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Sam Staab on the departure of Rose Lavelle and NWSL fall series

Tony Quinn on field/ JWS

Sam Staab plays as a defender for the Washington Spirit of the NWSL and the Western Sydney Wanderers in Australia’s W-League. 

[Editor’s note: this interview took place the day before the Washington Spirit played the Chicago Red Stars to a 1-1 draw.]

Your team is heading into its third game of the Fall Series tomorrow. I wanted to first talk about the format of these games, since this is obviously very different from the Challenge Cup. How do you feel about these more spaced-out games? 

It hasn’t been too bad. I mean, it makes it feel like a bit of a normal season having a few home games and a few away games. They split us up into regions, so we’re only playing Chicago and New Jersey, which are great teams. That’s good because it will be a challenge every single game. But other than that, it’s kind of nice just because it feels like for a month and a half we get to have a bit of a normal season.

I chatted with some other players and they were saying they didn’t realize how emotionally and physically drained they were until they came home from the Challenge Cup bubble. Was that similar for you?

Yes. Definitely leaving the Challenge Cup, I didn’t really realize it. And then when I was at home for a couple of days, I was like, Oh my gosh, this is so nice. Obviously we’re still in a pandemic, but being stuck in a hotel and an unfamiliar place and just everything that we had to go through and be aware of was emotionally and physically draining. But at the same time, I just had to be grateful and reflect on it and be like, okay, we actually got to play, and obviously we were the first league to be able to do so. And I was really grateful at the time to be able to actually play.

What is the team’s mindset given that there’s no trophy or title to play for during the Fall Series?

I think we have taken a bit of a different approach to the Fall Series. We have a lot of players injured, a lot of very influential and impactful players injured on our team right now. And we’re already kind of labeled as like the young and talented team. So I think what we’re doing is giving a lot of younger players, including myself, a ton of experience, not only just playing games, but also being in leadership roles. A bunch of us that aren’t necessarily older or veteran players have had to step into new positions and just kind of take over a bigger role on the team because we have so many big personalities and important people out. Hopefully, next year we’re in a better spot and everyone is a little bit further ahead.

Obviously a huge storyline for your team before the start of the Series was Rose Lavelle being traded and then heading abroad. Did that have any affect on your team’s chemistry?

I wouldn’t say that it had like a major effect on our team chemistry or anything. Obviously, Rose is an unbelievable player, but she had mentioned to us before everything started that this is what she was going to do. So I think we had a bit of a heads up. And everyone was really excited for her new opportunity and we just kind of had to take it for what it is. People have really stepped up into roles that she had in order to fill them. So I don’t think it necessarily had an extreme impact on our team chemistry just because our team is so close anyway, but obviously she’s an amazing player. You can’t really fill that role with anyone else besides her. But people have stepped, and I’ve had to step up, and I think we’ve done a really great job.

A lot of other players across the league have gone abroad in the past month or so. What are your general thoughts on that?

The future of the NWSL, in terms of what the league was going to do at the end of this year, was kind of up in the air and no one really knew what was happen. Everyone is in that same boat. No one knows what’s going on from one day to the next. So I think if people want to play, they’re going to go abroad because they think they can get games in and have a more normal season. It was a good move for some people because the Challenge Cup didn’t necessarily present too many opportunities for people to get playing time and show their skills. So yeah, I don’t know. We didn’t do it [loan out players] as a club just because we wanted to build on what we started and give people opportunities to play but, for the people who thought the opportunity was there for them, I think it’s a good move.

I wanted to end on asking you about any safety concerns you or your team has had given traveling for games while we are still in a pandemic. And how has the team and the league handled these concerns?

I don’t know if our team has really had too many concerns about it. I think in the kind of contract of it all, we kind of just have to make our own sort of bubble. And I think people knew that we needed to be safe with everything. So I don’t necessarily think there were too many issues with playing and traveling just because we know that like the NWSL and our club would take precautions. And ultimately were in charge of what we do with ourselves. So. It’s about putting yourself in a bad or sticky situation. You should be okay. And you don’t have to think more than just yourself because you’re impacting your entire team. So I think if there was any sort of concern, our captains and our club handled it, but I don’t know if there was anything. We get tested twice a week. You need two negative tests before you play any game.