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Jun, 2018

Internationals SC Alum Shines in the NWSL with Seattle Reign FC

Christen Westphal is one of the most successful players to ever come out of the Internationals SC organization.  She had a decorated youth career that included being part of the U.S. U-18 Women’s National Team player pool, traveling to Portugal with the regional ODP team, competing as a member of the Region II ODP team for three years, and finishing as one of the Top 100 National Players according to Top Drawer Soccer.  Westphal also won five state titles and one U.S. Club National Championship in her six years with the club.

Westphal gives a lot of credit to Keri Sarver, Zdravko Popovic, and the rest of the Internationals SC family. 

“I mean that they had a tremendous impact on me as a player.  Their impact is still like prevalent in where I am today like learning the values that they had: the hard work and the passion required and the time that it takes. They were always very realistic about everything, no matter if it was what I wanted to hear or what I didn’t.  They always pushed me and always instilled that kind of belief in me to allow me to believe in myself that I could get to the next level. I think that's huge when a coach believes in you and supports you through all those different age groups and develops you on and off the field. I feel like that's huge going into college.  I was confident going to college.”

Popovic remembers Westphal’s time at Internationals SC with great fondness.

"We are extremely happy and proud that one of our alumni, Christen Westphal, has grown into a player of international caliber. Christen grew up in the Internationals Soccer Club and took advantage of all that we could provide her with in order to develop to become a marquee youth player while in the club.  She moved on to have an outstanding college career and a few call-ups with our Youth National Teams. Now she is playing professional soccer with and against the global stars of the women's game. Christen is yet another living proof that International soccer culture, focus on development, and belief in the process, provides unparalleled return in the long run, on and off the soccer field. We are looking forward for our upcoming generation to follow Christen’s footsteps. We are extremely happy and proud to have her be part of the Internationals Soccer family.”

All of the success at Internationals SC led the Brecksville, Ohio native to being recruited by some of the top college programs in the country.  She would decide to play for the University of Florida and would go on to four impressive years with the Gators.  She would make 95 appearances for UF, playing 8,486 minutes and registering four goals and 17 assists.  The awards would flow during her time at Gainesville and she would receive no fewer than nine major awards including All-American (2013 & 2015), SEC Defensive Player of the Year (2015), All-SEC First Team (2013-2015), Soccer America All-Freshman Second Team (2012), All-SEC Second Team (2012), and SEC All-Freshman Team honors.

“In college I definitely learned a lot about reading the game and seeing the game one step quicker,” Westphal added. “Playing in college obviously helps the speed of play and decision-making and I was really lucky to be on a team that allowed me to be creative and express myself. So, I found my identity as a player through going to UF. So that's what I'm really grateful for. And I also think that everyone in that staff always taught me about hard work and commitment and the time needed to take your game to the next level.”

It’s no wonder that the next step for Westphal was turning professional and that happened when she was selected third overall by the Boston Breakers in the 2016 NWSL College Draft.  The draft experience was something that Westphal would never forget.

“It was great. I mean it was something that I've wanted to do since I was a kid. So, it was definitely a sense of this is what I've worked for. And it was great to achieve that goal of mine so it was honestly awesome. I was very happy but also like just really excited about experiencing that next level after college, just very happy.”

Being in the Boston for two seasons was a special experience according to Westphal.

“I think being in Boston was great because of the players that I got to play with and learn from.  You constantly are learning from the people you're around. There were players that have been in the league for a while and you just learn about professionalism and what it takes to be able to compete in play in these types of games and the professional side of it, like outside of soccer, like recovery.  You realize how much those play a role in being able to survive in this league and just being really in tune with yourself and being prepared through everything. And it definitely is more commitment in that aspect than college, like nutrition, recovery, kind of everything outside of soccer. I definitely learned a lot about that.”

Westphal also pointed out that the action on the field was at a much higher level.

“But then also I always come back to speed of play because when you go from college to play in the NWSL, it's such a jump in the speed of play. So being able to kind of transition into that as easily as you can. I definitely learned from the players and the coaches.”

Westphal would end up playing in Seattle after being selected by Seattle Reign FC in the 2018 NWSL Dispersal Draft.  The switch from Boston to Seattle has definitely been a positive move.  She now finds herself on one of the league’s top squads and her teammates include the likes of Yael Averbuch, Allie Long, and Megan Rapinoe.

“I think it’s great,” Westphal continued. “And it's definitely cool going to practice every day. And it definitely feels like a game because it's ultracompetitive. And I get really excited because I feel like there's things that I can do every day to get better.  I feel like I'm getting better every day in practice, from the different drills we’re doing or the players I'm surrounded by. I mean it's just amazing to watch players that play at such a high level and how they train and how what they do and kind of what got them to where they are. So, it's great. I couldn't be happier to be able to be on this team and be able to learn from these players and coaches. I kind of just have an open mind into wanting to learn everything that I can while I'm here in this opportunity.”

Seattle Reign FC assistant coach Milan Ivanovic is pleased with her progress so far.

"Christen is new to the team this year. She's been fighting hard for her spot on the team and she's right there, I would say, in a combination every match, sometime she does play sometime she doesn't, but her attitude has been great. She's willing to improve and willing to do extra every time. Obviously, there are things where she can improve and she's working hard on it. We are very happy for her."

Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski, who won two consecutive league championships with Kansas City, is also happy to have Westphal on his squad. 

"Christen has been great addition for us this season. Her ability to play on both sides of the ball has helped us numerous times this season to defend well but also to be a threat for the opposition.  She is also an incredible person and teammate. We are very fortunate to have her on the team."

Westphal has a lot of goals that she wants to accomplish, both in the short- and long-term.  

“I just honestly want to be an impact player and make a difference in the team and be able to compete.  I've always wanted to play for the national team and that that goal will never change.  But right now, it's focusing on how I can help this team and how I can be effective in this environment.”

The goals don’t stop at the individual level as Westphal is always committed to her team.

“I think as a team, we just take it game by game and we want to win. We want to compete. We obviously want to win.”

Seattle finds themselves in second place in the league with a 5-2-4 record.  The Reign are in the midst of a race towards a playoff spot and a chance at a national title.  With a talented defender like Westphal on the field, the Reign always have a chance to win and win big. 

She has done a great deal in her career already, but the best may be yet to come.  The sky is literally the limit for this team and this Northeast Ohio native.

Photo Credit: Jane Gershovich/Seattle Reign FC

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