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Paige Monaghan Talks Being a Hometown Kid and the Upcoming Fall Series

Paige Monaghan/ JWS
Paige Monaghan/ JWS

Paige Monaghan is a forward for Sky Blue FC of the NWSL. Ahead of the NWSL’s Fall Series, we sat down with her to talk about training and competing during a pandemic, representing New Jersey as a ‘hometown kid’, and what to expect from Sky Blue FC over these next few months.

Almost a year ago last week, you recorded two goals to beat Chicago and cemented yourself as one of the league’s rising stars. Can you talk a little bit about what your first season as a professional athlete was like?

Thinking back to my rookie year, I always knew I could fit in and I also knew I could thrive, but it’s one of those things where you’re trying to get your feet wet. You’re trying to figure out to the point that you ask yourself, “Do others believe in me? More importantly, do I believe in myself? What matters? What doesn’t?”

And I think that Chicago game was that moment of showing what I can do, what I’m going to do, and what I’m determined to do. For me, it just gave me the confidence to show that I can score in games and not just in practice. Looking back, my rookie year was definitely all about getting my feet wet, but also showing me that I need to have this inner confidence to thrive in the NWSL.

So your rookie year comes to a close, and right as you’re about to head into your sophomore season, the world pauses and the NWSL season is postponed. Can you talk about your mindset when all of that happened and what it was like to train and prepare during a pandemic? 

Yeah. It’s kind of crazy to think back on this year for both Sky Blue and myself. I think we built momentum towards the end of last year. And then in the offseason, I was super determined. I got invited to National Camp with U-23s and then I got invited to the ID camp. It was like all of the pieces were coming together, and I was getting recognized for my accomplishments and play, but then obviously, as everything was happening with COVID, there was a lot of uncertainty and it looked like we weren’t going to have a season at all.

I just tried to make the most of what I had while training at home. Sky Blue prepared us well and we had our online workouts, Zoom calls, meetings, and all of that stuff. I also took a page out of our assistant coach Becca Moros’ book and made my own FootyBoard since I couldn’t physically work with her. I’d practice with that in my backyard with my dog, run in my neighborhood, do hills, and stuff like that. Basically did whatever I could from home.

Initially, there was a lot of uncertainty. Like, what are we doing? Is this actually going to happen? We’re going to Utah for what? In a bubble? But at the end of the day, I knew that no matter the circumstance, I wanted to be the best version of myself and the best soccer player I could be. So I had to dig deep and really looking at myself and say, “Okay, am I going to make an excuse and sit on the couch, or am I going to make the most out of this?”

I’m also very fortunate to have my family throughout all of this. Some days honestly sucked, but they would always be there to hilariously cheer me on, even during some of those tough sprint workouts up and down my street. So, having their support plus a really hard look at myself, I knew that at the end of the day, I just wanted to be better.

So after a few months of isolated training, you head off to Utah for the NWSL Challenge Cup. What was life like for you when you got to the bubble? 

We had pretty strict protocols to follow. Every day felt a little Groundhog’s Day-y, but it was like, wake up, temperature check, symptoms check, meals together, go to training, come back, meals again, meetings, dinner, bed. And then sometimes there were games, but that was basically it, over and over.

Bubble life honestly felt a little dorm-like, a bit like college, which honestly, I enjoyed and I think our team did a really good job just making the most of it. We all were on the same floor together and we would hang out, watch a lot of Netflix, watch NWSL games, watch MLS games, host ping pong tournaments, and doing pretty much anything we could. I’m more of a relaxer and FaceTimed some family and friends, but yeah, the bubble was interesting. We really only went from the hotel to the soccer field because they wanted to guarantee our safety. We couldn’t go out for coffee, all of our meals were catered, but really we just hung out and shared a lot of meals together. That’s kind of the simple answer because there really wasn’t a lot going on.

Safety was the priority, so ‘simple’ is definitely a positive in this situation. 

Right, right. I think other leagues had different things. I know some of the MLS guys, they went golfing. We didn’t have that. Our bubble was just our hotel. And it was funny because when you would go to training, you’d see other teams and it was almost like summer camp because you’re like, “Hi!” to your friends, but you only can wave and you can’t hug each other. But yeah, we liked hanging around the coffee truck. That was our time to mingle.

Aside from hotel bubble life, there was also a tournament to compete in. Can you talk us through what Sky Blue’s expectations were going into this Challenge Cup? And now that it’s over, what are the takeaways? 

We had big plans for this year, especially after last year and how we wanted to play. We had people who wanted to be here. We made some awesome trades. And we had all of these people who really wanted to buy into us, our team, staff, and the whole organization.

