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May, 2021

Former ISC Standout Christen Westphal Impresses in the NWSL

Internationals SC alum Christen Westphal is ready for a breakout season as a member of the Portland Thorns.  She’s already gained valuable experience with three major clubs in the Boston Breakers, Reign FC, and Thorns.   

The Brecksville, Ohio native had a strong showing in the preseason and is now ready for all that 2021 has to offer. 

“I think it was interesting to have a Challenge Cup right in preseason,” Westphal said. “And we had a longer preseason this year to give us more time to build up.  I think that was pretty crucial. And I think with the Challenge Cup, it was cool to just see very early on what our team was developing in preseason play out in games.  It was cool to see the growth from the first game to the last game, which I think is huge. And I think it serves such a purpose to allow teams to get a glimpse into what they need to work on throughout the season with a tournament right before.”

The Thorns are among the favorites to claim some serious hardware this season.

“I think we've been pretty open about our team is here to win,” Westphal said. “And our goals are to win everything: win the normal season, win after the season, win the ICC, anything.  We're looking to win everything. That is the outcome-based goal.  I think, day in and day out, we're just looking to grow as a team.  Really take what we need to work on and apply it each practice and just be able to focus one game at a time with knowing what our goals are, but really putting the emphasis on the process of it.”

Westphal has lofty goals of her own. 

“I think my goals align pretty much with the way the team is functioning,” Westphal said. “I'm just trying to find things that I need to fine tune, things that I want to work on, and put my energy and emphasis on that so I can grow as a player, so then I can be my best to be able to positively impact the team whenever I have the chance.”

She is a valuable part of the Thorns’ squad, an experienced player that brings a lot to the table, both off and on the field. 

“I would say off the field just being able to provide if someone was to come to me or just being approachable any way that I can, just holding myself to a high standard and displaying that on and off the field,” Westphal said. “On the field, I think I just love being able to impact offensively, getting crosses in, connecting with the midfield, connecting with the forwards, being involved offensively while being able to get shutouts with the defense and our goalies and hold it down in the back.  I love having the ability to go forward and be part of the attack because Mark (Parsons) encourages that for outside backs.”

Westphal has seen tremendous growth and positive changes since joining the NWSL in 2016. 

“I think it's awesome looking back on my rookie year, and then being able to see where I am now,” Westphal said. “And I just really feel like each year, they might feel like smaller steps. But I feel like those small steps are pretty mighty.  It is cool to see us being more televised and seeing the numbers that come from that.  If you put us on TV, people watch.  It's cool to see our voices making an impact so that girls and younger generations, when they step up, and this is their goal, it's going to be even bigger for them.  I think it's really cool to watch and be a part of.”

The former University of Florida and ISC standout was happy to share advice and lessons learned with the next generation of players.
“I would definitely say my biggest advice is to always make sure that you're enjoying it,” Westphal said. “First and foremost, you are doing this because you love to do it and not because you feel any other motivation.  Like you have to love to do this, you have to want to put in that work.  You have to want to go outside by yourself, even if it's just juggling.  The love of the game has to be at the forefront.  Because whenever that starts to not be, then soccer becomes more of a job or it's more taxing and then it's just not great.  I would just say to literally find enjoyment in it, doesn't need to be your whole life, consume your whole life.  You need to be a kid.  You need to do other sports.  I played other sports.  It doesn't need to consume you, but put the time in, put the work in, and enjoy it all the way through.”

Westphal is certainly enjoying her time in the NWSL, playing alongside the world’s best players.  The Thorns’ roster includes a who’s who of women’s soccer, including Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Meghan Klingenberg, and Christine Sinclair. 

“It's incredible,” Westphal said. “I'm just so blessed.  I get to work with such powerful women not just for what they accomplish in their soccer careers, but what they accomplish in communities, what they stand up for, and everything like that.  I'm very blessed, to be able to step on the field with them and call them friends.  It's awesome because I just feel like I grow every day.  And it's so cool to compete with them.  And they're just a teammate, you know, but then when you really look at it, you're like, ‘wait a second, that’s Becky Sauerbrunn.  It's like really cool to be able to play with them, compete with them, go up against them, learn from them.  They're so open with wanting to help you help you grow, really investing in who's around them.  And I think that’s incredible, speaks volumes to who they are as a person and player.  I learned from just watching or I learned from them giving me guidance.  I just soak it all up.  And I'm just enjoying every second of it because it's pretty special.”

Playing for both UF and ISC has given Westphal a strong foundation, something she is very grateful for. 

“When you do play for great programs that invest in you and they care about you, they care about your career, they care about how you're succeeding, they care about you getting better day in and day out,” Westphal said. “And Internationals provided that for me at such a young age, and they invested me, they held me accountable, they instilled in me hard work, all these different principles that I still carry with.  The University of Florida just reiterated that.  Those environments allow you to be yourself, be creative, while still holding a high standard for yourself.  Being accountable is huge because I think that's massive in the sport, you have to know how to fail.  And you have to have people there that are going to pick you up and carry you through failures, messing up, injuries, whatever that is.  You need that as well.  And I feel so grateful to have been with Internationals and then the University of Florida because I feel like they were monumental in getting me to where I am today.  The girls coaching staff, both environments, what they want the girls to learn as people on and off the field, I just was very blessed to be a part of both.”

Portland, Oregon is the absolute epicenter of American soccer, and this has been the case for decades. 

“It's incredibly special,” Westphal said. “I hope one day that all programs are like this, and all communities are like this with soccer and women's soccer.  Specifically, the fans and community show up just as much as they show up for men and we feel incredibly supported.  The fans are crucial like to our team to our community, and it's so cool to be able to step on the field and know you're playing for so much more.  You're playing for Portland.  You're playing for a community of people that just love soccer.  And it's awesome.  I haven't experienced it at full capacity being a Thorn, but even when it's just 5,000 fans here, it is incredible. It's so special.  I cherish it and I'm just blessed, blessed to be here.”

And ISC is honored to call Westphal one of their own. 

“It is great to see Christen Westphal grow into impactful payer in the NWSL,” ECNL and Club Director Keri Sarver said. “We knew she had it in her when she was a youth player at ISC and now to watch her realize her potential through her commitment and dedication to the game is an inspiration to all of our players.”  

Christen Westphal is quite an inspiring player thanks to the important work she is doing on and off the field.  She is a tremendous role model for the next generation of players, someone that they can look up to and aspire to be. 

Photo Credit: Daniel Bartel/ISI Photos and Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Thorns FC

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