Christen Westphal plays as a defender for the Portland Thorns of the NWSL. Prior to playing for Portland, Westphal also played for Reign FC and the Boston Breakers. She spoke to Just Women’s Sports about the upcoming Fall Series and how her and the Thorns are using the four games to build off their Challenge Cup performance. 

Editor’s note: the Thorns’ first match against OL Reign has been postponed to September 30th due to the poor air quality resulting from the fires in Oregon and Washington. 

What was it like returning home after the Challenge Cup?

Being in the bubble can be mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting at times. Coming home and having a few weeks off before having to be back in the market for these games for the Fall Series was pretty crucial for myself, and probably other girls across the league. It was a chance to just regroup and recharge. Because I don’t think when you’re in that environment, you fully comprehend how much it takes a toll and all those aspects. But then I think after being able to have that space and time, coming back into training and everything can be refreshing. It’s good to be back with the team and be around the girls and just have an opportunity to be able to play some more games and get more games and as a group.

You play OL Reign for your first game of the Fall Series. What are your expectations heading into that matchup?

We played them in the Challenge Cup, so I think playing them for out first game in the Fall Series is great because right out of the gate, it’s a game that even if it’s a friendly, or whatever we are going to call it, it’s going to be a good game because it’s the Reign versus the Thorns. So I think that’s really exciting to start the Fall Series with that kind of game.

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

I think the Fall Series is great in the sense that it kind of mimics what a regular season looks like for us. In the Challenge Cup, it was pretty hard, especially because they’re having games every three days, every four days. That’s really hard on your body and mentally. This is good to be able to have it mimic more of a regular season, in the sense we get the rest, time to prepare for the games and everything like that. I think it’s better for that sense of normality and that it’s more like a regular season than a tournament.

Do you have any concerns about  playing outside of a bubble this time around?

Because the bubble was so successful in terms of protecting us and keeping us safe, I think naturally there’s going to be concerns when that format is now different. New concerns come to the forefront. I think that it’s natural and kind of inevitable in a sense to have concerns, but we also had concerns before the bubble, and it ended up a success.

Has either the league or your team done anything specifically to address some of these concerns? 

I’m not sure if there’s anything that our team has done specifically. I know that the league has been great, especially going into the bubble with listening to concerns and making sure those concerns were met. So I don’t feel that will be any different as we step into these games. There’s so many different aspects of having us travel and all these different kinds of things. I know concerns have been raised, but I haven’t personally been involved in hearing them or discussing them.

And how do you feel about traveling for games?

I don’t know if all the details have been completely ironed out to be honest. I think it’s nice in the sense that we’re playing the Reign, because we’ll probably just bus, which will definitely be the safest in terms of traveling as a team. So I think that’s good. I’m not really sure what it looks like when traveling to Utah. I bet we’ll fly, I’m not really sure what that looks like.

Your team fell short by one goal in the Semifinals of the Challenge Cup to Houston who ended up winning it all.  What are some of your team’s goals for these games?  

When the Fall Series was first presented, it seemed different in the sense of, like, it’s only four games, and then we go into an off season. But I think we’ve tried to fit our mentality with the sense of using these four games as an opportunity for growth for the 2021 season. We’re one of the teams with the most players that are still in the market, so our group is essentially the same as it was in the Challenge Cup. That’s a really unique opportunity to be able to push the boundaries of our comfort zones and try things that maybe we weren’t ready to try in the Challenge Cup. And I think it’s a huge opportunity for growth as a team and honestly, individually. Going into it, obviously we’re going to compete and want to win, but we’re also seeing it as an opportunity to just kind of grow off of what happened in the Challenge Cup.

What are some of your personal goals?

For me, coming to the Thorns and having an opportunity to contribute to the team, I think it’s forced me to want to grow as I’m playing outside back. As with the team, I want to work hard every day in training and not just be going through the motions. In every one of these four games, I want to perform and contribute to the team and work on some areas where I thought I could have done better in Utah.

You mentioned that we’ve seen some changes with rosters across the league. There are a lot of players who have been either loaned to teams in Europe or signed there. How do you think that will affect the Fall Series? 

I honestly think with players going to Europe, it’s going to open up opportunities for other players on other teams to step in and see how they do. I think it could be a cool opportunity for players that maybe didn’t see that much time in Utah. Now they’ll get some NWSL games under their belt. I don’t think there will be a huge drop off for the league or anything like that. I don’t see it having a drastic impact on the games. I think it’s mostly a cool opportunity for younger players and for players who are looking to get an opportunity.