But again, it was like everything we wanted to do, we had to do in a short span. So we went in committed to who we wanted to be and how we wanted to play. We wanted to keep the ball and just stick to our game. And even though we didn’t score a lot of goals, which as a forward is frustrating because you’d love to score four goals a game and walk away, we were committed to just play how we wanted to play, and I think coming out of this tournament, this was a big building block for us.

I didn’t walk away from the tournament thinking we played our best soccer ever, but I also didn’t leave saying that we were trying to be someone we weren’t. We stuck with who we wanted to be, how we wanted to play and I think that’s just a good addition going forward for whatever’s next to come. We’ll build on that, and one point of emphasis will be scoring goals.

Most definitely. This tournament was truly a test given during the direst of circumstances. So regardless of the outcome, this is something you’ll all look back upon and can really be proud of. 

Definitely. And honestly, I hope we can do it again in some way or form, which sounds so weird because going into it, I did not think I’d ever say that again, but it really was a gritty tournament and just taught me a lot. It taught our team a lot, too.

Thinking back, I had some interviews there and people were like, “Oh, you guys aren’t scoring goals.” But it’s almost like if you think of Sky Blue last year and how we got better over time, you saw that watching us in March versus October was like watching two completely different teams. So, given that we had to perform in such a short time, I’d say that we’re all very proud of what we put together and I’m just really excited for our team moving forward.

So you said you’d be down for a Bubble: Round 2? 

Totally. Maybe Hawaii for the next one would be fun. I mean, they did a great job putting this together, but maybe next time we can be by a beach or something more of my style.

Switching gears, playing for Sky Blue definitely hits home for you as one of the local kids on the roster. So as a ‘Jersey girl through and through’, can you tell us what it’s like to play for your home state and what it will be like to play in front of them at Red Bull Arena?

Looking back at last year and being able to play at Rutgers and at Red Bull Arena, it’s definitely surreal. I think Jersey people are Jersey. I know that sounds silly, but I think there’s a lot of pride in living in New Jersey and for women’s sports in New Jersey, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

It was really cool to see so many younger fans, people from my hometown, and people who watched me when I was younger come up after games and say that they can’t believe that I’ve grown into this woman and that I’m playing for this club. I’m just so honored to be one of the hometown kids for Sky Blue and I always have such a fun time playing here in New Jersey.

Ideally, I hope to do this for as long as I can. Jersey people are just… Jersey! I know that sounds funny, but only it’s something that only Jersey people would really understand.

The team recently returned to training. What has that been like after the mini-break following the Challenge Cup?

It’s kind of funny. Once we got back and saw each other again, we were like, “So what’s been new?” because we went from living together for over a month to then not seeing each other at all. Honestly, I think everyone needed some time off just to decompress, reflect. But training has been good. The energy and commitment that this group has, even with all of the injuries and overseas loans, has been amazing. I’m really excited for our whole team to be back together. We’re all so committed to getting better and I think everyone really wants to put in the work, wants to learn, wants to grow, and is excited for whatever comes next.

Next up, you’ll be heading into this Fall Series with a few games slated for this season. What are your expectations for this mini-season? 

We have some great games to play against Chicago and Washington and expect to use them as another building block to show who we are at Sky Blue. Even though some of our players are abroad or hurt, we still expect to play our game at the same level we brought to the Challenge Cup.

The bubble had a lot of games in a short amount of time, whereas this is more spread out. This time around, we will also have more time to actually train and prepare for teams. I’m looking forward to playing games with my teammates because I know how hard we all have been training, on and off the field. So it’s really exciting to just put on my uniform and head to battle with them again this fall.

Looking even further, what are some of your goals for 2021 as you look towards year 3?

So, I am a big goals person. I have my lists for what I do every day, what I need to get done, and what I want to accomplish. But for going forward, I really want to make an impact with Sky Blue, I want to make an impact in the NWSL, and I want to be wearing that US crest. So, I have a lot to do before then and I’m just so excited to grow and develop as a player.

Costa Rica Holds USWNT to 0-0 Draw in Frustrating Olympic Send-Off

USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan dribbles the ball by Costa Rica forward Melissa Herrera and midfielder Gloriana Villalobos
The USWNT had 12 shots on goal on Tuesday despite failing to find the back of the net. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

The USWNT didn't quite get the going away party they were hoping for, settling for a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica on Tuesday in their final tune-up match before the 2024 Olympics kick off next week.

The US produced 26 shots — 12 on target — alongside 67 touches in the box, the most in any match where they failed to convert a single goal since at least 2015, per Opta. Yet they also faced a heroic performance from Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermúdez, who tallied 12 saves on the night.

USWNT starters remained mostly intact

After Saturday's win over Mexico, USWNT manager Emma Hayes opted for a very similar starting XI, only swapping Crystal Dunn in for Jenna Nighswonger due to load management.

