Club, national teams a balancing act for America's World Cup heroes

CARY, North Carolina (Reuters) – From training to competition, media events and exhibition matches, balancing a spot on a championship-caliber club soccer team and on the most highly decorated women’s national squad in World Cup history can be downright exhausting.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – Women’s World Cup – Round of 16 – Norway v Australia – Allianz Riviera, Nice, France – June 22, 2019. Australia’s Sam Kerr in action REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier/File Photo

Prior to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) championship, World Cup veterans on the North Carolina Courage and Chicago Red Stars said double duty with the U.S. women’s national soccer team is a double-edged sword.

“Working two jobs, in a sense, is tiring, it’s hard. But I think you have to just put in the extra effort,” said Crystal Dunn, a top player on her championship-defending Courage as well as the national team.

Dunn said she hopes the NWSL schedule adapts to avoid “disruptive” years punctuated by World Cup or Olympic competition.

“We are pulled away, we’re told to come back, you know, we’re yanked in a lot of different directions,” Dunn told reporters.

The NWSL season runs for roughly half the year, with 24 regular season games, plus possible post-season action for some of the top performing squads.

Some players on the national squad missed large chunks of club team action this year to train for and compete in the World Cup, with little down time before returning.

“I think the only way to really do it is to compartmentalize – when you’re there, you’re there; when you’re here, you’re here,” said Alyssa Naeher, the starting goalie for the U.S. women’s national team and the Chicago Red Stars.

“I think the biggest thing during a tournament year is the mental side of things,” said Red Stars midfielder Julie Ertz, who competed in both the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.

At a press conference on Saturday, the coaches for the Courage and Red Stars urged for more to be done about the long absences by some players in World Cup years.

Chicago coach Rory Dames, who emphatically praised his team members’ commitment to the club, raised concern about the impact on the league.

“When the international players come over here they’re putting their bodies on the line,” said Dames. “And if the perception is not all U.S. players have to do that, it’s going to be tough to either keep the best ones here or bring other ones in.”

NWSL President Amanda Duffy told Reuters she felt the week-long hiatus during the tournament this year was adequate, but that she was open to a conversation for additional time off in the future.

“While it may be challenging physically, emotionally for players, it also creates an opportunity for new players,” said Duffy.

Reporting By Amy Tennery. Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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