A disappointing season for the Houston Dash and Canada's Kaylyn Kyle and Erin McLeod has been replaced with renewed optimism ahead of Canada's international friendly with the reigning World Cup Champions Japan on Saturday, October 25 at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium.
Saturday's game is the first of two games between Canada and Japan before both teams travel to Vancouver for a meeting at BC Place on October 28. It's three weeks into a stint with the Canadian Women's National Team for the long-time Canadian veterans after competing in the Dash's inaugural season in which the team won a total of five games over a 24-game schedule.
"We were new to the league, so we had a lot of young players get their feet wet in being professional athletes," said Kaylyn Kyle, who was traded to the Dash from the Boston Breakers mid-season before settling in as one of the team's key veterans. "It's an amazing organization ran by awesome professionals all the way from the GM and the owners to our coach, and it shows through the players that they picked up that we're going to be very successful here throughout the next couple of years."
A tough season no doubt, but the big picture shows a big shift in the way North America views women's soccer. With opportunities domestically for these players to ply their trade in the National Women's Soccer League, it gives the players a chance to grow their game even more with the opportunity to play week in and week out for their NSWL clubs. Playing internationally is an essential element to a soccer player's career, but too quickly can players can get stuck in the loop of their national team programs.
Canadian Women's National Team head coach John Herdman is a strong believer in the domestic season and giving the players the opportunity to play for both club and country.
"When I came into this job, it was about trying to change the culture of what football is for these players. So when the NWSL concept was resurrected, we jumped all over that, " said Herdman. "You're a footballer first, and your international duty is an essential part of your career."
"The key philosophy was one continent, one calendar where the players could have a 6-month, professional environment before three months with their national teams."
The NWSL cuts the travelling distance for a lot of North and Central America's international players to almost half, and serves for a launch point for many young female soccer players to get their feet in the door of playing professional soccer.
"When you get called to a camp, you're not flying eight hours to meet up with the team, so it's been really good," said Kyle. "The league has been very physical and athletic, so staying in shape and being ready to play has been an easy transition to international games."
Getting a league is one thing, but filling it with a high-level, competitive atmosphere can be a whole challenge in itself.
"A lot improved from the first season, but obviously a new league is going to take a while to get going," said Erin McLeod, who made 19 starts for the Dash this 2014 NWSL season. "What's important is that we raise the quality. I think the NWSL has a ways to go, and I think it's a really good sign as to how much it's already improved from last season."
"It was always going to be about trying to migrate players into the best leagues in the world," said Herdman. "The NWSL has improved vastly this year in terms of the style of play and the quality on the pitch in addition to the things that were having off the pitch."
Next year's Women's World Cup is a showcase for the NWSL's growth towards becoming one of the world's premier women's soccer leagues. For many, growing the league hinders on results, and a strong showing from North America in next year's World Cup is a testament to the NWSL's strength in developing women's soccer on a global scale with the world's best set to take to the artificial turf next Summer.
"I expect it will continue to do so as it gets more attention," said McLeod. "I'm hoping this World Cup brings a lot of attention from some of the best to right here."