Welcome back to our NWSL 2021 preseason preview! Today we’ve got the Houston Dash’s Shea Groom, coming off of a trophy win for the club - one that they might not have expected to have to defend, but will now lead the way for them as this season will open up with another Challenge Cup.
You can find our other interviews linked below:
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. It was originally recorded on February 9.
All for XI: You guys have had like a week plus of preseason, what’s the vibe?
Shea Groom: It’s awesome. I think the players in Houston were really eager to get back. And then you know, we also had the opportunity to get some new players in and really help them understand our identity and kind of jump right into it. Felt like we really haven’t missed a beat. And we’re just ready to get back on the pitch and play in a competitive environment.
AfXI: It’s a longer preseason than NWLS has ever had really, it’s about 10 weeks now. And one of the themes that I’ve heard coming up over and over is that at the beginning of preseason, people have a lot of energy. They want to get back, particularly after 2020, people might be happy to see some faces again. Is there a sense in camp of a lot of energy, but it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint?
SG: I think our staff definitely does an incredible job of managing our loads, and having that balance of, we need to get work done, and we have a certain style that we want to play, and it’s going to be very physically demanding. But in the same sense, I think the players are excited about it, and I think we do a good job of bringing that energy every day. We have a lot of big personalities and a lot of fun and laughter. So I don’t see it being a problem for our team. But yeah, it’s definitely something that’s a little different. It’s something we’ll have to manage, but something I’m really excited about. Just give us a little bit more time to mesh and, and really nail down who we want to be as the Houston Dash.
AfXI: So speaking of style, and who you want to be, I think people are looking to the Dash, there’s good vibes from the Challenge Cup last year. But at the same time, last year was so weird. And with the Fall Series, no one is trying to extrapolate too much from those. So for you guys, what would you say are some of the things you’re trying to carry over and build into the season? And what are the things that you’re looking at that are not necessarily part of 2020, but things that you want to make part of your 2021?
SG: I think the partnerships we were able to build in such a short time in 2020, I think you just can’t overlook it. And, you know, I’ve said in multiple interviews, a lot of teams and fans want to say, maybe you’re discrediting the 2020 season and make it less than it was, but no, for our team, we had a goal from the very start. And this is before the Challenge Cup ever became even a thing, we decided whenever we’re able to sit on the field and compete. We want to win whatever it is, whatever opportunity we’re given, and it obviously ended up going in our favor in us being able to accomplish that. But I think I would have put our team against anyone last year, with any team, all players back. I think we were really in a groove and in that winning mentality, and I think that’s something that we’re just going to build on. We had to create those partnerships with so many new players in such a short amount of time that now it’s just going to give us even more time to understand each other’s tendencies to really, again, nail down how we want to play and the style. And then obviously just continue to build on the success that we had last year in terms of goal scoring and winning games.
AfXI: How do you feel about that? You’ve had time to integrate and I would say that you guys have a really decent core group carryover as well, because Rachel Daly’s coming back, Kristie Mewis, you’ve got Jane Campbell, you have Sophie Schmidt, Christine Nairn, and yourself included. What are you looking for from the core group, the veterans, the team leaders through preseason leading into the Challenge Cup this year?
SG: I think it’s just about getting everybody on the same page. I think something I loved so much about coming onto the Dash was, it truly felt like there was no tiers of players and everyone was on a level playing field, and we all have that mutual respect for each other. And so I think setting the tone early and stepping up and letting players know, that are new to the team, that this is the culture and the character that we value here at the Dash. So that’s definitely something that I’m looking for. And also, as it’s an Olympic year, we’re gonna have people in and out. So it’s gonna feel a little inconsistent at times. So really being able to depend on the players. And like you said, some of the core players that are going to be here all year, to be able to step up when some of our leaders are gone and to be able to fill that role to what it needs to be.
AfXI: If you had a new player coming in and you had to essentially give them the elevator pitch and tell them what the culture was with the team and what you’re hoping to build this year, what would it be?
SG: First and foremost, I think Rachel Daly summed it up in our Challenge Cup championship interview: the Houston Dash are winners. And every time we step on the pitch, whether it’s training or a game, we are going to be the hardest-working team and the circle never breaks. We’re a family and we value character and respect for one another. And that’s why we step on the pitch every single time to compete on behalf of the other players next to us.
AfXI: Speaking of competition, and winners and championships - slightly different structure to the season this year. You guys jump in with Challenge Cup instead of regular season. And it might carry a little more weight for you. Because as you said, you guys won last year, and people might want to be like, oh, it was just whatever, it was Corona times blah, blah, blah, but we saw you celebrated. That had meaning and it had meaning for your fans and stuff. So is that something that mentally is a challenge, or gives you a boost, knowing that you’re heading right back into defending a title, instead of just starting with regular season?
SG: I don’t think we really could have predicted that there was going to be another challenge Cup. So I feel like we celebrated like it was the only Challenge Cup that was ever, ever gonna happen. So I think there’s definitely that sense of wanting to keep the trophy in Houston, so to say, and defend the title. It also is unique; it’s coming in terms of preseason, a little bit earlier than, obviously, our regular season. So I think we’re just going to be looking to come out on the front foot and treat it as, not a warm up to the season, but just really trying to come out on the front foot and attack every game to the best of our abilities and hopefully be able to bring another championship home.
AfXI: From the player point of view, how are you guys feeling about the league coming in and making tweaks? I think some people have a sense, they’re doing what they can with what they have. And then there’s also a sense of, well, we’ll see if this turns out to be the best schedule. So from your point of view, how do you feel about it?
