Ten Squads, Ten Stories is a series that concentrates on one team in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), and highlights a player or theme. This installment features Kristen Edmonds of the Orlando Pride and how she has taken full advantage of a new challenge and opportunity with the newest NWSL team.
“She brings leadership by what she does on the field, not so much what she says.”
Breakout star. It’s a sports phrase used on a regular basis. On some occasions, it’s a phrase reserved for players who are relatively new to the scene and have a big season. On other occasions, the phrase is given to players who have been around for a while, maybe battled back from injuries, and unexpectedly impact their teams.
But the title doesn’t get used enough for the players who have been solid professionals throughout their careers when things start to click and the stats start rising up.
At the end of 2015, Kristen Edmonds needed to make a change. She needed a change of scenery and a new opportunity. She felt that after two years of playing with the Western New York Flash in the NWSL — having good seasons playing as a defender — she needed to get back to what she does best on the soccer field. And what Edmonds does best is being a constant threat in the attack and scoring goals.
One season later, she has made herself the breakout star for the Orlando Pride in their inaugural 2016 NWSL season. Edmonds has been a fixture within head coach Tom Sermanni’s team, playing in all but one match for the Pride. She’s scored five goals and added in two assists to lead the team, and has logged the most minutes of any Pride player as well.
Edmonds said that coming into the Pride for this season, she was given a chance to wipe the slate clean. With the confidence and prominent responsibilities given to her by the coaching staff, along with moving back into a more attacking position, she has seen her self-confidence rise in the past few months and that has been a main part to the growth in her game.
“I came into Orlando with the attitude of where I can start from scratch here and rebuild myself back up,” said Edmonds. “Playing a new position has helped me as well. My confidence is a lot better. I’m higher up on the field and I am able to get into the attack more and help my team by scoring goals and things like that. For me, coming here and playing a different position has definitely helped my career and my mentality as well.”
Seeking New Challenges
Admittedly, Pride head coach Tom Sermanni didn’t know a lot about Kristen Edmonds during the team’s preseason. She came over to the Pride in the same deal that brought Becky Edwards to Orlando for a pair of draft picks. But when he first saw Edmonds come into camp and play in person, he knew he had landed a gem in that deal.
“She brought the whole package to be honest,” said Sermanni. “She is a good footballer. And what I mean by that is she has a good understanding of the game. She’s a modern-day player in the sense that she has good flexibility. We’ve played her on the wing, we’ve played her in central midfield, and virtually every position on the field apart from a center back. She goes nonstop until the end of the game and she’s got great mobility as well.”
After Edmonds’ solid collegiate career at Rutgers and a few years playing both domestically and in Europe, she felt it was time to come back stateside. She elected to stay close to her northeastern roots and signed with the Western New York Flash.
“The reason why I went [to the Flash] in the first place is because I wanted to come back home to the states after playing overseas for a couple of seasons, and I was very grateful that the Flash brought me back over and kept me there for two years,” she said.
She was thrust into duty right away in 2014 and played almost the entire season, mostly in the Flash’s back four. Toward the latter part of the 2015 season, however, she had been relegated to spotty starting duty, appearing in 11 of the team’s 20 games and starting in 10.
When the offseason hit, Edmonds felt it was time for a new challenge and a new opportunity.
“I felt like I grew as much as I was going to grow there and I think that mentally, for me, I needed something different. It was kind of perfect timing of how it worked where my contract was up with them [at the end of last season] and then I got traded. And with Orlando being a new team coming into the league, it was kind of a perfect fresh start for me. So it was pure excitement coming [to Orlando] and I was happy I got traded down here.”
Consistency is the Key
“When I was in college, I played up top as a winger and scored a good amount of goals,” Edmonds said. “And when I went overseas and I started out as a winger and I was scoring goals. And I grew up as an attacker but when I moved to the back, [I] loved playing that new position. I loved getting into the attack but I wasn’t getting as many chances. But now I am getting higher up the field and getting more chances to score and there is no better feeling than to score a goal, it’s just amazing.”
Five goals with a few matches to play in a season will definitely give you plenty to feel good about. And the Pride supporters have embraced her positive play as well. Edmonds has shown a keen ability to set up a game-winner or score it herself, including a dramatic 95th-minute goal to give Orlando all three points in a 2-1 win over Boston on July 10.
Sermanni was quick to point out, however, that while the goals are flowing in, the one thing that Edmonds has improved on this season is the consistency in her game. In preseason, he saw all of the quality Edmonds brought to her game but now as the season comes to a close, he credits her success to her ability to sustain a high-level work rate throughout the entire game.
“The key thing with [Kristen] that has stuck out this season is her ability to perform at a high level, 90 minutes week in and week out, in high-level games,” Sermanni said. “And she’s done that literally every week. Regardless of how the team as a whole have done, she’s made an impact on every game, every week in a positive sense. And quite often that impact has come late in the game and that has been the best attribute she’s brought to this team.”
Edmonds also credits playing as a defender with the Flash for two years as key. She learned how to adapt to playing a new position and took away parts that helped her game grow, including how to connect with defenders attacking alongside her.
“Playing in the back with the Flash, I know what the expectations that come with playing an outside back position,” she explained. “Now that I am playing higher up the field, I know where a player in that position will be and what they need from me, playing in the middle, to support them. It really just helped me understand the game more by playing those different positions.”
Leading by Example, Reaching New Heights
In addition to fitting into the system in Orlando, Edmonds is also tasked with being a leader within the team. Edmonds is one of the more experienced players in the locker room, and Sermanni sees her lead by example on the field and wants that to translate throughout the team.
“People bring leadership in a lot of different ways,” said Sermanni. “She brings leadership by what she does on the field, not so much what she says. She’s not an aggressive, verbal kind of player but she leads by her actions and her performances. And by the fact that she never stops going, regardless of what minute the game is in.”
Since setting a new single-game attendance record in its inaugural home game at the beginning of the season, the team has struggled to find the right balance, on the field and will fall short of making the playoffs. Despite the high expectations for the team, Edmonds credits the front office for making the players feel comfortable in Orlando, which has allowed them to focus on soccer, something she feels will help them massively for seasons to come.
“We have a very good fan base and everybody wants to see us do well and break records and make the playoffs and win championships,” she said. “That’s always going to be difficult for a team that is playing in its first year together. Our job is to just focus on the soccer part. We have a fantastic organization here and everybody in the front office takes care of everything outside of soccer for us and they are unbelievable.”
Heading into next season, Edmonds believes the Pride can finish this season strong and start building toward a big 2017 campaign.
“I think moving forward for next season, we had a good, solid first season to start this expansion team, but I think that we are only going to grow and get better in the coming years. Hopefully, we can end this year on a positive note to start that trend.”