The past FIFA window meant a break for many players from their club duties. However, for Hayley Raso and Portland Thorns players without national team matches, it was business as usual.
After winning the NWSL Shield last season, Portland currently sit in the finals placings and have the fewest losses in the NWSL – two. The week saw the routine of training and scrimmages and the ‘no rest’ mentality is due to the fact that the Thorns are trying to stay atop the NWSL league standings for the remainder of the season.
Hoping to be a part of another successful season is 22 year old Raso who has seen her football fortunes change in the past 12 months.
This time last season, the pacy winger only had one start and played a total of 208 minutes. So far in this season those numbers have more than doubled with Raso seeing action in seven of the team’s eight games, starting in five of the games and notching over 500 minutes.
The tale of two seasons or rather the tale of two years is a part of Raso’s story. 2016 saw the good and the bad of football – first struggling with the last placed Melbourne Victory, then cut from the Washington Spirit, and finally left off the Australian roster for the Rio Olympics.
2017 in comparison has already been remarkably better. First Raso claimed the W-League Premiership with Canberra United, then she was recalled to the Matildas for the Algarve Cup roster and now has seen her role change from a late substitute to a key contributor for the Thorns.
The success Raso has had this year she credits to her training and the people around her.
“I think coming here (Portland) last year I developed a lot and then going back home and playing in the W-League, I tried to continue that,” she said. “It’s been great, coming back to Portland this year and to get a chance at starting.”
“I’ve been really taking the word of the coaches and trying to practice exactly what they want from me, so when I go into the game I can do that and I can perform well. When I train in this squad I have people like Tobin Heath on the wing and Christine Sinclair up in the number 9 spot that I can look up to and I can learn from. I think their experience really helps me to develop as a player.”
The NWSL is one of the top leagues in the world with players from the US, Brazil, Canada, France, and Australia. Some of Raso’s Matildas teammates have looked to other leagues to develop aside from the American league. However, the talent on the Thorns and across the league has kept Raso in the States and will keep her wanting to come back for future seasons.
“The club here, the Thorns, it speaks for itself, it’s such an amazing club. We have everything we need, we’re really set up here. To be on a team where I’m training at such a high and intense level and where I’m playing with quality players every single day, it’s something that has helped me to get better.”
“It’s just somewhere I want to be. To play with these players and then to play against some of the best in the world, it draws me in every time. It’s where I want to be, I love playing here, and I love being in the NWSL.”
Playing on two different clubs in three years can make it hard to find consistency, but the one constant for Raso has been coach Mark Parsons. He was the head coach with the Washington Spirit the one season that Raso played with the team and he has been the Thorns coach the past two seasons. Raso credits Parsons with a lot of her success and the bond they have has helped her overcome setbacks and keep her on track.
“I have been coached by Mark Parsons for three years and he always makes sure I’m on track. He checks with me, and makes sure my attitude is right. If your attitude isn’t right, that is going to affect you and the way you play. I believe that was a big factor in my successes then and my successes now. If I’m ever not switched over to 100% ready, Mark will make sure that I am, and that only helps me and pushes me to be better.”
“With the setbacks I did have, I learned that you have to be strong and you have to be driven and you have to know what you want. I knew that I still wanted to play in the NWSL and that I still wanted to get back with the national team. I was always going to continue trying and doing my best.”
Looking back on her setbacks from last year have made Raso appreciate where she is now and has helped her strengthen her mental toughness.
“I’m so happy now. It’s funny to look back and see where I was and to look at where I am now. I think I am in a really good place both mentally and physically. I went through a lot of setbacks and I went through a lot of things that were hard to deal with, but I overcame them all and I think at the end of the day it’s my mindset that has helped me do that. I’m in a good place now and I’m enjoying it. I think that’s what it’s all about, having your mindset right and then coming out and performing well only helps.”
She hopes that her play on the field and the positive mentality she has can help her stay on the Matildas roster. Australia has a tournament coming up in the United States where they will play USA, Brazil, and Japan. The roster has not been announced yet, but Raso would enjoy the chance to play for her country especially since the games will be played on the West Coast, close to Portland.
“To be able to represent your country is always an honor, but do it in front of the fans here in the Portland area would be special. I love playing here for the Thorns and to be able to play for the Matildas on the West Coast, would be truly great. The tournament is going to have some good competition with strong opponents, which will only help us grow and get better as a team.”
The teams in the tournament are very well known opponents to the Australians. In the last World Cup and Olympics the Matildas faced off against each of these teams at least once. All of the games were highly competitive and Raso thinks that will add to the excitement of the tournament.
“I think we still aren’t seen as a top team even though we have performed well against top teams. The game at the World Cup against the US was a very close game. So was the game the team played against Brazil at the Olympics, losing in penalties. I think the girls will want to go out and show that we’ve continued to get better and that we can get results against them.”
“We’re always playing to perform well and get better as a team. So many Australian national team players are playing overseas and they’re playing in the top leagues. I think if we continue to perform and develop individually, that once we come together as a group, that we really will be able to gel quite well together.”
No matter if it’s for the Thorns or for the Matildas, Raso will continue to work to make an impact. As she strives to keep herself locked in keep your eyes to the American West Coast and see if her play in the red and black can transfer to the green and gold.