Named starter Rose Lavelle was a late scratch from the lineup after team warmups, with US Soccer attributing her last-minute absence to "leg tightness." Lavelle was replaced by midfielder Korbin Albert, giving the US a slightly less aggressive attacking edge throughout the match.

Casey Krueger, Lynn Williams, Jaedyn Shaw, Emily Sonnett, and rookie Croix Bethune all got minutes in the second half, coming off the bench to contend with Washington, DC's brutally hot conditions.

USWNT forward Sophia Smith and Costa Rica midfielder Gloriana Villalobos battle for the ball
Costa Rica managed to fend off the USWNT with a strong defensive low-block. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY)

Costa Rica's low-block spelled trouble

"Listen, if you play a game of percentages or law of averages, we're creating more and more high-quality chances, and we're getting numbers into key areas — we're getting touches in the key areas," Hayes told reporters after the match, calling attention to Costa Rica's strong defensive low-block.

"The last part's the hardest part. And I'm really patient, because I've coached teams that have to break blocks down, and it's the hardest thing to do in coaching," she continued.

Hayes also noted the team's lack of training time under her management: The decorated coach officially joined the US in early June after finishing the WSL season with her previous club, league champs Chelsea FC.

USWNT pose for a picture after their send-off friendly against costa rica at Audi Field
The USWNT's Olympic group stage run kicks off on July 25th. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Where to watch the USWNT's Olympic games

Tuesday's draw is just the second time the USWNT has entered a major tournament off a non-win. Back in 2015, the US embarked on their legendary World Cup campaign after a 0-0 send-off draw with South Korea.

The next time the USWNT takes the pitch will be at the Paris Olympics, where they'll play Zambia on Thursday, July 25th at 3 PM ET. The match will be broadcast live on USA, with streaming options available on Peacock.

The Late Sub Podcast: This Is Sophia Smith’s USWNT Attack Now

Sophia Smith dribbles during the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico last Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins breaks down the days leading up to the first USWNT Olympic send-off friendly, discussing player performances, things that worked well on the pitch, and what still needs developing as coach Emma Hayes's team moves towards a crucial Olympic competition set to will dictate the future of the team.

She then sets her sights on the WNBA, previewing WNBA All-Star Weekend and chatting with Gatorade Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Joyce Edwards alongside Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally.

Subscribe to The Late Sub to never miss an episode.

USWNT Looks to Extend Winning Streak in Final Olympic Send-Off

USWNT striker Sophia Smith dribbles through Costa Rican defenders during a 2022 Concacaf W Championship game.
The USWNT last took on Costa Rica at the 2022 Concacaf Championship semifinal. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The USWNT’s last tune-up match before the Olympics has arrived, with the FIFA world No. 5 US looking for an 18th-straight all-time win over No. 44 Costa Rica tonight at Washington, DC's Audi Field.

Just three days after a redemptive 1-0 victory over No. 29 Mexico, head coach Emma Hayes’s Paris-bound roster appears to be finding its stride. Calling Saturday’s win "a step in the right direction," Hayes went on to say, "I think we’re only scratching the surface. I think there’s a lot of layers to go from everyone."

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 13: USWNT coach Emma Hayes stands on the field before a game between Mexico and USWNT
The new-look USWNT is looking to hit its stride after several matches under Hayes. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Hayes's USWNT is still finding its footing

With their first Olympic group stage game against No. 64 Zambia slated for July 25th, the new-look USWNT — which features the youngest roster in 16 years — is working to define its style of play.

While the USWNT’s signature ability to score in transition remains a strong point, the team also acknowledged their shaky first half on Saturday, with midfielder Rose Lavelle commenting that they're "working on being a little more tactically flexible... We’re trying to, as a group, learn how to adjust on the fly and be a little smarter with our adjustments during the games."

The patience required to choose their moments, along with the team’s ability to read and anticipate each other's movements, is clutch to increasing effectiveness in the areas where the USWNT appeared most disjointed against Mexico.

At stake is an Olympic podium finish, where the US hopes to improve on their bronze medal performance in Tokyo — but the team also aims to make a splash amidst their increasingly sophisticated opponents.

Costa Rica captain Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez chases the ball during a match against Panama in 2020.
Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez, Costa Rica's captain, is the only NWSL on their Olympic roster. (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Rodriguez leads a rising Costa Rica team

If improving offensive unity and production is tonight’s goal, Las Ticas could provide the ideal matchup: In their 17 previous meetings, the USWNT has outscored Costa Rica 90-2 overall.

That said, Costa Rica has switched things up since the sides last met in July 2022, with the US defeating the Central American squad 3-0 in the Concacaf Championship semifinal. Las Ticas competed in the 2023 World Cup and reached the Gold Cup quarterfinals earlier this year, where they narrowly fell to No. 8 Canada in extra time.

