A cacophony rang out across all four corners of Providence Park. Another record breaking 22,329 voices in red and black. It was homecoming in late July, 2019. The Rose City’s World Cup heroines had just returned and the Portland Thorns were 4-0 up against the Houston Dash after only 23 minutes. An afternoon to forget for most Dash fans.
However, those palpable celebrations are unforgettable for Ally Prisock. “The stands were going crazy, it was an unreal environment,” she tells me, over the phone from Utah. “It was kind of embarrassing at the time, but now looking back at that game...it was really humbling.” For Prisock, this was one of the moments when she felt she had really arrived in the NWSL. A moment she can look to and find growth. The scenes and the sounds help remind herself to be better. To embrace mistakes.
When I asked Prisock to recall what her most memorable matches from her rookie season were, she admirably named two losses. That raucous 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Thorns in July, was the first. The second was a tightly contested 1-0 loss away to the NC Courage in September where an 87th minute Sam Mewis spot kick stole the points at the death. “The Courage are maybe one of the best teams of all time, but that day we made it really hard for them. We held them off. Even though we lost, we came away from it feeling like it was one of our best performances as a team.”
Humility, hard work and self-analysis are the best ways to describe the flourishing Dash defender. Now in her sophomore professional season, Prisock may appear to be a young player but she has a vast amount of both life and soccer experience. After leaving high school early, she joined the USC Trojans, in 2015, at just 17. She admitted, “it was kind of rough when I first got there, in my freshman year, but the coaches really made an effort to change the culture and get it right.”
Connecting with her coaches, being open about her struggles, and establishing a new team culture quickly paid off. USC won the NCAA title in her second year in Los Angeles. Prisock started all 25 games for an impenetrable Trojans back line that conceded a shrewd total of 11 goals. “It was literally a dream come true. Maybe the best year of my life thus far. I have friends I’ll keep in touch with forever from that team,” she reminisced.
In her senior year, 2018, Prisock was the second player up for USC, in their last 16 penalty shootout versus Florida State. Her penalty fortunately found the back of the net that night. “I think the ball just went through the goalie’s legs,” she laughs to herself. “It was close. I was like: ‘thank you lord so much for letting that go on in.’” Although the shoot out would go on to end in defeat for the Trojans, I got the impression from Prisock that that season is still salient to her. “I remember that miss so clearly. Leah[Pruitt] immediately ran back over to us and just started bawling in my arms. I’ll never forget that…” Prisock trailed off.
With commissioner Lisa Baird confirming that there will be no extra-time played in the Challenge Cup knockout rounds, James Clarkson is already cautiously having his team practice for this outcome. “We definitely practice PKs,” she says. “There are some girls who are very confident at taking them. I don’t think I would be one of the people to take one on this team.”
It has taken time for Prisock to find her feet as a starter for the Dash. The Californian spent the first part of her rookie season exclusively on the bench. For the record appearance holder in USC history - 90 matches in four seasons - this was a culture shock. “I had to learn how to be more selfless, how to be a better teammate. I reflected a lot on the girls I had known in college that would sit on the bench a lot but had been really good teammates. 2019 was really important for me as a person and as a player.”
Once she made it onto the pitch, it was never going to be easy to thrive in a struggling Dash defense. Making her debut midseason, in Seattle, she marked the occasion with a first NWSL yellow card. Her personal game began to refine and evolve as she adjusted to the league, “I had to think faster and play faster. In the NWSL you have to make really quick decisions. You can’t dribble as much”.
In the 2020 off season the Dash acquired established NWSL center backs Megan Oyster and Katie Naughton. For some players this could result in uncertainty and ill feeling towards the coaching staff. Prisock saw it another way. “It was exciting that they came. We want to get better. I look at everything like a challenge.” Due to Oyster and Naughton’s arrivals, the young center back has now transitioned into a full back in the opening three matches of the 2020 season. “James didn’t warn me too much about it, honestly it was kind of random. Being a center back, I wasn’t used to attacking much at all. If this is where I am going to get the opportunity to play, then I’m going to do everything I can to keep my spot.”
The Challenge Cup has been a roller-coaster for Prisock. Her first start at right back saw the Dash cruise to a 2-0 win over the OL Reign. Her second start had the Dash’s fortunes reversed in a frustrating 2-0 defeat to Sky Blue. I was intrigued to know how the Sky Blue loss had affected her and the team. Resolute once more, she insisted, “we have learned from it and accepted it. We’re looking to get better at solving those problems opposition teams throw at us.”
With the pandemic turning the world upside, this season will stand out forever as a surreal moment in sport. The character shown by the Dash collective throughout isolation and now in the bubble is galvanizing. Despite the circumstances - despite the Dash’s record of having never made the playoffs - Prisock assured me the Dash are focused on one target. “The goal is always to win. Every game, the tournament as a whole. We want to win.” A win for the collective, is a win for her. That’s Ally.