Growing up in New Jersey, Casey Murphy was born and raised as a Rutgers University fan. No matter the sport, she and her family would make the 20 minute drive to the university to watch the games. It’s not a surprise that when she finally had to pick a university to go to for her collegiate career, Rutgers was her first choice.
“The coaching staff really made me want to go there. They were calm and seemed like one big family,” Murphy states as we talk about her collegiate career. “My parents could also come to all my home games as well so that was a big reason why I decided to go there for college.”
That coaching staff included Lubos Ancin, Rutgers now Assistant Head Coach who was her goalkeeping coach at the time. “He’s a coach that’s able to coach individual goalkeepers and cater his coaching and advice to them. His guidance and trainings for me were specifically geared towards me and helped me improve tremendously.” Murphy says. Ancin still trains Murphy during the off season because of his influence on her game and is someone she still looks up to and trusts.
Before becoming Rutgers’ all-time career shutout leader with 45 saves (also making her the second highest in the Big Ten), Casey Murphy spent most of her soccer career at the youth level with her local talent team at first, and at 12 or 13 years old, became a full time goalkeeper with her travel soccer team. “I started out playing half the time on the field, half the time in goal mostly because I was taller and I enjoyed being in goal.” Murphy says. “I always volunteered to be in goal as well so the coaches would put me there.”
From then on, with a possible future in the NWSL beckoning, Murphy made a different career choice. “I had all the intention to stay and play in the NWSL but the opportunity to play in the UEFA Women’s Champions League with Montpellier HSC came up instead.” Murphy comments as we discuss her move to France. “After speaking with my college coaches, they supported me in starting my professional career there as they knew that this is what I had dreamed of doing since I was a kid. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up and within a few weeks of getting the email, I got on a plane to France and didn’t look back.”
Murphy spent two years in France, playing in the Champions League as she had hoped and also playing in the Division 1 Féminine. Murphy recalls all the obstacles she had while adjusting to her new surroundings in France. “I came from being a collegiate player to being a professional one and I had come from a system in the US to a different system in France.”
The adjustment of going from college to becoming a professional also coincided with the adjustment of a different language and culture to navigate in and around of. It made Casey Murphy become more self-sufficient with how she herself trained and developed as a goalkeeper. “I didn’t speak the same language as them and didn’t always understand fully what they wanted from me so it forced me to problem-solve on my own,” Murphy notes. “I understood their non-verbal cues but for the first time in my career, I had to coach myself, analyse myself, instead of relying on my goalkeeping coach to tell me what to do.”
That time in France molded her as a goalkeeper and as a professional. The biggest growth she saw due to that period in her life was her technical ability. “I always understood the importance of being sharp with my handling, being clean with my touches and being accurate with my distribution,” Murphy states. “What changed though was my overall consistency in that technical ability.”
Another major component of her development was the mental side of her goalkeeping “I learned how to feel the game and how to adapt to the opponent we were facing.” Murphy states. That focus needed to adapt to a new country while also adapting to becoming a professional player made her take her own focus up a notch and put it to a level that a professional goalkeeper needs to have it at.
When she then came back to the US, first with OL Reign and now with the North Carolina Courage, she found a comfort level again with being able to communicate clearly with her current goalkeeping coach, Nathan Thackeray. “He’s been very impactful for me and my career because he helped me understand where I would fit in with the team when I first arrived.” Murphy says. “He also helps with my game plan for each day and my film analysis as well.”
Part of that training with Thackeray includes incorporating game scenarios. “The more I practice live actions, the more prepared I personally feel for the game.” Murphy notes. Thackeray and Murphy run through warm ups, technical work and then work through whatever situations they think will arise during a game when in session. “You can’t fully know what to expect on game day but at least you have an idea when game day arrives,” Murphy finishes.
As we continue on to talk about training, Murphy emphasises on how a goalkeeper must be able to read the game because you can see the whole field. In order to do so, Murphy runs through scenarios, the very same scenarios she’s gone through in training, in her head. “I like to predict what’s happening in my head almost like a commentator. ‘This player was there and that one was there, this one’s in that space, etc.’ That’s how I stay in the game mentally.” Murphy states. It may seem like a lot to think about during a game but that’s how Murphy keeps her focus throughout. “I’m always constantly focused on the players and where the ball’s going to go or where the ball might go.”
As with many modern goalkeepers, playing on the front foot is almost mandatory now with any team. Teams like to play with high lines, they like their goalkeepers to be able to quickly shut down any breakaways and they also want the goalkeeper to be close by to receive a pass. That’s why Casey Murphy tends to make the saves she does, she’s always on the front foot. “If you see me in goal, I’m always in a sprinter’s stance, ready to go. Either that or my set positions, anticipating what could happen,” Murphy states. “For me, I always want to be ready and never get caught off guard because that’s when the opponent can take advantage of that situation.”
Being on the front foot also means that being beat by a player or the ball will happen. It’s a fact of life for a goalkeeper that you won’t always save the shot or stop a player from scoring, whether it’s in practice or in a game. Murphy deals with it the best way any goalkeeper should, by learning from it. “You have to be open to watching yourself and reflect on the game. You also have to be receptive to having a coach who not only guides you but also corrects your mistakes,” Murphy says.
Being able to watch yourself back isn’t an easy thing to do, especially if you have had a bad game or you made a major error which may have cost your team three points. Murphy’s solution to making it easier to watch herself back? Putting the game on mute.
“You hear commentators say certain things about goalkeepers all the time, that’s why I don’t watch with the sound on. Not every commentator knows what goalkeeping is about. It’s a position of inches.” Murphy comments dryly. “I want to focus on what I need to work on and what I can do to help my team be successful so I block out all the noise and focus on just the film.”
