Maryland-native and Penn State alum Christine Nairn entered her fifth NWSL season as both a veteran, of the league, and a newbie, to the Seattle Reign FC. Last year, she helped lead the Washington Spirit to the NWSL Championship where they fell in PKs to the Western New York Flash. This year, she has four starts for the Reign and has already netted a goal with one assist to start off the year. I chatted with Christine this week about her transition to (or back to) Seattle, her time in the W-League in Australia, and what you can find her doing when she’s not playing soccer. Hint: it has to do with dogs!
Hannah Kronick: Last weekend, you guys had a big win against the Spirit. Do you mind talking a bit about what that was like? As far as team performance, scoring the first goal of the game, and matching up against your former club for the first time this season?
Christine Nairn: Last week was all of the hard work from the preseason and the previous games coming together. Laura [Harvey] has been preaching consistency week in and week out. I think that’s going to be a huge factor this season for us. We have a bunch of great players and have potential to be the best in the league, but we have to bring that each and every game. So, I think the game against DC was all of it coming together at the right time and hopefully we can build off of that performance and do the same thing against Orlando this weekend.
HK: That’s great and leads me to my next question, what’s the mindset for this weekend as you host Orlando on Sunday?
CN: I think the same as it was last weekend. A lot of teams are looking at other teams saying “they bring this” or “they bring that” but, I think what Seattle is going to do is respect our opponent first of all and key in on their tendencies. Ultimately, we are focusing on ourselves and putting together another team performance because I think if we can really hone down on our strengths and minimize our weaknesses, this weekend and weekends to come can kind of take care of themselves. The crazy thing about this league is that any team can beat anyone on any given day. So, if we don’t bring what we know we can to the table, Orlando is a great team and will give us a battle. They have multiple weapons up top and a great goalkeeper and back line with [Ali] Krieger, Ashlyn [Harris] and Steph Catley, so we just have to bring our game and focus on ourselves as well as try to minimize Marta and all their attacking threats.
HK: On a more personal level, how has the transition been for you to the Reign? Or rather, back to Seattle, where you first started your professional career?
CN: Each time I’ve been asked that question, I always kind of laugh to myself. It’s interesting because you think back and when I started playing professionally, I was 22 [years old] in a completely new environment meeting so many people- just big eyed and wide eyed, trying to absorb all that I could in my first year. And now sitting here at 26 years old, I feel like I am still trying to absorb as much as I can because I have such great players around me in [Jess] Fishlock, Naho [Kawasumi], Rumi [Utsugi], and Pinoe and I mean take your pick–Bev Yanez, [Lauren] Barnes. A lot of these girls just want to help so much, but at the same time, I’m also a veteran- maybe not of this team, but of the league. So, you have some of the younger players asking me what to do or what I think or what can we do better. It’s a good balance of being new-er with the team but also having my feet on the ground with this league and knowing what to bring week in and week out. I feel new but old and old but new–so it’s a good mixture. I am on my toes for sure.
HK: Diving a bit into your status as a veteran of the league, what are your thoughts of the state of the league? What do you hope to see in 3-5 years from the league?
CN: In 3-5 years, I hope the league is competitive and continuously improving year in and year out. I think that with women’s soccer, some people are just happy to have a league–like “hey we finally have a league again,” but what’s important and what’s going to make this league sustainable is if everything gets a little bit better each and every year. It might not happen in my career, but for the future of this league and for women’s professional soccer players, we want to make this league the best it can be and try to help promote it. I know with the girls in DC as well as Seattle–we want to grow the game. What’s special is that we want to grow our careers now as well as the future and we are willing to sacrifice our time off the field to help get our name out there. Seattle’s done a great job with promoting the game. Today, actually as I was driving to training and on one of the buses there was a picture of Pinoe all about the Seattle Reign. It’s just about growing the game and even little things like that make us feel even more professional and it continues to be a step in growing the game.
HK: I know you’ve spent some significant time in the W-League in Australia during multiple NWSL off-seasons- can you talk a little bit about that? What it’s like and how it differs and complements the NWSL?
CN: The Australian League is such a great league for a lot of the NWSL players to continue to get games under their belt and stay fit. It’s a pretty short season with only 12 games, so it fits perfect right in the 3-4 month off-season for us. You also get to experience another country, another culture, and a totally different league. It’s always a fight to get those international spots on each and every W-League team down there, since the league is growing each year. Last season, almost every team in the W-League team had one or two NWSL players. Again, that is huge for growing the game. Whether the NWSL and the W-League can link up, maybe that’s something in the plans for the future to make this a 12-year plan to play year round, or maybe I just created that out of nowhere! But, I think the league down there is still growing. The younger Australian players are seeing what it takes to be a true professional in the states by what we do and trying to re-create that and maybe one day taking our jobs back here and continuing to become better players. If we can help develop one player, then we are doing our job as far as trying to teach players young and old. You can see the growth too in Australia by looking at the Matildas on the world stage. They did so well in the Olympics and the World Cup in the last few years. Now that all the Matildas are coming to our league, it’s kind of like “we’ll come to your league if you come to ours”. They’re great players and it’s really putting Australia back on the map in the soccer world. It’s super beneficial for everyone involved.
HK: How did you get into soccer in the first place? How did you start and what really motivated you to pursue it at the highest level?
CN: I have two older brothers. One that is five years older than me and one that is two years older than me, and I am the baby. And they played soccer. Whenever they wanted to play soccer, they dragged me outside. Whenever they needed a goalkeeper, they dragged me outside. Whenever they needed someone to go chase balls for them, I was outside. So, I saw both of my brothers’ work ethic and drive to play soccer- they always played different sports but for some reason, soccer stuck with all three of us. I just wanted to do absolutely everything they did. I was at every single one of their practices when I was three years old, my dad would help coach and I probably embarrassed both of my brothers but was just trying to help and they let me kick balls and I was like ‘this is awesome.’ It became exactly what I wanted to do. I played other sports here and there, but soccer was always the go-to sport. I really truly got into it because of my brothers. That’s still the main mental push and motivation for me–representing my family and my brothers. My dad coached me since I was four years old and my mom who drove us to everything and was our number one support system. My brothers still come out to my games now–they were at almost every single one of my DC games, so to be able to look up in the stands and see them is kind of a dream come true as corny as that sounds!
HK: What can we find you doing when you’re not playing soccer? Hobbies? Or other things that you’re into and interested in when you’re not training and playing?
CN: Since I’ve been in Seattle, I’ve actually started dog walking. I have a dog back home, who I miss so much who’s back in DC with my parents. It’s really therapeutic, you just put headphones in and listen to a podcast and just zone out from the world and hang out with the dogs. I have about 4-5 dogs that I am walking right now after practice. It’s just kind of personal time to take a breath.