Chicago Red Stars’ Vanessa Dibernardo on the NWSL’s Return

Midfilder Vanessa DiBernardo on field/ JWS

Vanessa DiBernardo is a midfielder for the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL

What has it been like since you returned home from the Challenge Cup?

It’s starting to feel kind of back to normal. It’s nice not being in a bubble.

I’m sure it must be nice not having to live in a hotel room. I’m curious though, do you have any concerns about playing outside of a bubble for the Fall Series?

Our team has been pretty good with communicating, I think before we went to Utah, we had restrictions on what we can and cannot do outside of practice. Just because what you do outside is going to affect everyone else as well. So I think we’ve definitely put some guidelines in place for everyone to follow, but it’s nice to kind of at least have the freedom to go outside and go for a walk and stuff like that. Just being at home and sleeping in your own bed is something we were taking a bit for granted.

And how do you feel about traveling for games?

I think it’s definitely tough. Here in Chicago, we’re in the middle of the country, so we’re going to have to travel by air regardless of which team we play. I think in an ideal world we would like to charter and that would be our first choice, but I think our team is going to do well and look at flight times and try to do the best they can to keep us as safe as possible. That’s what we’ve asked for as players, and they’ve listened, so I think we’re going to be okay. But there’s still a pandemic going on, so you have to be a little worried.

How has the league communicated with you in terms of addressing concerns that players have about traveling and staying safe?

They’ve sent us guidelines and stuff to follow, so that’s good. And I think just all the stuff that we learned before going into Utah has definitely helped. And if we have big concerns, we go to our player reps and they go to our Players Association and they try to give us answers to our questions. So I think the communication has been good so far, and hopefully as these weeks continue to progress nothing serious happens.

The format of these fall games are obviously very different from the tournament format at the Challenge Cup. How do you feel about that?

It’s definitely different. I didn’t really realize when we were in Utah, we actually played every team there, which I think we’re the only team that did that. So it will be nice to get a home and away game against two great clubs who we played in the tournament. Just playing them again so quickly will be a good adjustment, just to see where we’re at. It’s definitely weird only playing two teams, but it’s better than not playing any game, and I think it definitely helps that we’re staying in as much of a bubble as we can. And then just having the games on TV is huge. There’s one each weekend on the CBS network. I think that’s huge for us as a league, so we’re pretty excited about that.

What are some of your team’s goals for these games? 

We’re looking at these games as a way to try new things. And we’ll have a lot of young players, so just getting them experience. They’ll still be good games and challenging games. And in the NWSL, I think, experience is huge. So for some of our younger players, I think this series will be very helpful for them.

There are a lot of players from around the league that have either been loaned to teams in Europe or signed there. How do you think that will affect the Fall Series? 

I think across every team, there are players who have gone overseas, so teams will be missing some pieces that they had in Utah. But again, it’s just a big opportunity for younger players to come in and fill roles and have a great opportunity. It just allows teams to try new things without maybe some of their players that they rely on a bit more. So it’s definitely a different look and opportunity, and there’s not very many games, so you can kind of try something new each game and see what works best.

Your team has been practicing together now for a few weeks since the Challenge Cup ended. How would you describe the team’s mindset at the moment? 

We’re just trying to get back into things, get sharp and, again, there’s new players around and you’re trying to just get used to how each other plays. We didn’t have a lot of time going into Utah, and we had a lot of new players in our frontline that were new to the team. So I think this time has been good for us to kind of actually train with each other and not necessarily have a game after a game after a game.

What are some of your personal goals?

I think just getting out there, playing games and feeling like myself. I had an injury streak for a little bit, and last year I was coming back from an injury. So this year I feel like I’m actually healthy and using these games to kind of just get back into form and really just focusing on that is what I’m looking forward to.