Welcome back to our 2021 NWSL preseason preview series! Today we’re talking to the Portland Thorns’ Simone Charley, who’s making waves as a young goalscorer and attacking threat in a team that has always had big expectations.
You can read our previous preseason interviews here:
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. It was originally recorded on February 9.
All for XI: What’s the vibe in preseason camp right now with the Thorns?
Simone Charley: I just say a lot of excitement. I think everyone’s just glad to be back together. And already to kind of build off of what we’re working on last year. And it’s always great just to be on the field and have soccer be something consistent during all of this madness. [laughing] So it’s been fun.
AfXI: One of the things I’m hearing is, especially that first week or so in preseason, people come in, they’ve got a lot of energy. And everyone has to be like, alright, just don’t go too nuts the first week, it’s a marathon. Maybe get out all that energy. Are you seeing any of that with a Thorns?
SC: There’s definitely excitement there. But I think we’re all kind of aware that preseason, especially this year, is pretty long. So you got to build into it. And I think that’s kind of been the focus of our training is easing our way back and not using all of our energy in the beginning.
AfXI: You guys also had some new players like Crystal [Dunn] and Becky Sauerbrunn. The addition of these quality, veteran, well respected players, does that add to or change the vibe at all?
SC: Oh, it definitely does. I would say first, of course, they change the speed of play and the level. They’re both very smart, very technical players. And they just help you learn, give you a lot of information on the tactical side. But I think even more importantly, their leadership roles and how they’ve just come into the team and worked hard and lifted people up and been so encouraging, I think has played an irreplaceable role, even in the short time that they’ve been here. So definitely grateful that they’re here with us now.
AfXI: Last year was a little weird. People did sports where they could, but this year, like you said, longer preseason, this is the longest it’s ever been. Challenge Cup is a new thing that they’re trying to add back, starts April, regular season’s May, no Olympic break. For you guys, when you see all those changes to the schedule, is this a positive change in the league trying to adapt on the fly?
SC: Well, I think you just have to kind of take it as it is. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s going to be. I think going back to what you’re saying, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And so I think for us, we’re just focusing on making sure that we’re peaking at the right level, not starting off too fast or too slow, but just making sure that we’re consistently developing over time. Because like you said, it’s gonna be a very long season, but if we play it smart we’ll be all right.
AfXI: I know it’s been barely a week and change I think of official preseason. But what have you guys been up to? Has it been baseline testing, or just getting back in the groove?
SC: Yeah, I would say we started off with a little baseline testing, but, of course, moreso just getting back into the groove of things getting used to playing with each other again. It’s been a couple months. So I think just getting used to not training by yourself, but being in a group and just growing tactically and how we want to play and what our style will be this season.
AfXI: What’s been the thing you enjoy the most so far about getting back into that regular training environment?
SC: I think just being with everyone. I’ve missed everyone. We definitely did a lot of bonding last year in the Challenge Cup. Got to spend a lot of quality time together. And so I was definitely just missing seeing everyone’s face and being able to play my favorite sport, with some of my favorite people. So that’s my favorite part for sure.
AfXI: Yeah, it’s been a weird time and it feels like getting to see people is so precious now.
SC: It’s like the highlight of my day.
AfXI: Where do you hope to be by the end of it, both yourself and as a team?
SC: By the end of preseason? I would say, I think as a team, we just want to build off of what we’re doing last year, and just continuing to grow tactically in developing our own style of play. And so I think we’d like to be kind of starting that, you know, once Challenge Cup begins, I think we’d like to start hitting our stride and hold on to that and continue growing throughout the season.
AfXI: I guess it’s pretty early to be talking about where exactly you want to peak, but also, Mark Parsons seems like the kind of guy where he’s like, look, I’ve made the plan. Challenge Cup is a lead in to the season. For you guys mentally, are you like, we’re gonna win this and then we’re going to win the season or is it like, let’s treat this as a chance to learn, grow, prep, or is it a mix of both?
SC: I would say, naturally, the big goal is to win. But I think for us, the focus is just being the best that we can be every day and winning each day individually. And then I think after that, that’s when our goals will kind of take care of themselves. So I think we’re kind of just taking it one day at a time. And then just letting the big picture unfold.
AfXI: I think we’ve seen, at least from the fan and media perspective, that you’re becoming pretty integral to the Thorns’ plans. For yourself, personally, what are you taking out of last year - as much as you can, right? Because last year was so weird. I don’t think anyone is using it as a referendum on what to expect in 2021. [laughing] But as much as you can, between last year and this one, personally, what are some of the metrics that you’re trying to hit or the goals you’re setting or the vibe that you want to achieve?
SC: Yeah, I just want to continue growing. I think growing in the tactical area is something that I’ve been working on. And I think just continuing to work on that and being the best that I can be. I’m not really a numbers person, per se. I think I just want to get better every day.
