When the Chicago Red Stars travel to Providence Park to play the Portland Thorns on Saturday, both teams can finish out the regular season with relative ease. Each have solidified their spot in the playoffs, and with the no. 1 ranked North Carolina Courage snagging the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Shield earlier this week, there is no prize resting on this game.
But for one Red Star, there is another prize on the line that is impacted by each game she plays. Casey Short is in the mix for the 2017 NWSL defender of the year, and no matter the stakes, she doesn’t take her job lightly.
“The goal is always to win,” the 27-year-old told Excelle Sports. “It was nice to clinch that [playoff berth] last week so now we can kind of take a breath. But we still want to go in there and come out with confidence into the following week.”
This year, the three-time NWSL Team of the Month nominee has been one of the most confident 1v1 defenders in the league with speed that could catch up to most runaway defenders. With the Naperville, Ill., native holding the outside back position, Chicago is now second in the league for the least amount of shots allowed on the defensive end.
And if voters count international play towards NWSL awards, Short’s recent performances for the U.S. women’s national team are quickly making her a household name among soccer fans. As a relatively new addition to the roster, she’s started five out of the 12 matches the U.S. has played in 2017.
To play at her current level, the Florida State product has walked a long, painful path that would trip up many aspiring soccer players who want to make it to the top. She’s bounced back from three ACL reconstruction surgeries in the span of four years between her college and pro careers. Short’s infectious laughter and positive attitude have undoubtedly made her one of the ultimate comeback queens in women’s soccer. Short is resilient and she knows her body is stronger now more than ever before, she said.
“Re-injury is not anything I think about anymore,” said Short. “And if I do, I push that out and focus on the quality that I need to bring to be successful, rather than having negative thoughts.”
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Her recent success on the pitch is not only inspiring, it’s symbolic of a new movement in women’s soccer that’s been particularly significant for female athletes of color. Since the 2016 Rio Olympic games, head coach Jill Ellis has invited a bunch of rookies to the squad as some legends like Abby Wambach and Christine Rampone began to phase out of the pool. Short was called up that October joining other other women of color such as Lynn Williams (NC Courage), Crystal Dunn (Chelsea Ladies F.C.), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage) and Kristen Edmonds (Orlando Pride).
For years, women’s soccer has been perceived as a white suburban sport. But as players like Short solidify their positions on the USWNT roster and continue to dominate in the NWSL, it is clear that America’s soccer culture is beginning to change.
“It”s the coolest thing,” said Short. “Lynn and I have talked about that. It’s cool to represent and help inspire girls. They can look at the team and say ‘Hey, they look like me. If she can do it, then I can do it too. That’s why we play.”
But on the immediate surface, her reason for playing is to beat Portland on Saturday, and her job is to shut down players like Tobin Heath, Christine Sinclair and Amandine Henry, who are known to be dangerous threats to any defensive line. Chicago has yet to beat the Thorns all year, so if Portland is on their game, Short will have a lot to handle.
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“Portland has got really great players, they are comfortable on the ball and they are tough to break down. They are smart and great on set pieces … I could just continue to list their great qualities so they are going to be tough to beat,” said Short. “But we are going to play in an incredible environment with incredible fans. They always bring the energy there. I’m excited and I can’t think of a better way to end the season.“
To watch Short and the Red Stars take on the Thorns on Saturday, the game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET on Lifetime.