When Women’s Professional Soccer folded before the league began a fourth season in 2012, many doors closed abruptly for American players. Breaking at the end of January, the news left little time for players to make any alternative plans, leaving most either without a club or forced to settle for a semi-professional league.
For a few, though, new doors opened. There were opportunities that would have otherwise been unavailable, turning the heartbreak of another failed women’s soccer league in the United States into a blessing in disguise.
Such is how Beverly Goebel – who will play for Seattle Reign FC on loan in 2014 in the National Women’s Soccer League – ended up in Japan with INAC Kobe Leonessa, a perennial power and winners of three straight Nadeshiko League titles and four consecutive Empress’ Cups, similar in format to the FA Cup. Goebel, 25, led the league with 15 goals in 2013.
Goebel won a 2011 WPS title with the Western New York Flash. But after the league ceased operations, she was left to figure out a future that likely would have meant staying with the Flash in WPSL Elite, a semi-pro league that Western New York championed in 2012.
In the interim, however, Goebel traveled to Japan with the Sky Blue FC organization, whose planned preseason trip to Japan turned into an invite-only voyage of various players who had played in the suddenly defunct league. That Sky Blue team played an exhibition against INAC Kobe Leonessa and five players were invited to practice with the Japanese club after the match, Goebel among them. She was offered a contract for the 2012 season and after a 16-hour flight home to think about the next step in her career, she jumped on the opportunity.
“I remember then just thinking to myself, ‘if I pass this up…’ I knew right then, just from playing against them in a game, that if I passed this opportunity up I would regret it,” Goebel said from Japan earlier in December.
Now her career brings her back to the United States with Seattle, a connection ironically made when Goebel played for INAC against Reign FC in a March 2013 exhibition during Seattle’s NWSL preseason in Japan.
“Toward the end of the season this year I was kind of thinking, ‘you know, I want to go back to the U.S., but I also am really enjoying my time here in Japan,’” Goebel said. “The opportunity came along to go play with (Seattle) and then return with INAC in September. I’m just really excited. I’m really thankful for the opportunity.”
Goebel is yet another piece of Seattle coach Laura Harvey’s grand makeover. Seattle finished seventh of eight teams in the NWSL’s inaugural season and lacked a proven striker throughout 2013. Halfway through a busy offseason, Reign FC now boast Goebel, up-and-coming forward Danielle Foxhoven and U.S. national team star Sydney Leroux.
Japan’s style of play forced Goebel to adapt to a more technical brand of soccer in a culture that brings its players into the top flight in their mid-teenage years. Seattle will require adjustment for Goebel as well in a more physical NWSL, but Goebel’s rise from a player who had a goal and an assist in 428 minutes on a star-laden Flash team in 2011 to Japan’s leading goal scorer shows a tangible ability to adapt.
“We immediately knew that Bev would be a massive addition to our club, so we made it a priority to find a way to bring her to Seattle for the 2014 season,” Harvey said of Seattle’s 2013 preseason discovery. “We are very appreciative of INAC Kobe for their willingness to allow the loan to occur.”
And there will be some familiarity with being back on home soil. With INAC, Goebel was one of two American players alongside defender Rebecca Moros, who also joined the Nadeshiko League champions after a trial from that 2012 trip with Sky Blue FC. Having played together with the Washington Freedom and Western New York Flash, Goebel and Moros had each other to lean on while learning the Japanese culture.
Moros is also returning to the U.S. and will play for Portland Thorns FC in 2014.
The attention on the NWSL isn’t as significant as INAC Kobe – featuring 2011 World Cup Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner Homare Sawa – receives in Japan in the post-2011 World Cup triumph era. But Seattle presents a new challenge to conquer for Goebel, on a team that has been the buzz of the NWSL offseason.
“After chatting a little bit with Laura I’m really excited to play for her and see her style,” Goebel said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
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