Wednesday, August 7, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. - As Ashley Nick was walking off the stand at IMG Academy on July 28, W-League Championship Most Valuable Player trophy in hand, she started to wonder when her next game of soccer would be.
It didn’t take long for her to find out.
“As I was coming off the stage my coach, Charlie [Naimo], just pulled me to the side and he was like, ‘would you want to play for Sky Blue for the rest of the season?’,” Nick said by phone this week. “And I said, ‘yes, please’, and it went in a good direction from there.”
Following a standout summer for the W-League champion Blues that saw her earn All-League honors in addition to her Championship MVP award, Nick was quickly added by Sky Blue FC of the NWSL ahead of last week’s roster freeze. This past weekend she made her debut for the club, coming on as a halftime substitute in a 1-0 win against the Washington Spirit. The victory solidified Sky Blue’s third place in the league standings as it moved within a win of clinching a place in the postseason.
For Nick, who had returned this past December from playing in Europe for FC Twente in the Netherlands and Norway’s Arna-Bjørnar, the goal was always to try and find a place in the new professional league. How quickly that opportunity came about, however, is in part testament to the outstanding performances she put in while playing for the Blues this summer.
“It was great timing for us,” Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra said. “She’d been playing in some competitive games in the W-League and going to the final four and all that, so you’re getting a player that’s certainly in good form, and from what I know of Ashley I think she’d be an easy fit, integrating into our club at such a late time in the season.”
A former All-American at Southern Cal, Nick took a position with her alma mater as the Director of Operations for the Trojans women’s soccer program, but still continued to play whenever possible. Playing for Pali was a logical step toward finding her way into the NWSL, with a number of young and veteran standouts to play alongside, and against in the W-League’s Western Conference.
“It was a really good atmosphere,” Nick said. “Charlie’s a great coach, and as far as my teammates as well, we pushed each other and they were all preparing for their college season. It was just a really good atmosphere to really push myself to be as good as I could be as well.”
The passion Nick has for the game came at a young age. She recalls her parents telling her when she first decided she wanted to play soccer as a 5-year-old that they said, ‘oh, no, honey, no-one in America plays soccer.’
“So I cried, and cried, and cried and pitched a big fit, and they signed me up and I’ve been playing ever since,” Nick continued. “I think the passion was just there. There’s not a feeling of happiness that comes more than when I’m on the field, and I think it’s that I’ve lived the life of a footballer completely.”
That love of the game took Nick from USC to play overseas, where she captained FC Twente to the Dutch championship and competed in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. As she made her way forward with Sky Blue last week, Nick said, there wasn’t any nervousness, even when Gabarra called upon her to get ready for the second half against Washington.
“I think when I got the call to come to Sky Blue I was just excited,” Nick said. “My first thought was, ‘yes, I get to play again on Saturday’ in my head.
“Of course, there’s a little bit of nerves because I care and I want to perform well, but I just went out there and while I was warming up I just told myself I’ve been playing this game for 20 years, I know what to do, it’s universal, and that [Gabarra] wouldn’t have come and asked me to play if I wasn’t doing something that the team needed or that he liked. I didn’t need to freak myself out and think I needed to perform some magic thing that I don’t have the cards to do, I just had to do what I like to do, and that’s play soccer and keep the ball, and I think it went pretty well.”
From Gabarra’s perspective, Nick fills a need for his side as it prepares for the postseason.
“We were looking at adding someone who was a little more athletic to our roster,” he said. “I think we have a lot of good soccer players, but we’ve had some tough matchups against some of the more physical teams, and she brings a good physical presence to the middle of the field, plus she’s a good player. We always want good players, good understanding of the game and would be able to fit into the way we want to play, which is possession and attack-oriented soccer.”
As for next season, the mutual interest between Nick and Sky Blue is there for the midfielder to be with the team from the start of the season. Should that come about, no-one will be happier about it than Nick herself.
“I’m definitely thrilled with how everything came together,” she said. “I was just talking with someone the other day, in the midst of the whole week, how everything with Pali had gone, and my transition over here, how I had met some new people along the way, and we both decided that I could probably have had ESPN’s best week ever.”