At long last, Gemma Bonner has joined Racing Louisville.
After being announced back in April, the veteran English defender was all smiles as she finally took to the field with the team in her first practice on Wednesday. “It’s been nothing but positive so far,” she said post-practice.
Despite frustration due to pandemic-related delays, Bonner kept her spirits up through contact with Racing’s staff. “The team has been absolutely brilliant in terms of sending me training programs and making sure I was in a good place,” she said. “I was so grateful for that, and it made the transition so much more easy. I feel like I’ve been here longer than a day already.”
The fact she’s been keeping abreast of the team by watching all their matches has also helped. These early games have so far left Bonner impressed. “I don’t necessarily think people expected the team to gel as quickly as they have done, and they’ve stayed in a lot of games despite being under pressure. They’ve got the team spirit and the quality of the players.”
Although the team is very young, Bonner says she sees the beginning of a strong culture forming.
“I can firsthand say it’s been unbelievable,” said Bonner of the team’s culture. “Every single player, every single member of staff, they can’t do enough for you and try and make you feel at home.”
According to Bonner, the club’s focus is on developing the players the right way. This comes from giving excellent support for players both on and off the field and maintaining world-class facilities.
“I think it’s one of the best in the world in terms of the facilities and how they’re doing things,” she explained. “They’re making sure they’re getting everything right and looking after the person and the player as well.” This is especially beneficial for many of the young, inexperienced players on Racing’s roster. “For a player coming into a professional environment, you’ve got everything here.”
This combination of a strong culture, excellent facilities, and supportive staff were too good to pass up.
“For me, it was a no-brainer when given the opportunity.”
Despite her praise, there is work to be done for Racing to reach its full potential. In particular, she says the team needs to hold possession longer and manage moments under pressure better. These are both things Bonner is certain she can help with.
With a decade of professional experience and call-ups to the English National Team as recently as 2019, Bonner isn’t just a veteran player, she’s a proven winner. After helping her hometown team Leeds United win the League Cup in 2010, she captained Liverpool to consecutive titles in 2013 and 2014.
Coach Christy Holly was emphatic in stressing just how valuable her experience will be for Racing.
“She’s a pro,” he stated simply. “We’ve got a lot of young easily influenced players and to have a pro in there who’s been there, done that, gotten the t-shirt is going to be a massive asset for us.”
This leadership on the backline is something Louisville sorely needs, as highlighted by their bruising 0-5 loss to the North Carolina Courage last week. While Holly insists the loss is an excellent lesson in resilience, the benefit Bonner’s experience brings is clear.
“Bringing her in with the experience that she has, the maturity that she has, and the leadership that she has on the backline can really help galvanize the younger players and give us more direction as we defend,” he said.
As happy as everyone is to finally have Bonner in Louisville, it’s uncertain how quickly she’ll get minutes. Her last match with Manchester City was in November. Since then, she’s suffered a string of injuries and recovered from COVID. She’s cleared to play now, but Holly seems unwilling to “drop her in the deep end” too quickly. The last thing the team wants is to risk another injury.
“If not this weekend, you’re looking at after the international break,” said Holly. “That’ll come down to physical conditioning and the recovery she’s able to get in.”
Bonner agrees the transition won’t be instantaneous.
“It’ll take time,” she admits, but she’s confident she’ll make the transition smoothly with the help of her teammates. “The girls have shown that they’ve come together as a new team, and they get better every week. So they’ve inspired me to come in and adapt as soon as possible.”