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Casey Short’s unusual journey to NWSL

Casey Short was a 1st round pick in 2013, but her NWSL debut did not come until 2016. (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Casey Short, left, was a 1st round pick in 2013, but her NWSL debut did not come until 2016. (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Of the 32 players taken in the inaugural NWSL college draft, roughly a third of them are still playing in the league in year four. Only one of these 11 players, however, is in her first professional season in the states.

Casey Short was taken 5th overall in the draft by the Boston Breakers. 1,184 days would pass between the day Short was selected until she made her NWSL debut this past April with the Chicago Red Stars. Injuries would derail Short’s dream of playing in U.S. several times, ironically making her path to the pros in the states anything but short.

To fully understand the journey that the Chicagoland native to end up with her hometown team, it’s necessary to step back further from the moment she got drafted. Coming out of high school, Short was a very accomplished athlete in both soccer and track. Following graduation, the then forward, headed to the Sunshine state to play soccer for Mark Krikorian at Florida State.

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“I came into Florida State as a forward which is crazy to think about now but the first couple of seasons were great. I’m thankful to have played for Mark because he’s probably the best college coach in soccer and he creates such a professional environment that really prepares you for the next level.”

Despite missing six games of her sophomore season, Short found success with the Seminoles earning many accolades in her first three seasons with the team playing in further up the field than fans are accustomed to seeing the current Red Stars left back play.

Heading into her senior season with the Seminoles, Short  wanted to cap off her collegiate career with a strong season as a springboard to the next level. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be and in preseason, Short tore her left ACL forcing her to sit out.

“I made the decision that I’m going to view this as a positive and come back even stronger…and use this time to work on the other things that I didn’t have time to work on before,” Short said of the injury, “ It became a positive almost for me.”

In the fall of 2012, the now redshirt senior was once again ready to don the Florida State jersey. Krikorian caught her off guard a bit when he asked her to move to the backline to play outside back.

“That was definitely a surprise,” She said about the move. “ I was like, ‘Oh, okay, this is a little different’ but I played on the wing a bit, so it wasn’t that big of a transition, just learning the tactics as far as defending and all those things but it was what my team needed.”

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The move proved fortuitous for Short and the Seminoles. She was a key cog for a Florida State defense that allowed only 15 goals in 23 games. En route to the team’s second straight college cup appearance the team amassed a record 17 shutouts, a number now surpassed only by the school’s national championship team in 2014.

Things were certainly looking up for Short. Following her selection in the NWSL, Short returned to the U-23 National Team for the 2013 La Manga Tournament after being absent the year prior due to the ACL tear.

“I was on top of the world at that point,” she said about being named to the U-23 roster for the tournament. “I didn’t know if I was going to get drafted or not and then I did I hadn’t been with the national team for awhile because of my injury.”

A collision in the box at the tournament quickly changed Short’s outlook. Just like that, she found herself on the sidelines again. She had torn her ACL again, this time in her right leg. It was a crushing blow for a player about to embark on her professional career.

“I’d say I probably hit rock bottom at that point because I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I didn’t really know what my options were but again I was like I have two options I can feel sorry for myself or I can keep fighting for my dream and that’s what I decided to do.”

Short had surgery on the torn ligament in April and set about recovering once more. Her right knee, however, never felt quite right following the surgery. After taking a fall in practice the following January, Short’s feeling was confirmed. She needed surgery again. It was another difficult setback after completing much of her rehab.

Between injuring her right ACL and having the corrective surgery, the Chicagoland native had been acquired by her hometown team. Following the latest setback, Red Stars head coach Rory Dames reached out to Short, who he had coached as a youth player in an email.

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“That meant everything to me because I lost confidence in myself and I felt like everyone else lost confidence in me as well,” she said. “So to hear that from him, it gave me something to continue fighting for and work toward.”

Short found herself with a series of question marks punctuated with dealing with being labeled as injury prone. Could she successfully complete rehab and if she did could she still be the player she once was after two years away from the game?

Last year, Short did find herself back on the field albeit thousands of miles away from the Windy City. She signed with Avaldsnes IL in Norway where she was joined by Adrianna Franch, another 2013 NWSL draftee who recovering from an ACL injury.

In the self-described ‘most unexpected place,’ Short rediscovered her passion for the game and her confidence. Any worries about her ability to return were quickly quelled and she earned Best XI honors in the Toppserien League.

In November 2015, over two years after Chicago initially acquired her rights, the team reacquired her through the discovery process and signed her for the 2016 season. Short admits that it took a bit to acclimate to the more transition orientated, physical style of play of the NWSL as compared to Norway.

“My role was a bit different last year in Norway where this year I’m having to get up into the attack and also cover a lot of ground on defense as well but I love it. It just took a little bit more fitness than I was use to.”

Once off the radar, Short has drawn praise for her play at left back this season. Her and her counterpart on the right side, Arin Gilliland have wrecked havoc on opposing teams with their ability to fly up and down the flanks.

In a conference call previewing this weekend’s semifinal match between Chicago and the Washington Spirit, Dames called Short’s season exceptional, praising her one v. one defending. When asked if there was a particular moment this season that stood out to her, she was quick to point out there’s still a lot of soccer to be played. Perhaps when you’ve had your dream deferred for so long, every moment is special.

“Putting on the jersey, I don’t take that for granted a second after being out for so long and having this game that I love taken away from me for so long,” Short said.  “From the moment I put the jersey on, even in preseason, it I meant a lot to me. I’m just thankful every time I’m able to be on the field to do what I love.”

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