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Kristen Edmonds’ Soccer Odyssey

Photographs by Jeffrey Kubu SportsPlus Photography

 

As a midfielder for the Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League, Kristen Edmonds has played the best soccer of her professional career. Her play in the midfield has even earned her a call up to the US Women’s National Team camp. But as with most female professional soccer players, the climb to the pinnacle of women’s soccer has had a lot of challenges along the way.

Edmonds graduated from Rutgers as a standout talent, the first player at the university since Carli Lloyd to lead the team in goals as a rookie. From there, she received an opportunity to play professionally at Stjarnan, a team in Iceland, where the sport has been growing exponentially.

“It was an amazing opportunity for me to go abroad and play,” Edmonds says. “About halfway through my first season, I was playing in a game and I stuck my left foot out to block a ball and the ball hit the outside of my foot. But everything happened so fast. When I came down, my ankle was still rolled in. So I landed basically on my left ankle with all my body weight. Immediately, the pain was so bad. I didn’t know what I did, but I knew that it was not going to be anything good. So that game was over for me. Afterwards, the trainers looked at it and said, “Oh, it’s just a sprain.” So that’s pretty good news, right? If it’s a sprain, I’ll be back in no time.”

After giving it a few weeks to rest, Edmonds’ ankle was a little bit worse than what they thought. Nevertheless, she tried playing anyway. “I actually did get in a couple more games,” she says, “but when I was playing, I was in so much pain. If I ran straight, everything felt completely normal. As soon as I tried to stop and cut or just going a different direction, my ankle didn’t feel stable and it was very painful for me, to the point where after training or playing, the next morning I couldn’t even walk.”

After the season, Edmonds came back to her hometown of Metuchen, New Jersey and had her doctor take a second look. “I went to see my orthopedic and he took an MRI,” Edmonds says. “He said, ‘Basically, you’ve torn every major ligament in your ankle, and you’re going to need reconstructive surgery.’ I was absolutely devastated. I never had surgery before or a major injury that would keep me out for a really long period of time. At that point, I thought my career was over.”

Edmonds’ doctor told her he thought he could get her back on the field eventually. Seeing how determined she was to play again, he varied the approach he would normally take for a patient with this kind of injury who was not a pro athlete. Normally, a patient would wear a cast on their ankle for two weeks and a walking boot for another two weeks. Edmonds’ doctor had her wear a tight cast for a full four weeks. “I was in the gym working out with my cast,” she says. “I did upper body work, anything I could do.”

Because of the surgery, Edmonds missed the player transfer window and was unable to sign with another team, particularly given the economics of women’s soccer, no team wanted to take a financial chance on a player who had just ruptured their ankle. “I needed to get a job,” Edmonds says, “and I wasn’t getting another soccer job anytime soon, so that’s where Planet Fitness came in.”

Edmonds took a position with her local Planet Fitness to earn a living and complete her rehab. Every morning at 5 a.m., she would show up and work out for two hours. Then she would work at the facility for the next eight. “Most players, when you get injured, you have an organization, team doctors and trainers overseeing your rehab. I didn’t have anyone from soccer. All I had were the trainers at my gym and they were a support system for me. That became a huge part of my rehab.”

Once she was able to resume soccer again, her agent now had to prove to other teams that Edmonds was ready to return to the field. “My agent worked day and night to find me an opportunity. We found one with WFC Rossiyanka, a team in the Russian Premier League.” The team liked what Edmonds showed on film prior to the injury.

“It was major culture for me,” Edmonds says. “Anywhere you go to play soccer, there’s a limited amount of foreigners that you’re allowed to have because obviously the countries want their players to make up most of the league. That’s even true here in the US. Me being one of the few foreign players in Russia, there’s not many people that speak English at all. So that was probably the hardest thing for me at first because I couldn’t even go to the grocery store and read what I was buying. Like, how do I ask for chicken? I was guessing at everything. The first bottle of milk that I bought was literally spoiled milk. They actually sell that in Russia. For me, I was like, I don’t know if this is one percent, two percent, whole milk or whatever it is. I’m just going to get this one, and make some tea when I get home. But why is it curdling right out of the bottle? Then I was talking to my mom. Her boss is Russian, and he was like, ‘Oh, she bought spoiled milk.’ And I thought, ‘OK, stay away from thatsection (laughs).’ So it was definitely a challenge.”

But with challenge came reward. Edmonds was back playing pro soccer. And when she stepped on to the field, the cultural challenges faded away. “Anytime I get to step on the field or even just have a ball at my feet, soccer was an outlet for me,” she says. “Whenever I step in between the lines, nothing else matters. It’s just me, my teammates, and the game that I love. So no matter where I am, I could be in another country, I could be with friends, I could be with strangers. once you’re on the field, everybody is there doing the same thing. You block everything else out that’s happening in your life. Good or bad.”

In Russia, things were good for Edmonds, her team finished in first place, and she played in two separate UEFA Champions League tournaments. “Playing in Champions League is a once in a lifetime experience,” Edmonds says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do that again. It’s not just playing in it, but you get to travel as well. So I’ve been to countries like Italy and Germany and Serbia, which I would probably never would have had the chance to go to on my own. So being able to see different parts of the world is amazing, and then the competition that we get to play where you’re essentially playing the best team from each country. So the competition is up there as well.”

After her two-year stint in Russia, Edmonds was eager to have the opportunity to come back to play professionally in the NWSL in the United States. After a two-year stint with the Western New York Flash, when the opportunity presented itself to play in Orlando, Edmonds leaped for it. “I played in Iceland which was pretty cold, Russia was pretty cold, even Western New York was cold. So to go play in Orlando, I was like, ‘When do I start? (laughs)’”

Beyond the warm weather, Orlando offered the opportunity for Edmonds to become the player she has always wanted to be. “Because the league is so young, teams are just run differently,” Edmonds says. “Everybody’s trying to figure out a blueprint on how to do this. When I came to Orlando, because it was a new team and we were linked with the MLS club here, they had a blueprint of what the men are doing. I think Orlando set the standard of how teams want to come into the league and run things. With that structure, it just felt very professionally run. Then, obviously, the support we have with our fans is unbelievable here. When we’re playing in games, and you hear thousands of people cheering for you, you’re like, wow, this is the environment that everybody wants to be a part of.”

From that support, Edmonds earned her first of what she hopes to be several call ups to the US women’s national team camps. “Honestly, when I first found out, I thought it was a prank. Once I realized that it was happening, to get to this stage and to be able to put that crest on, it was a dream come true for me. Any time that you get to represent your country in anything is definitely an honor, and I’m very grateful that I was able to have that experience.”

In the meantime, Edmonds is enjoying teaming up with some of the best women’s players in the world in Orlando, including Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger and the Brazilian superstar, Marta. “As the league grows, everyone will kind of get to where we are here in Orlando, and hopefully maybe even surpass what we’ve built here. It’s been a long road, but I’m very, very happy that I’ve arrived here.”

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