Quotes in this interview may be edited slightly for clarity
After four seasons with NJ/NY Gotham FC, winger Paige Monaghan realized it was time for a change.
“I really just had a hard look at what I wanted out of myself in my career and asked for the trade,” she told The Beautiful Game Network. “Then, from there, it kind of was like a leap of faith of where I would end up.”
She insists “nothing bad” prompted her desire to move on. Instead, it was a decision based on what would be the next best step for her personally.
Monaghan is a New Jersey native who was drafted in 2019 by Sky Blue FC. She’s been with the team through many changes, including its rebranding to become Gotham in 2021. And after playing her entire professional career in the same franchise in her home state, she realized she needed to get out of her comfort zone and go somewhere new to continue to grow as a player.
“I think I just want to be the best player I can possibly be and that meant I needed a change.”
The right choice
A draft day trade between Gotham and Racing Louisville has now brought Monaghan to Kentucky. Racing gave Gotham the No. 4 overall pick of the college draft and Gotham gave Racing Monaghan plus $150,000, and an extra international slot for 2023.
She said she understands that the trade was a surprise to many people, but she’s determined to make her mark with Racing.
“I really just want to make the town, the city, and the club proud. I know I was a little bit of a wild card, but I’m going to prove why it was the right choice.”
Monaghan isn’t completely unfamiliar with the city of Louisville. She attended college at Butler University which is in nearby Indianapolis and has friends from Louisville. In college, she would play Spring games against the University of Louisville and remembers taking bus trips with her team down to the city. As a result, she “actually was really excited” to come back to this part of the country again. She’s also excited about the growing potential Racing has as a club.
“I think there’s a lot of talent on the team,” she explained. “I think there’s a lot of positive change happening there and to be a part of that is just really special and exciting for me.“
In particular, Monaghan said she’s looking forward to working with assistant coach Bev Yanez again. Yanez spent two years as the assistant coach at Gotham before coming to Racing in the off-season, something Monaghan considers a big positive for Louisville.
“She is an amazing human, was an amazing player and is an amazing coach,” said Monaghan of Yanez, “so I think that says a lot about the direction of the team.”
A new role
Racing won’t just bring about a new environment for Monaghan. It’s likely to bring about different roles on and off the pitch as well. Louisville’s head coach Kim Björkegren has hinted that he’s going to use her as an outer back despite the fact she’s typically played as a winger. In fact, Racing’s own website currently lists her with the defenders and not the forwards.
For her part, Monaghan said she’s open to being pushed in new directions. She’s also very aware that after a career of playing with legendary veterans of women’s soccer like Carli Lloyd and Ali Krieger, she’s moving to a team where she’s going to be one of the most veteran players around. With more than 50 regular season appearances in the NWSL, Monaghan outpaces everyone on Racing except for Jessica McDonald and Nadia Nadim. But this new role is exactly why Monaghan finds her new team so enticing.
“I’ve had the opportunity to play with some legendary players. And I got to learn from them and be mentored by them and just learn so much. But I think coming to Louisville, it’s more of a two-way street where I think I’m going to help them and they’re going to help me as well so I’m really excited for that. I think I’m going to grow in more ways that I don’t even know. To take on that responsibility is super important for me and why I think this is going to be such a great fit.”
As positive as she feels about the upcoming move to Louisville, Monaghan admitted that this has been a particularly tiring offseason after a particularly rocky few years for the NWSL.
After being drafted in 2019, she then went through all the uncertainty caused by the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020. This was followed by 2021, a year of painful revelations regarding systemic abuse in the league and work towards establishing a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NWSL and the player’s association. The 2022 season was then filled with investigations into widespread abuse in the NWSL and U.S. soccer which brought to light even more incidences of misconduct.
“This offseason, for me, a lot of it kind of hit home mentally and physically where it’s just been exhausting ” explained Monaghan. “I think in the moment you’re just trying your best to do what you can and be a good teammate and be a good person and just bring the best out of each other. But there were some really difficult and dark times and a lot of uncertain times throughout my career.”
Monaghan said she was recently reflecting on how much things have changed during the four years of her professional career. Early in 2020, players spoke openly with each other about how the pandemic might just kill the NWSL completely. Now, despite how hard things have been, she feels like there’s been a transformation.
“Now we have the CBA and we have legal backing and we’ve had investigations and reports and sanctions come from that. It’s now operating as a business and not a charity or something that’s just good to do where we’re not going to be taken seriously. We’re going to be treated professionally and we’re going to demand professionalism across the board which, for the future of women’s sports, is crucial. I want it to be a safe and thriving environment and be taken seriously. And I do think that there are positive steps and actions happening.”
Take it and run with it
With preseason for 2023 starting in just a few days, Monaghan will soon be on her way to her new club and city. For the first time in her professional career, Monaghan will no longer be based out of her home state of New Jersey or playing in front of nearby friends and family. While that prospect could be daunting for many, Monaghan is excited about the challenge.
“It’s so easy to be fearful,” she said, but she also has faith that everything she’s been working so hard for these past four years is ready to flourish. She’s looking forward to meeting her new teammates and seeing what they can do as a team in 2023.
“We have the opportunity as individuals to come together and just be the best team we can and also compete for big things like the Women’s Cup or the NWSL championship or just the regular season games, whatever it may be. At the beginning of the year, every team has an opportunity and Racing Louisville has the opportunity to take it into our own hands and leave it better.
So that’s really the biggest challenge. Just what are we going to do with this opportunity? I know I’m going to take it and run with it.”