We switch the theme of the interview to her national team experiences. Murphy, up until late last year, had been called into camp by the USWNT but had never been capped. In Australia though, she not only got her first two caps but was a standout player throughout. “I had been working towards that, gaining enough of the coaching staff’s trust for them to put me in because I knew that once I got that, I would make the most of it.” Murphy reminisces. “Whenever I get the email for camp, I get so excited and if no one’s around I shout out a quick ‘yeah, let’s go!’ It’s always an honour to get called up but playing in the game was the next step for me. That’s why when I got my chance, I knew I would make the most of it because it’s what I’ve been training for my whole life.”
That first cap was against not only a solid Australian side but she was up against Sam Kerr, one of the best strikers in the women’s game right now. “On game day, I was really nervous because not only was I playing on a new team, representing the best team in the world but I was also playing against one of the top forwards in the world,” Murphy says. “There were definitely nerves but there was also excitement and I couldn’t wait to make the most of that opportunity.”
Making the most of that opportunity is exactly what Casey Murphy did. She led the US to a shutout in that game, despite Australia’s best efforts. Murphy was stellar in both games but she was on another level in that first one. “After we got the shutout and the win, I just wanted to go back out there and keep being on the field with the team,” Murphy states. “It’s a lot of pressure [being out there] but so much fun. I was just like ‘put me in Coach!’. I just wanted to go back onto that field.”
Watching Murphy in those two matches, you would have never thought that she was nervous or feeling any kind of pressure to perform. The NC Courage goalkeeper was brilliant in both games, pulling off some great saves that amazed neutral viewers and US fans, while frustrating the Australians. Murphy explained that her composure came from a few things; film analysis, building a relationship with the backline and most importantly, remembering that this was still a game of soccer. “I’ve played hundreds of soccer games so I knew my role going into the [first] game and what was expected from me in and out of possession. That was a calming influence for me in the beginning,” Murphy notes. “All I had to remember was that even though there were new faces around me, the field is the same, the soccer ball is the same and the same rules apply.”
That mentality shone through her performances and also highlighted how effective a communicator and leader she is as well. Despite the crowd noise and the unfamiliarity with the environment and even her own teammates, some of whom she only sees a few times a year in camp, Murphy still handled everything that was thrown at her and more. “I think that my willingness to speak to everyone helps. Usually with defensive set pieces, I can truly organise and communicate with the team but during the run of play, I tend to focus on the backline and the midfield,” Murphy says. “Due to the crowd noise that day, I mostly focused on the center backs since no one else could hear me but when we’re in empty stadiums [during the height of the COVID 19 pandemic] then I try to talk to everyone, even the forwards. I try to be vocal and organise with everyone and that definitely helped during those matches against Australia.”
Those games against Australia also produced Murphy’s favourite save to date. During the second match, Australia managed to get to the ball after the US had initially tried to clear away a corner kick. The ball fell to Kyra Cooney-Cross who was at the top of the penalty area and she decided to hit it on the volley, trying to catch out Murphy.
“Those are the saves you train for,” Murphy recalls. “It was so unexpected and difficult, and even though it doesn’t seem like a big save, I knew that the slightest touch would be the difference between it going in and it staying out. It was through traffic as well so it was hard to see the ball, all I knew was that it would literally need just the slightest touch on the ball from me to stop it.”
We then switched gears to round off the interview, throwing in some fun questions for the Courage goalkeeper to answer. Despite others choosing black previously, Murphy took a different route with her favourite jersey and chose a light-blue jersey as hers. “No one else will say that probably,” Murphy responds with a laugh “but I like that one. I like a little colour.”
When I next asked her to name a player she doesn’t like facing one-on-one, Murphy refused to answer that. “I don’t want to give them props!” Murphy exclaims, “I’m going to face them this season with the Courage so I don’t want to name them. I do have someone in mind but I’m going to keep it to myself and work on beating them.”
Abby Erceg, Alana Cook, Tierna Davidson and Becky Sauerbrunn were at the top of her list for favourite defenders she’s played with as well. Murphy pointed them out in particular because of their ability to block shots and crosses, their ability to stay organised and their ability to communicate which, she feels, are all qualities that make great defenders.
Despite naming those four, only Cook made her 5-a-side team and that’s because being a Jersey girl herself, Casey Murphy decided to go with an all-Jersey team. “I love five-vee-five so I will be in goal 100%. I’m not going to put anyone else there.” Murphy starts off. “Since I’m going all Jersey, I’ll go with Carli Lloyd, Heather O’Reilly, Alana Cook in the backline and my long-time teammate from our youth teams, Sabrina Flores (now with NJ/NY Gotham FC). I think that would be a solid squad.”
As we wrap up the interview, I asked Casey Murphy what we as fans should look for when judging a goalkeeper’s performance. “Although it’s super exciting to see goalkeepers making saves, when you’re rating a goalkeeper, look for how well they understand their team,” Murphy begins with. “Do they understand their team’s style of play? Do they understand the game plan? Also look at their technical ability; are they clean or sharp with their touches? Can they avoid an opponent with their distribution?” Murphy also adds her own rating system for when she watches other goalkeepers play. “I look at if they want to win the game, personally. For example, even though they’re 2-0 down, are they still sprinting to get the ball and get it back in play? That’s what I look for.”
Casey Murphy concludes the interview by stating that she’s trying to improve her own distribution as well because she wants to be a goalkeeper that can help her team’s attack be more dangerous and become a goalkeeper that’s not only comfortable with the ball at her feet but can also impact the game with her technical ability as well. Based on her past performances, she’s well on her way to accomplishing that goal.