When forward Jasmyne Spencer and midfielder Dani Weatherholt were selected by Angel City FC in the expansion draft in December, the new NWSL club got two players with a successful track record in the league, two veterans and perhaps as important, two players who had been through an expansion season together before.
Both players were part of the Orlando Pride’s inaugural 2016 campaign, Weatherholt a rookie out of Santa Clara coming to grips with the pro game, and Spencer an NWSL original who had already experienced the highs and lows of being in the sport.
This time, they’re rejoining at an expansion Angel City club with the NWSL landscape changing, hopefully for the better.
“I think the NWSL is the most competitive women’s soccer league in the world,” Spencer told reporters during a press conference last week. “And so being a veteran, we know what it takes to compete, week in and week out. We know what it takes to win, we’ve both been on playoff winning teams, playoff appearing teams, and know what it takes to make the playoffs and complete in semis and championship games. So I think it’s really hard to emulate that level of play if you haven’t been there before. And we have quite a few veterans on the team that really are pushing the standard everyday and training to make sure that we are going to be able to meet that at the end of the season.”
For Weatherholt, the change in her status since 2016 in Orlando comes with it perspective of what works and doesn’t for a first-year team.
“I think this is one of the first years where I look around I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m one of the older ones, I’m the veteran here,’ which is really exciting,” she said. “We were actually on Orlando together during its expansion year. And I think you really need veteran experience during a year like that, because it’s going to be difficult, like this year is pivotal for building a foundation and a culture that you can sustain for years and years. I think most clubs come in with unrealistic expectations, don’t meet it, the culture goes downhill. Then the next few years, you’re just trying to play catch up.”
That Pride team finished their debut season in 9th place (of 10 teams), missing the playoffs and finding the squad had too many holes to compete every week.
Spencer credited ACFC for recruiting a group of players who are bought in for the rigors of a debut campaign.
“I think they did a good job of curating the team based off of people who want to buy into that and be a part of that. So I think it’s just cool knowing that everyone’s here to kind of put their stamp on the club and just like see how big we can make it and how successful we can make it,” she said.
Weatherholt agreed, saying there’s plenty of internal motivation for the squad’s players to impress this year.
“I think for me initially like seeing all the names and a lot of people were either like on the brink of breaking out on their team, or are new to the NWSL, like maybe didn’t get drafted so I think there’s this chip on their shoulder, wanting to prove themselves and I think that’s super exciting,” Weatherholt said. “They want to be on a team that’s hungry and maybe didn’t get picked and we have this underdog mentality. So I’m super excited about the work ethic and the passion of this group.”
So what knowledge can these two veterans supply to younger members of the roster? Maybe above all, the season is long.
“I think what we all kind of carry and I don’t know if it’s because there’s a handful of veterans here, it’s just like, we’re aware that it’s a marathon not a sprint,” said Spencer. “So like everyone’s so excited, everyone’s gonna be excited for our first Challenge Cup game, for our first regular season game. But I think that we have all focused on our long-term goals already and we’re committed to the process and know that it’s not going to be a straight [progression]. And there’s gonna be bumps in the road along the way. But as long as we’re committed to the process and getting a little bit better, and sticking together through that adversity, we feel confident that we can achieve our goals.”
And with the NWSL now under its first CBA with the players and a new commitment to beef up spending in all facets from team owners, what’s the biggest change in the players’ eyes from their Orlando 2016 days? The staffing at Angel City.
“I would say the number one thing is their commitment to building an elite staff. Like we have a staff member for all of our needs, on the medical side, on the tactical and technical side. And then in the front office, in terms of like all of us had to relocate, and like that was a big move for a lot of people and making sure that was smooth and there’s just somebody who’s always there for any of our needs. And they’re still building that stuff, which we just learned today. We were like, ‘Wow, we have a lot of people here to help us already.’ And we have more coming in, which is pretty incredible,” said Spencer.
Weatherholt wholeheartedly agreed.
“I think most teams have maybe one, two people in the medical [department], we have maybe four or five, six, like we have a lot of people in our corner wanting to support us. And I have found that there’s a lot of support, like players first. I think people have come to us everyday like, ‘Can we do better? What do you need?’ And I think that’s that’s huge. I’ve never been a part of a team culture like that and it’s paying off and are really excited about it,” she said.
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