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NWSL veteran Domi Richardson on perseverance, success, and silver linings

No matter her role, Richardson is dedicated to being the best version of herself for her team, and she’s ready for her next adventure.

Washington Spirit v Sky Blue FC
Domi Richardson #17 of Sky Blue FC crosses the ball during a game between Washington Spirit and Sky Blue FC at MSU Soccer Park at Pittser Field on October 03, 2020 in Montclair, New Jersey.
Photo by Mike Lawrence/ISI Photos/Getty Images

To describe Domi Richardson in one word would be resilience. The 30-year-old Fullerton, California native was undrafted in 2014 and waived from two teams before landing at Sky Blue FC in 2016. Richardson has had a career filled with ups and downs, injuries and setbacks but despite it all, nothing has stopped her from pursuing her dream of playing professional soccer.

Now, years later, the nine-year veteran of the National Women’s Soccer League finds herself in a familiar, but long-lost feeling after NJ/NY Gotham FC declined to pick up her option following a season ending knee injury she picked up in the summer of 2022.

Even with yet another setback, Richardson is undeterred. “I was devastated to have to leave Gotham. I was there for so long and was so dedicated to the team. The team was everything to me,” she told AllForXI. “But now, I’m looking forward. Sometimes, we’re forced to grow even when we don’t want to. I would have stayed at Gotham forever. The silver lining is now I have an opportunity to try something new.”

Finding her way

Richardson’s resilience and mindset is a result of nine years of work, spanning three teams and dating back to the 2014 NWSL Draft. She went undrafted, but was invited to try out for Western New York Flash, the Boston Breakers, and the Houston Dash. Richardson chose the Dash, and spent pre-season training with the team. “I scored the team’s first-ever goal in a pre-season game and notched an assist,” Richardson recalled. “I started off strong!”

The midfielder’s strong pre-season translated to earning a start in the Dash’s first-ever game. She would go on to make three regular season appearances for the Houston side before the club waived her without explanation. Although she stayed around the Dash to continue training, it would be another year before she would find herself on a team again.

By the time 2015 came around, Richardson was having second thoughts on her dreams of pro soccer. Her experience in Houston was difficult to process, and that feeling of achieving your goals and having it ripped away sat with her for nearly a year.

NWSL: Racing Louisville FC at NJ/NY Gotham FC
Gotham FC midfielder Domi Richardson (17) kicks the ball against Racing Louisville FC during the second half at Red Bull Arena.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It was during this time of introspection, three weeks before pre-season, that FC Kansas City called with a new opportunity - trying her hand as center back while Becky Sauerbrunn was away at the World Cup. “I actually played center back on the youth national team,” Richardson explained. “I’m normally a center midfielder.” She jumped at this opportunity, excited to show off her passing skills and ability to kick long balls.

Although she was fully rostered, Richardson would not make a single appearance for FC Kansas City, picking up a hamstring injury during the warm-up for a game. She was eventually waived that summer. For many, this second setback may be a deterrent, but for Richardson, it strengthened her resolve even more.

“You work so long for this dream,” Richardson said. “I have wanted to play professional soccer since I was a kid, since I knew it was even a possibility. Just because there’s a road block doesn’t mean it wasn’t meant to be. I wasn’t ready to give up my dream!”

Finally, in 2016, Richardson found her home across the country in New Jersey with Sky Blue FC. A player put her in touch with the coaching staff, and she was invited into pre-season. Making her mark, Richardson quickly was signed on as a National Team Replacement Player, but ended up playing more games than players with full contracts. Richardson finally felt home. “That team was so fun, it was a good group of players,” she reminisced. “Then, Sky Blue signed me to a full contract in 2017.”

Becoming a Jersey girl

Since Richardson joined Sky Blue in 2016, she has seen the club through its most dramatic transformations. From issues with coaches to problems with the facilities, Richardson learned first-hand how important resilience and loyalty is to a team.