Costa Rica is captained by 30-year-old Angel City midfielder Rocky Rodriguez, the lone NWSL player on their roster and, in 2015, the first Costa Rica national to ever score in a Women's World Cup.

In addition to maintaining a perfect record against Costa Rica, the USWNT will look to extend their current unbeaten streak to nine, which includes three shutouts in Hayes’s first three matches at the helm.

Lindsay Horan drinks water before the USWNT's match against Ireland in April 2023.
An excessive heat warning is in effect for Washington, DC today. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images)

Where to watch the USWNT vs. Costa Rica friendly

Expect some hydration breaks due to DC's scorching temperatures during tonight’s 7:30 PM ET match, airing live on TNT and streaming on Peacock.

TruTV and Max will simultaneously air the first-ever USWNT altcast, hosted by retired USWNT star Sam Mewis, former USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn, and Men in Blazers founder Roger Bennett.

Sizing Up USWNT’s 2024 Olympic Competition

Germany's Giulia Gwinn steps to the ball while Iceland's Sandra Jessen slides in during Friday's UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match.
Germany lost their Euros qualifier against Iceland 3-0 on Friday, less than two weeks before Olympic football begins. (Hulda Margret/Getty Images)

With Olympic soccer kicking off in just over a week, the USWNT isn't the only national squad prepping for the podium with a series of pre-Paris matchups. Both international friendlies and important qualifiers are on the docket, with several European teams competing for a spot in the UEFA Women's EURO 2025.

Regardless of the stakes, these performances might provide some insight into what the USWNT can expect once the Summer Games begin.

Czechia national soccer team celebrates as Spain women's national soccer team defender Laia Aleixandri leaves the pitch
FIFA World No. 1 Spain fell to Czechia on Friday in a 2025 Euros qualifier. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Pre-Olympic matches expose problems for top teams

Of the 12 Olympic teams, recent outings from FIFA world No. 1 Spain and No. 4 Germany featured the most shocking outcomes.

Despite dominating possession behind an opening goal from 2023 Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí, the 2023 World Cup winners fell 2-1 to No. 30 Czechia in Friday's Euros qualifier — their first loss of 2024. They managed to bounce back on Tuesday, however, beating Belgium 2-0 to finish out the league stage on top with 15 points.

Spain heads into the Summer Games aiming to become the first women’s team to win a World Cup and Olympic gold back-to-back, though they’ll need to reclaim their composure to achieve that feat in the face of an Olympic group that includes Japan, Nigeria, and Brazil.

France defender Sakina Karchaoui celebrates her opening goal during Friday's 2-1 win over Sweden.
Defender Sakina Karchaoui scored the opening goal in France's 2-1 win over Sweden on Friday. (ARNAUD FINISTRE/AFP via Getty Images)

No. 2 France took down No. 6 Sweden 2-1 in Friday's Euro qualifier, but flipped the script on Tuesday with a 3-1 loss to last-place No. 25 Republic of Ireland, who notched their first win. However, thanks to England's 0-0 draw with Sweden — also on Tuesday — France still topped their qualifying group with 12 points. Les Bleus will look for more consistent results going into the Olympics, where they're set to face Colombia, New Zealand, and Guinea in the group stage.

But it was Germany who stumbled the hardest, losing out 3-0 to No. 14 Iceland in their own Friday qualifier. After the match, Germany's head coach Horst Hrubesch didn’t mince words.

"We have to assert ourselves from the start in the individual battles. The way we played just wasn’t good," Hrubesch told reporters. "We deserved to lose. We handed them all three goals on a plate."

Tuesday also saw improvement for Germany, as they routed Austria 4-0 to claim first place in the group standings with 15 points.

But the earlier loss was still foreboding for this German squad. The two-time world champions fell to 3-2 to Zambia just weeks before the 2023 World Cup, before failing to advance past the World Cup group stage for the first time in the tournament’s history. Germany also faces some tough Olympic group stage competition, battling Australia and the USWNT before crossing paths with Zambia once again.  

Team Canada celebrate their victory in the 2020 Olympic Gold Medal Match with Sweden
Team Canada has their work cut out for them if they want to repeat their Tokyo gold medal run. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Friendlies rally Olympic teams outside Europe

Defending Olympic champs FIFA World No. 8 Canada defeated No. 12 Australia 2-1 on Saturday, with KC Current forward Nichelle Prince and ex-Gotham striker Evelyne Viens both scoring in the friendly. Canada will play world No. 36 Nigeria in a closed-door friendly on Wednesday before kicking off their Olympic campaign against New Zealand on July 25th. 

For their part, No. 28 New Zealand drew 1-1 in a friendly with No. 64 Zambia on Saturday, while non-Olympic-bound Ecuador handed No. 22 Colombia a 2-1 send-off loss.

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