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Van Hollebeke joins Japan’s Iga FC Kunoichi

Racheln Van Hollebeke will play in Japan during the NWSL offseason. (Photo by Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

Racheln Van Hollebeke will play in Japan during the NWSL offseason. (Photo by Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

Rachel Van Hollebeke will play for Japanese club Iga FC Kunoichi this NWSL offseason. The two-time Nadeshiko League champions introduced the Portland Thorns FC defender on Wednesday.

“When the opportunity arose for me to come play at Iga, I was very excited about it and knew that I wanted to take that opportunity,” she said at her introductory press conference.

Van Hollebeke (née Buehler) was cut from the United States’ World Cup qualifying roster, which would have left her without competitive soccer for at least two months. After World Cup qualifying wraps up at the end of October, the United States women do not reconvene until December, for camp in Brazil.

She has 112 caps with the U.S., and played in the 2011 World Cup as well as on the 2008 and 2012 gold-medal winning Olympic teams. The roster for World Cup qualifying is 20 players, but next year’s World Cup roster will feature 23 players, allowing for more opportunities.

It is unclear if this is a loan deal or a signing outside of her NWSL contract, but Portland Thorns FC said in a press release that Van Hollebeke will return to Portland before the start of the 2015 season. She started 29 games in her first two seasons with the Thorns, missing significant parts of 2014 due to an ankle injury suffered with the United States days before the opening match of the NWSL season.

Iga FC Kunoichi has won the first-division championship twice, in 1995 and 1999. The team finished fourth in the Nadeshiko League last season.

Here is her introductory press conference (mostly in Japanese):

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