Editor’s note: Alex Sahlen is the president of the NWSL’s Western New York Flash. She is also a defender who has been part of the team’s last three championships (one in the USL W-League, one in Women’s Professional Soccer and one in the WPSL Elite League) as both a player and administrator. She wrote the following column as a guest blogger for The Equalizer:
The life of a professional women’s soccer player is similar to that of a roller coaster ride — one of the most tumultuous rides you have ever taken.
From one day to the next, you never know where the game can take you, what circumstances it can bring you, or what people in can bring into your life. One year ago, all of our hopes and dreams were dashed by the demise of WPS and we were all left to pick up the pieces of women’s professional soccer in the US. What to do, where to play? So much confusion and heartache led 20 players with all of the same goals and hopes in one place: Western New York. Some of these players had WPS experience, some were just drafted into the league looking to earn a roster spot, and others were trying to prove themselves and make a name in the game. Different ages, hometowns, colleges, and attributes.
But they all had one thing in common: they were hungry for success. Media had us pegged as inexperienced and young; set for 4th place in the WPSL Elite which was last of the professional squads in the league (there were four other amateur teams). Some players were mentioned as “flops,” while others weren’t even mentioned. You can bet your bottom dollar this was posted in our locker room, and we had something to prove not only as a team, but also individually. When you are successful as a team, the individual benefits. We all heard this from the coaching staff, and knew it every day when we walked across the white line whether it was training or a game. There is no more proof to this statement following the NWSL Supplemental Draft where six players from our championship squad were taken before the 19th pick.
On Feb. 6, there was no doubt that professional players across the country were on the edge of their seats. Anxious. Nervous. A little bit fearful of the unknown; our fate uncontrollable. I knew that many of my former teammates and friends were hoping to be drafted into the league after a very successful season with the Flash in 2012, winning the WPSL Elite league. These players were integral parts of our success on and off the field .They’re what I call the “Sensational Six”. Four of these players had been drafted into WPS prior to the league folding and never got a chance to fight for their position on a roster. Another was an experienced goalkeeper who had won a championship three years in a row in WPS, but every year it was as a backup. The sixth was a player who had fought her way into the league through open tryouts and was coming off a difficult season with the last place finisher Atlanta Beat. These six players had something to prove, about themselves and about our team. Meet the Sensational Six:
Brittany Cameron, Round 2, No. 13 overall: I can speak from my own personal experience that B is a goalkeeper that exudes confidence not only from herself, but into the teammates in front of her. Her constant communication from the back and willingness to put everything on the line for the club was huge for us. Coming out for a ball against the New York Fury, B got hit by a player and broke her jaw. There was no question that she would finish that game even though she could hardly open her jaw or see out of her eye. That sort of commitment to the team is hard to come by. While she was injured, she was as much a part of the team as ever, spirits still high with her positive reinforcement on the sideline. We knew when the final went to PKs, that we would win. We had prepared; and we had the best goalkeepers for penalties. Can’t forget to mention we never would have made it to the PKs if it weren’t for her one-vs.-one save. A player heavily involved in the community and coaching here at Sahlen Sports Park, she will be missed.
Katy Frierson, Round 1, No. 5 overall: My first thought when meeting “Katy Fry” was..how does she not have a thicker accent coming from the dirty south??!! You can be sure that every time I hear the word “ma’am” or “sir” I immediately think of her now. Polite is her middle name. When Fry first came in to camp, her nickname was “little fry” by the coaching staff not only because of her demeanor off the field, but because of her slight build. By the time we were hoisting the hardware, her nickname was “Big Fry.” Fry came up clutch for us and really found a home in the center of midfield balling out with her special technical abilities, and was able to mix it up if need be. Great attitude, great player, great person.
Tori Huster, Round 2, No. 9 overall: aka “Ging” oops..did that slip out? Coach Hubie’s nickname for Tori wasn’t her favorite….I think this girl literally played every position for us except goalkeeper. Tori was a tireless worker in training and wherever the team needed her she was ready and willing. Her versatility and winning mentality coming from Mark Krikorian’s FSU was priceless for us whether it was running down a player in the back, playing wide striker, or doing a job in center midfield. No doubt that she will enjoy being back on grass at the Maryland Soccerplex and Spirit fans are definitely in for a treat on and off the field with Tor. Hopefully Washington allow dogs in their housing
Stephanie Ochs, Round 1, No. 1 overall: “Ochsie” as the staff called her was in the midst of finishing her schooling when camp opened, and she was flying back and forth to complete classes and graduate. This combined with duty with the US U-23′s left little time for Ochsie to adjust to the team at the start of the season. Ochsie grew so much as a player the last six weeks of the season and became a major threat for us on the flank. Her speed, crossing ability from either side and willingness to work for the team on both sides of the ball were irreplaceable. Jumping to win a 50-50 in the final, Steph had to leave the game and go to the hospital with a massive cut on her head. Again, willingness for the team and the goal at hand…..Don’t worry, she still made it back to the stadium to see us win it for her. I think she still had blood in her hair trying to make it back to the field! Kidding…
Laura Heyboer, Round 3, No. 18 overall: We first met Laura ‘the dutch dynamo’ was on a trip to Japan with Sky Blue. As we were gearing up for the WPSL Elite season, the staff were asking B, McCall (Zerboni, team captain) and I about the other players that were on the trip with us. Laura’s name came up and we obviously rated her. Little did we know that she was going to score the most important goal sending us through to the championship match. Laura is a player that always seems to be in the right place at the right time and rarely loses the ball. Famously known as “Rod” all across WNY, Laura HAD a metal rod in her leg. I’m happy to report that the rod is now officially out of her leg Honestly though, you never would have known this was the case with her work ethic and ability to push through the pain last season with not one complaint.
Angela Salem, Round 2,No. 15 overall: Last but not least, Angela Salem. S-A-L-E-M. Salem. Not to be confused with Sahlen. Oh, and to make it more confusing her dad’s name is Joe. My best memory of Ang has to be after she scored the game-winning PK, running towards us with tears running down her face. I get chills thinking about it. Her journey from a tough year of not winning too many games with Atlanta in WPS (trust me, when you win you take it for granted) to scoring the game-winning PK in the WPSL Elite League championship game was like a storybook ending. Even more storybook is the fact that her brother was in the team celebration <<no idea how he got on the field>> Anyway, Ang is a class act and I couldn’t be more excited to have another year with her. A true footballer with a gritty mentality, Ang is a great addition to our team.
All of these players came in with a lot to prove, an attitude, a mindset, a willingness to work for one another. And they proved themselves through the success of the team in a special championship that will always bond us together. I wish them all the best at their future clubs…until they are playing the Flash of course