SG: Yeah, I give Lisa [Baird] and the front office just so much credit for being innovative for doing things right and honestly, doing it on a very efficient timeline. You know, I think they’ve been able to put, obviously, the Challenge Cup last year together, and even this year during the Challenge Cup and the regular season, trying to get it to that little bit longer season. It’s exciting. I think it’s exciting for the fans, you know, I think as players it seems a little daunting, maybe, considering how much it’s changed over the course of, from birth of the NWSL to where it is now. But I think it’s exciting, and it gives people something to look forward to. And that’s how I feel about it and how it ignites that passion for me, because I love playing football and I want it to be my full time job, and to be able to do it on a longer timeline now is everything that I could ask for. So I’m excited and I’m happy with what the league is doing and how they’re able to roll it out as quickly as they have been.
AfXI: You spoke about that longer timeline and in seeing the league evolve and roll with the situation. The NWSL is almost 10 years old, which is kind of mind blowing in a way. But it does mean that now there are kids who are coming in who were able to grow up essentially seeing the league. It’s something they might not have gotten with WPS or WUSA. Are you seeing when the kids come in, the draftees or new players, that there’s a difference in the way that they think about things or approach things, because they do have the benefit now of generational experience, or this institutional memory that’s been put in place for them?
SG: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it looks a lot different. You know, we weren’t playing in MLS stadiums. And I remember watching the first FC Kansas City game, when I was just a sophomore in college, I think, at the time playing at a high school field, so it’s obviously come a long way. And to be a large part of that and to have spent most of my career in the NWSL in the early years was, there was something special, and I think the girls growing up now, sometimes you have to remind them who’s had to walk before them, but also to be happy for them and to be excited that the draft looks different and is actually not streamed on YouTube and things like that. So it’s an exciting thing to have watched grown and I’ve always encouraged fans and people that want to be very critical of where the league’s at that we’ve come a long way in a very short amount of time. I grew up watching MLS do the same thing. I watched Sporting Kansas City play at T-Bones baseball stadium [now Field of Legends] and people like to forget that. So I’ve been so happy, and I’m so excited. And that’s why I do what I do, is so that the little girls growing up now can truly have something to look forward to and to buy into. I never grew up having a hometown club that I could support. And I didn’t even know it was a thing. So just to be able to continue to develop that dream for young girls coming up is something truly special. And obviously the girls that join our club every single year, it’s very cool to see them be able to live a dream. It looks a little different than when I first started out.
AfXI: It’s really cool to see the changes. I want to start wrapping up maybe end on some fun questions. A little bit rapid fire, but here we go. What kind of cleats are you wearing? And do you have any that you really prefer?
SG: Well, I’m gonna be this girl all the way, I’m in the [Adidas] Nemeziz, but you might see some Copas not too far off in the future. We’re gonna see how I like them. But I’ve always been a Nemeziz girl, Predator girl, but might try the classics out pretty soon here.
AfXI: Is there something about the feel of them? The players I’ve talked to have had really practical concerns like someone likes the Preds because she has flat feet. Or it’s the Tiempos because she’s got wide feet.
SG: Yeah, I mean, I’ve got baby feets. I’m actually in kids’ cleats, we call them kiddie cleats here at the Dash. People make fun of me, but yeah, switched over to them at Reign last year and had a good game and so kept on ever since.
AfXI: What are you watching or reading or playing right now?
SG: I’m playing a lot of Nintendo Switch, I think as we saw at the Challenge Cup. Mario Kart is kind of my game and so I do a lot of that. Watch: Bridgerton on Netflix. Obviously watching a lot of football, a lot of our training sessions actually. Super nerd but yeah, love watching our training sessions, actually. And then a little throwback. Some people might not know this. I think it was made in 2004. But I’m watching a series on Hulu called Veronica Mars - it’s kind of like it’s a little detective show. But yeah. I’m like, obsessed.
AfXI: I’m right there with you. That show is amazing. It was one of the best. It’s one of the best season ones of TV ever made, so tight. Like I was guessing until the very end. Anyway. It’s too bad we can’t just have Veronica Mars interview - so sorry. Moving on. The player on the team who deals best with winter or cold weather and worst with cold weather. Although you guys maybe don’t get so much the highs and lows down there.
SG: Deals the best with cold weather? It’s got to be a Canadian. So I would probably say Chappy. Allysha Chapman. Yeah. I feel like she could just play in shorts and a t-shirt because she’s just wild. I don’t know. And then deals the worst with winter? Honestly, I might be a toss up. I mean, I don’t not like winter, but I have this thing called Raynaud’s. So I lose circulation in my feet and hands pretty easily. In like, fifty degree weather. I always have to wear gloves. So does Katie Stengel, so yeah, probably be a toss up.
AfXI: If you have to sum up your 2020 in a few words or a sentence, what would it be, if possible.
SG: Walking Bullet, my dog, and playing soccer. Drinking Budweiser. [laughing] Drinking Budweiser at the Challenge Cup championship.
AfXI: And if you had to sum up your hopes for 2021 in a few words or a sentence.
SG: More championship, more walks with Bullet, more Budweiser.
AfXI: Budweiser out of the trophy. Nice. What breed is Bullet?
SG: He is a blue heeler lab mix, and he is about to turn eight years old this summer. He has been through many preseasons. This is technically his, like, ninth preseason with college included.
AfXI: Must have been nice to have a buddy during quarantine?
SG: Yeah, he’s definitely my routine. He gives me the structure of the day. When it’s time to eat, when it’s time to walk.
AfXI: I really appreciate the time. Good luck with preseason. Looking forward to the Challenge Cup. Maybe some more Bud, we’ll see.
SG: Yeah, thank you so much.
AfXI: And I hope I didn’t spoil anything about Veronica Mars for you.
SG: No I’m on season three. We’re good.