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May, 2022

ISC Alum Christen Westphal Stars for NWSL's San Diego Wave FC

“Change promotes growth.”

Those words spoken by Christen Westphal tell us a lot about her experience with the beautiful game. 

Westphal’s journey has taken her from Internationals SC to the University of Florida and then on to Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, and California in the professional game.  Her latest stop is with San Diego Wave FC, a star-studded expansion team in the NWSL.  Westphal has the privilege of playing alongside some of the biggest names in the women’s game, including U.S. Women’s National Team forward Alex Morgan and Canadian National Team goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. 

Westphal is one of the Wave’s veteran players, having played six seasons as a pro.  She’s already made a huge impact on the team according to Wave Assistant Coach Rich Gunney.

“Christen is a great person and player to work with,” Gunney said. “It's been great to have the opportunity to continue working together here in San Diego, and it's been very pleasing to see Christen's career progress in recent years.  As a player she works hard, has excellent determination, endurance and is extremely comfortable in the outside back position.  From an attacking point of view Christen can help build, create, and finish the attack and has a very strong skill set which continues to develop.”

Her previous experience with the Boston Breakers, Reign FC, and Portland Thorns FC has given her the opportunity to learn from the very best. 

“It's allowed me to experience different areas of the country to be able to explore, to be able to meet so many women in the league, meet people outside of the league, to work with different coaches, to just experience a lot of different things that have allowed me to become more seasoned in my personal life and soccer,” Westphal said.      

Moving from the soccer stronghold of the Pacific Northwest to one of the most coveted locations in California has provided Westphal with yet another experience.  

“It has taken time to adjust, which was to be expected with any kind of big move or big change in anybody's life,” Westphal said. “San Diego as a city is beautiful.  It's really enjoyable to be here, and being with the Wave has been great.  Obviously, we're a new team.  We're all still trying to figure out everything.  It’s definitely different coming from a team that has been around for so long, an organization that's been around so long, but I give major props to the Wave for having such a good setup for the first year, and I feel very comfortable here.  And it's been hard because change is hard for me, but it's been really enjoyable.”

Along the way the Brecksville, Ohio native has seen and been a part of the meteoric rise of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which is home to the world’s best players and coaches.  The growth of the league and the women’s game as a whole has been special.

“It's just been really refreshing, and something that should be celebrated,” Westphal added. “I feel very grateful to be a part of it and be able to experience it because some players that are retired now watch the growth from the outside.  They're extremely proud because they're the ones that have laid the foundation.  I get to help move the game, to keep pushing the game even further because there's still so much to look forward to.  I think it's also extremely important to celebrate the growth that we have had because it has been amazing.  And it's just been really cool to experience it, to see it, to be a part of it, and to celebrate it because it's a really cool thing.  And I'm excited to see how that continues because I can only imagine where it can go.”

Part of the league’s growth can be tied to national broadcasts on major networks that reach millions of viewers. 

“I think the more accessible it is, and the more that it's on TV, the more it's going to continue to grow,” Westphal continued. “I think it's very evident when women's soccer is on TV that people watch and people get invested.  It's right up there with MLS numbers, even higher in some games.  It's just more proof that people want to watch and when it is accessible people will watch.”

Westphal’s love of the beautiful game started at a young age, and her journey is an inspiration to young women in Northeast Ohio and beyond.  She has embraced her position as a role model for the next generation of players.

“I think it's really special,” Westphal said. “And I definitely cherish it a lot.  I know, as a kid, I would have loved to be able to attend women's professional games.  Because I remember I had this thing my mom showed me and it was like ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ And it was a professional soccer player.  I don't even think that was a choice back then.  But that was just such a huge dream of mine.  It's really cool to be able to be proof of that, for younger girls to attend our games or watch our games.  It's really cool to be able to provide that and that girls can just have proof that those dreams are possible.  And it's in their backyard, and they get to experience it and their families get to experience it.”

Being a role model often requires you to share advice from your experience, and Westphal was willing to do just that.

“It obviously requires a lot of hard work, time, and energy,” Westphal commented. “But I would say my biggest advice is to always put joy and having fun at the forefront of what you're doing.  And to be able to take failure and mistakes as opportunities to learn because I know when I was growing up, I was so scared to fail.  And now I'm coming to a point where I embrace failure, and it's only allowed me to reach my potential that much more.  I would say to always go into everything with joy as the main route of why you're doing it, but to also be able to embrace the journey of failing and that everybody's path looks different.  Just really trying to embrace the highs and lows that come with trying to get to this level.”

Westphal has clearly benefited from the expert tutelage of Internationals SC President and Founder Zdravko Popovic and UF Head Coach Becky Burleigh.

“I definitely was blessed with the club program I came out of and the college program I was a part of,” Westphal concluded. “Zdravko really went out of his way to provide me with this space to just support my growth.  He always believed, always encouraged me and always instilled hard work and discipline, but also made it fun. And that is why I think my love for the game is very strong.  I was very lucky to go into a college environment with Becky where she provided a very safe environment for girls to grow, to be themselves, and really continue to just instill hard work and discipline.  I think the common denominator was that both those coaches and environments really allowed me to be myself, which allowed me to play and learn at the highest level in those situations.  It's definitely the coaches and the environment they created.”

Popovic is proud of the legacy that Westphal has left behind.  

“Christen grew up in Internationals Soccer Club,” Popovic said. “Today she is one of the role models and a source of pride to all of us.  Her commitment to excellence on the journey to be the best she can be on and off soccer field is paying off.  It is great to see that the sky is the limit for all that are willing to put in what it takes to reach the stars.  Her future is bright.  She represents International amongst others at a big stage with class and style, playing the game with love, passion, and joy.  We are her biggest fans, enjoying every step of her success and hope someday after her playing days she returns and continues to be a role model to all future generations of Internationals Soccer players.”  

Photo Credit: San Diego Wave FC

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