the professional experience so far.
How would you describe your experience so far in a professional training environment?
- MG: To have the opportunity to continue playing the game that I love while pursuing a lifelong dream of mine, is surreal. Some days are more challenging than others, but knowing that there are people out there who would only dream about playing at this level helps me get through those harder days. I am learning a little bit more everyday about what it takes to be a professional athlete and I am excited for what the future holds for me.
- VG: I have really enjoyed playing in a professional training environment. I am so grateful for having this opportunity to improve my game even more. The current players have been very welcoming to the younger players and there seems to be an emphasis on the importance of team chemistry, which I really like. These past four weeks I have learned a lot about how the team plays and their tactics, and now it's just applying it to the scrimmages and games. I am excited for what the rest of the season brings for the team.
- ML: The environment is very different from college. I definitely had to adjust. Overall, it has been fun and I enjoy coming to trainings and learning from the coaches and older girls. Trainings are competitive and mentally demanding. Even at this level, there are so many things to learn both tactically and technically.
- CW: My experience so far has been good in that is has been a really good learning experience. The level of play is a lot higher, and the coaches are giving you a lot of information. This means you have to be focused at all times and constantly take information the coaches give you and be able to apply it to your game. It can be difficult but it’s good because it forces you to get better faster.
What is the biggest difference between college soccer and professional soccer in the NWSL?
- MG: I would say the biggest difference is the pace of the game. It is so much faster. If you can't get the ball and give it, you will get tackled in an instant. Also, the minute your team loses the ball, the other team is countering immediately. If your team is not organized and paying attention to what's next after losing the ball, the chances of the ball ending up in the back of your net are high.
- VG: I think the biggest difference is the pace and physicality of the game. The pace of the game is faster and pressure on the ball becomes quicker, so you need to be able to play in 3 touches or less when you are on the ball or else you will be tackled. Also, it is important that as a player you try to take what you learn one practice and implement that into the next practice/game as soon as possible. There are only 4 weeks of preseason in the NWSL until your first game, where every win and every point matters.
- ML: I think the biggest difference is the speed of play. That's something you can't really replicate unless you're in an environment surrounded with good players
- CW: All of the players you are playing with were also the best players from their college programs, so you sometimes have to put yourself in a different position on this team. Everyone is athletic and technical, the pace is a lot faster, so you really have to focus on what you do well and what you can do for the team in order to keep a spot that a lot of girls are competing to have.
You have been in pre-season training camp with several teammates from your youth club – what has that been like?
- MG: It is always fun to meet new players on a new team, but there is also a feeling of comfort in having teammates you do know and have played with before. I know the way they play and they know how I play. There is also a level of trust between us, which is something that can take years to build. I also am excited that they have the same goal as I do, to play professional soccer, and we are all very supportive of each other to accomplish that goal.
- VG: I was very excited when I found out I would be practicing with some of my old teammates. Our club practices were always intense and competitive, and I knew that my club teammates would bring that same atmosphere to these practices. It was also fun having the opportunity to play against some of our other teammates during preseason scrimmages with other colleges.
- ML: Being back with Walls, Val, and Mon has been fun. We've basically spent the last four years playing against each other. They are all great players, so it's nice to finally have them on my side again.
- CW: It has been really nice to have girls from my club team at pre-season and with the team so far. It releases some stress and tension seeing friendly faces and having people to talk with that know you.
You are still finishing classes towards your undergraduate degree – how are you balancing that with the training demands?
- MG: It has been one of the hardest things I have ever done but in the end, I would not have wanted to end my senior year of college any other way. I tell people it’s like being a collegiate athlete times ten. I have to manage my time so that I get my school work done, but I also need to remember that getting enough sleep is crucial to my performance on the field and for recovery. I do have to miss some classes for practice and to travel, but my teachers have been very flexible and understanding with everything. I talk to my senior teammates often and I can tell how they already miss the game so much, so to have the chance to pursue a dream and finish school is an amazing opportunity for me.
- VG: So far it's been hard but it is important to balance everything out and stay organized. My teachers have been very supportive and understanding that I am pursuing professional soccer after college. It is very similar to when I played college soccer in the fall, you just have to make sure to prioritize your schedule and make sure you stay ahead of your studies.
- ML: I've been driving to Chicago a lot, and I'm taking 20 credits and have classes everyday. I like to plan out my week and figure out what I have due.
- CW: Balancing school and soccer is really difficult. I'm only taking 2 online classes and I've still had to ask my professors for many deadline extensions. Luckily, I've been through this in college so I've learned what works best for me and how to balance the two. Everyone has different methods. For me the biggest thing is focusing on the end goal and how I don't want to leave my college experience without a degree, this forces me to do my work.
You watched the US vs. New Zealand last week from a suite at Busch Stadium, watching several of the Chicago Red Stars play for the United States. How does that feel to know these players will be some of your teammates and you will be training with them soon?
- MG: This was something I continuously thought about while watching the entire game. I am very excited to have the opportunity to not only train with them but to also hopefully learn some new things from them as well. These players have loads of experience and have played at the highest level so I am excited to see how these players will positively affect the training atmosphere when they come back from their respective national teams.
- VG: I am very excited to be able to play with some of the players that represent our country. It was great to see two Red Star players, Julie Johnston and Lori Chalupny, score in the U.S. game. I think I can especially learn something from Julie in these next coming weeks before the World Cup, since she plays in the center back position, to try to improve my own game as a center back.
- ML: It's a really cool feeling because the national team players are the most dynamic and talented players in the game. They offer a lot knowledge and experience. It will be a great learning tool to get better and learn from these players. They are role models for me and it's a special opportunity to train alongside them.
- CW: That was a really cool experience. I feel very lucky that I'm going to get to train with some of the best women players in the country. I'm really excited to see how my game compares to theirs, to learn from them and use training with them to as a way to keep improving my game.