Tegan McGrady talks about improvement, motivation, and racial inequality

The Washington Spirit have been fun to watch this summer and finished in second place during the NWSL Challenge Cup preliminary round. Left-back Tegan McGrady has been a big part of that success, starting all four matches in round-robin play. She has three key passes, six interceptions, and 81.3% passing accuracy. After battling injuries in 2019, most would say that she’s had an exceptional summer so far. But, how does she grade it? “Hmmm, I would like to think I am the biggest critic of my own game. I set high expectations for myself and not reaching those expectations just makes me work harder and focus on myself and what I can do better,” McGrady told BGN, while also appreciating the compliment of her performance. “So far, I would probably rate my individual play as a solid B. I feel my defense has been really good, maybe some fine tunings here and there when it comes to stepping and anticipating.”

“However, my attacking side has not been where I want it to be. I feel I can be much stronger in the attack and trusting my abilities to get up the field. With that being said, I think each game has gotten better for me when getting higher up the field, and I am looking to continue that to the next game.”

That next match is coming up in a couple of hours as the Spirit will try to avoid an upset vs. Sky Blue FC, live on CBS All-Access. This summer has actually given Washington a chance to get ahead of schedule with such a young roster playing in single-elimination soccer. Richie Burke’s roster has an exciting young core with a lot of their stars right around 25 years old. “Everyone is always skeptical of a young team (especially in the pros) because there is not much experience, but I feel our team has a great balance,” the 22-year-old defender said. “We have the leadership, the youth, and the fight from everyone. We also have amazing chemistry both on and off the field.”

At the moment, off the pitch means in the bubble in Utah. “We are an energized group that loves to hang out and spend a lot of time together. Since we are a young group, I feel that being close has to do with the family feeling you get when you are in college always surrounded by your teammates which people might think is odd in the professional setting, but it really does make us feel like we are one.”

“Being around each other in the bubble for us is actually normal. We all live pretty close to each other back in Maryland, so being even a little bit closer is really nice. Here in the bubble, we have had so much fun playing games like ping pong, Bananagrams, card games, Jenga, watching the soccer games together, etc. It’s so cool to have a young team that you can relate to in life and have such a great time off the pitch. I think it allows us to have such great chemistry on the field.”

Music also helps McGrady’s mindset on matchdays. “I will say that I get super nervous on game days, so before I can listen to any ‘hype’ music or music with a deep beat, I will listen to softer music,” she explained. “I will listen to more of a Khalid/John Legend vibe. It helps me calm down and not get so anxious/hyped. Some of my favorite songs at the moment to listen to before a game are “Sure Thing” by Miguel, “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, “Is You Ready” by Migos, “Kill the Lights” by Alex Newell, Jess Glynne, and DJ Cassidy, “Feelin’ Myself” by Mac Dre.”

In 2018, Tegan was probably feeling herself, and rightfully so, when she made her senior USWNT debut while she was still in college at Stanford. But, injuries have derailed her national team ambitions since then. “At this point, motivated is an understatement for me. Now I know my first job is to perform for my team, WA Spirit, and do everything I can to help our team be successful,” she acknowledged. “Both my team and I know how much I would love an opportunity at being on the USWNT. As hard as I am working to have my chance again, my team is also making that a possibility for me (along with the coaches and the rest of the staff). My teammates have been helping me become a better player on the field to push me towards the next level, and I also hope I am doing the same for them.

“Thinking about being on the national team and what I need to do to get there is a balance between highlighting the player I know I already am, and also highlighting the areas I need to improve upon in order to make it to the next level. It has always been a dream of mine to play on the USWNT and now that I am finally healthy I am pushing harder than ever to go for that dream.”

There is someone close to Tegan that also knows a thing or two about breaking into the U.S. national team early in a career and trying to work their way back: her boyfriend, Xolos forward Rubio Rubin (on loan with Dorados), who made his USMNT debut when he was 18 years old. “First I will say, putting aside the fact that we are both professional soccer players, it’s so special to date him regardless of what our professions are as we try to show each other love and support in anything we do in life,” she said. “He’s a very special person especially to me.”

Not only are they supportive of one another in everything, but they also share the ability to personally relate to each other’s profession, which is unique in a relationship. “To have someone I can always go to who understands and lives the lifestyle I do is such amazing support. He has always wanted me to follow my dreams of being a professional soccer player,” Tegan explained. “He encourages me every day. When we talk about soccer he continuously tries to fill me with confidence and tells me that he knows I can be the best left-back in the world.”

“We are both pretty good when it comes to talking to each other about our games and if we want to discuss our play or not. I always ask for his opinion, and he is honest with me which I always appreciate because it helps me in becoming a better player,” she adds. “He knows what the hard days are like, when you are tired from practice, or miss each other or our families.

“We understand what we both go through day in and day out, so soccer is not something we discuss all the time which is also really nice. Overall, I am very blessed to have him in my life, we support each other 100% and I can’t wait to see where life takes us next!”

While the NWSL Challenge Cup has allowed the league to get a center sports stage in America, it also comes at a divisive time in our country as protests have filled the summer in opposition to systematic racism, police brutality, as the league and clubs have made statements and worn shirts regarding Black Lives Matter. What does racial equality mean to McGrady personally? “This is a loaded question for me, and I could probably write pages on this topic alone. Personally, racial equality is a battle in my life, for my family, for my loved ones in my life. It’s not political. Racial inequality is a problem. A huge one,” she said. “It’s a hard topic to talk about because it comes down to how I live my life every day. I’ve had numerous conversations where I have expressed it’s not something I or my black community can turn off when we want to. We live with it every day.

“Racial equality is something I am fighting for every day along with my closest loved ones. I am working on being a part of more organizations that focus on promoting leadership within youth in black communities (especially low income). I am passionate about educating the next generation on racial equality and working with youth in the Black Communities to build leadership amongst them. I definitely think that I am part of the generation that can change the world and our society, it’s not going to be easy. I have faith that we can start making steps toward racial equality.”

Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.