Why you should care
Because some moments in sports are worth three years of waiting and healing.
Jordan Angeli may shed some tears when she puts on her Washington Spirit uniform on Sunday, but the versatile 27-year-old who’s played everywhere from central defense to forward won’t be crying in fear of facing off against the Western New York Flash in the Spirit’s season opener. She’ll be thinking of the journey of the last three years.
Three years of healing. Three years in which women’s soccer lost its pro league and gained a new one. Three years of uncertainty. Three years of determination.
She could plug into nearly every position on the field, combining stout defense with scoring…
Angeli officially signed with the Spirit last week. At practice, she smiled and laughed. But the idea of putting on that jersey a few days later was overwhelming.
“I can’t even talk about it without …”
She couldn’t finish the sentence, pausing to deal with the tears before starting anew.
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which kicks off its second season this weekend, is full of resilient players who have fought to keep their dreams alive. They fought through injuries. They trained with boys’ youth teams and freelance coaches. They took any jobs they could to make ends meet, packing into small apartments or living with host families.
Some players went overseas, where living conditions and financial reality vary wildly from club to club. Some players have had the relative comfort of a contract with U.S. Soccer that provides steady pay and support.
Angeli was nearly one of those players. The tall, devout Colorado native established herself as a defender while playing at Santa Clara, where she marked players like Canadian star Christine Sinclair, then moved to forward and scored 12 goals. During her rookie season with the Boston Breakers in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), she could plug into nearly every position on the field, combining stout defense with a scoring touch that netted seven goals that year. By the end of 2010, she had earned a call-up to the women’s national team’s training camp.
April 9, 2011: Angeli opened her second season by scoring the Breakers’ first goal of the year.
A few minutes later, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Again.
The first time she’d torn that ACL, she missed what would have been her senior season at Santa Clara. She had another year of eligibility in 2008 but tore the ACL once more. She successfully petitioned for another year and played her long-delayed senior season in 2009.
Her injury history had certainly been a concern as she went into the 2010 WPS draft. But she had one fierce backer on her side — former Santa Clara teammate Leslie Osborne, who had gone on to play for the USA in the World Cup and recovered from her own knee issues to be a cornerstone for the Boston Breakers.
“I remember, after we drafted Jordan, Leslie coming in and being very excited,” said Lisa Cole, then the Breakers’ assistant coach. “She went a little nuts.”
“I saw her step up and evolve into a great player with a great work ethic, vision and versatility,” Osborne said via electronic messaging. “Plus she is a Santa Clara Bronco and I would do anything for them.”
And Osborne is one of the people who can bring out Angeli’s silly side, which includes the ability to play recorder with her nose.
Cole says the Breakers staff wanted to keep her in Boston working with the team after her injury — but she was out for the 2011 season.
While Angeli was away, women’s soccer also started limping. Her team’s league shut down operations entirely in spring 2012, while ad hoc pro and amateur teams tried to fill the void. The NWSL formed in 2013, giving U.S. pro women’s soccer another chance. But it’s the USA’s third attempt at a women’s pro soccer league in 12 years, and some have suggested players might be better off skipping out on its low-wages in favor of playing for clubs in Europe.
Back on the field
A recuperated Angeli turned up at the Washington Spirit’s preseason with no guarantees.
“Maybe the first or second day she was here, we said, ‘Yeah, she’ll be here,’” her new coach, Mark Parsons, says. ”She’s an incredible person. I had three people come up to me and go, ‘She’d better be on this team.’”
The Spirit took a risk in drafting Angeli in the third round of a 2013 supplemental draft of veteran players who weren’t on the U.S., Canadian or Mexican national teams. She had taken more time to return than she took when she suffered her college injuries.
Women’s soccer is never a safe bet.
“We have a drive as athletes to get back as quickly as possible,” Angeli says. “This time, I had the time. I allowed myself to just … heal. Not only physically, but I think mentally more than anything, to deal with the things in my mind that were eating away at me. Every second was necessary. I feel like I’m different out on the field now because of the healing that I allowed myself to have.”
Women’s pro soccer is never a safe bet. You can be taken out by injury, learn your team is bankrupt , or find out your entire league has shut down. But Angeli says she was certain she would play again. Somewhere. Professionally or not. Parsons thinks it’ll take her another few weeks to reach her peak, and jumping into a speedy professional game after three years out is like jumping onto a moving train.
“I love playing soccer and I always have, and it’s been my passion. But now I feel like when I play, it’s this expression of joy,”Angeli says.
How will it feel to put on the uniform for a professional game that counts?
“I feel so blessed. I really do. I didn’t know if it would happen again. But now that’s it’s going to, I’m so thankful. So thankful. I know everything happened to me because of something that’s going to happen to me in the future. This is just another little step that’s leading me on that path. I’m going to thank God, and I’m going to thank my family, who’s going to be here.
“It’s going to be the greatest moment.”