“When you’re in that environment and things are always changing, it’s easy to just think that’s normal,” Richardson recalled. “Once we got to the place Gotham FC is now, you look back and realize how much we withstood. It was important to stay standing and represent my team. We stuck together through those ups and downs, and I’m so proud of that.”

With everything going on at Sky Blue during her time there, Richardson was ever determined to make an impact with her club. Over her seven years, she made thirty appearances. A handful of injuries kept Richardson from seeing more field time, but this never stopped her from fighting for her dream.

“I just love soccer. I know it’s the definition of insanity to do the same thing over and over and not expect the same result, but I just love soccer,” Richardson said of continuing to fight back from her injuries. “I know I’m good enough to play in this league, and I’m always ready to show people that I deserve to be playing. When I’ve gotten opportunities, I’ve scored goals, had assists, and made an impact. You have to know your worth, and when you don’t get external validation, your own internal validation keeps you going.”

Richardson believes that the NWSL is among the best leagues in the world. Every player that comes into this league was the top player at their respective college or club team, and for many, including Richardson herself, learning how to be a substitute can be a huge mental battle. This has been the case for much of her NWSL career, but Richardson is happy to take on whatever role her team needs. “It’s our dream, our passion, our livelihood,” Richardson said. “Having your teammates around you and people who understand that makes it easier.”

From one ending to another beginning

As Richardson settled into her role at Gotham FC, she began to shine. Her on-field contributions included two goals, including an impressive strike in a win against OL Reign in 2021. Then, just a couple of months into the 2022 season, heartbreak struck again. Richardson suffered a season ending injury to her knee during a training session, tearing 90% of her medial meniscus.

“I was devastated. It was really a freak accident. I went to strike the ball at practice, and I felt my shooting leg pop, not even my plant leg!” Richardson recalled. “I’ve had injuries before, I suffered an ankle injury in 2019, came back, and scored my first regular season goal,” Richardson said. “ I knew I could come back even though I knew it was bad.”

When then-Gotham FC head coach Scott Parkinson heard about Richardson's injury, he was just as devastated for her, but incredibly supportive. “It was a freak injury on a volley - it was devastating for us and her. She’d gotten herself to such a great place and was making her teammates better along the way,” Parkinson told AllForXI, explaining that in the lead up to the injury, Richardson was training at a high level and setting standards even when she wasn’t getting the minutes she wanted.

“Even when injured, Domi finds a way of shining a bright light into her club and team. Always honest and open, but in a very positive and professional manner. Domi is the type of player that makes me want to coach,” Parkinson continued. “If anyone can come back from the knocks it’s Domi. She’s been doing it all of her life.”

Throughout her injury, Richardson relied on her coaches, the team’s physical therapist Erin Morton, and high performance coach Philip Congleton. “When Scott would check in on me, he would always tell me how much the team missed my energy. He was very supportive while he was here during that time,” Richardson recalled. “Erin has been a rock for me throughout this process. She was encouraging, uplifting, and gave me a sense of calm confidence on the days when I was lacking that. I could not have recovered the way I did without her and Philip pushing me to be better every day.”

More than anything, Richardson relied on her teammates. Knowing that she had support from not only the staff, but her fellow players, got her through surgery and the long months of rehab that followed. “At least once a day, I would have a teammate – or four – ask me how I’m doing and check in on me,” Richardson recalled. “I would do anything for my teammates, so that meant so much to me.”

The rehabilitation process has been slow and steady for Richardson. Although she suffered a small setback in the postseason, she’s back running, lifting training, and improving every day. As she finishes up her rehab, Richardson is searching for her next adventure after Gotham declined to pick up the option in her contract, making her a free agent.

While Richardson is still searching for her next adventure in the NWSL, she’s looking forward to finding a new way to prove herself, chase her dream, and bring what she’s learned to the next generation of NWSL players as a veteran in the league. “I’m excited for the future,” she said with a smile.