AfXI: Is there anyone on the team who you’re going to and being like, hey, I want to score some goals. I want to do a good job with my positioning, runs, stuff like that. Whether it’s a player or someone on the coaching staff.
SC: I would say Sinc [Christine Sinclair] is definitely a player who I definitely like to bounce ideas off of, or ask questions when it comes to positioning on the field. I definitely feel like in the future Crystal will definitely be that person. I think she’s very smart and very creative, tactically. And I think that’s something that I want to learn as well.
AfXI: Right. Why would you only ask the leading goal scorer of all time how to score more goals.
SC: [laughing] Who would have thought that she actually knows a couple things.
AfXI: Speaking of Sinc, she was listed this year as a midfielder. She’s kind of moving deeper and deeper onto the field as she matures into the later stages of her career. What are you guys wanting to do this season between the two of you as the midfield and forward line? And what do you want that to look like? I get it’s really early, but just from what you guys have hopes for, and what you want to see out of yourselves, what does that look like for you?
SC: I think for us as a team, we just want to play very attacking soccer, and very direct, and making sure that we’re getting chances on goals. So I think things like breaking lines and always trying to get in behind is something that I want to work on. Just continuing to grow in that area. I think it was kind of starting to come together during the fall series with having a lot of chances and opportunities on goal and I think that’s something that we just want to continue to build off of this upcoming season.
AfXI: I wanted to ask some fun questions. What kind of cleats are you wearing right now? And do you have any that you absolutely 100% prefer?
SC: I actually recently just changed to the Adidas Nemeziz cleats. And they’re actually my new favorites. I have very flat feet, so they conform pretty well. So these are I think my new go-tos.
AfXI: I’ve heard of some players who when their cleats go out of production, which is rough, they’ll resort to buying old models of the cleat on eBay and stuff. Have you ever considered doing that when you find one that your feet really like?
SC: I haven’t actually. Luckily, knock on wood, the cleats I like haven’t been discontinued. But I hope I don’t have that issue. Because like I said, my feet are super flat so I’m kind of picky when it comes to cleats. Because if I’m not, it just makes my arches hurt. Fingers crossed Adidas keeps this up.
AfXI: What are you watching or reading or playing right now?
SC: Let’s see. Watching? Okay, I want to watch Queen’s Gambit, because I’ve heard amazing things about it. But one of my friends for my birthday gave me a month-long HBO subscription, because she really wants me to watch Insecure with Issa Rae. And so I have a month to knock out that whole TV show. That’s what I’m working on now. And then I would say bookwise, I’m reading a book called Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren with one of my friends.
AfXI: I’ve heard Queen’s Gambit is good, but it looks like it’s gonna take some energy to watch. Right now I don’t have a lot of energy so I’m just watching trash.
SC: I feel that.
AfXI: So the player on the team right now who deals the best with the cold and who deals the worst with the cold?
SC: Obviously, [Emily] Menges does very well in the cold. It could be like 30 degrees out. It could be snowing and Menges will have on a tank with gloves.
AfXI: Yeah, there’s always that one player.
SC: Literally. And then I would say worst with the cold - I was actually kind of making fun of Kling [Meghan Klingenberg] the other day. Because she had on like, a puffy and a hat on, a neck guard, gloves, like the whole nine. And it was not that cold out. Like, calm down. You’re from Pittsburgh, you’ll be fine.
AfXI: So this one’s a little harder to do. If you had to sum up your 2020 in a few words or a sentence how would you do it, if possible?
SC: Oh my. Oh, I would say I can think of one word. It would be appreciation. Because I think having so many things I took for granted like seeing my friends and going to the grocery store and just like all those little things, seeing my family taken away. I think I’ve learned to appreciate those moments more. Even just like being in the bubble now, even small things like going to the grocery store with the mask on I’m like, but there’s people around. Or even having the opportunity to eat out at a restaurant, which I can’t do right now. But I think those little things, I no longer take for granted. And so I think I’ve learned to just appreciate people and the small things so much one.
AfXI: On a more uplifting note, if you had to sum up your hopes for 2021 in a few words or a sentence.
SC: I would say progress is what I’m hoping for, I would say. Obviously progress in that hopefully COVID won’t be an issue in times coming, but I also think progress in a lot of the social justice that we saw, like we’ve had to kind of come to terms with last year and kind of stare at it in the face and look at some ugly truths of what it’s really like to be a minority and a person of color in the US. So I’m hoping that we can have progress in that area and really start to build off of that moment.
AfXI: And if you had anything that you wanted to tell Thorns fans about looking ahead, what would it be?
SC: I would just say we miss you guys. Definitely miss seeing the fans, but so grateful for the love they showed us. We’ve got letters and messages and just so much support so you know they’re not here in person, it’s definitely their love and support is still here in spirit. So just grateful to be here and have such amazing fans.