This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
FiftyFive.One: It’s only been a few days, but how does it feel to be drafted into the NWSL?
Rashida Beal: I was definitely really excited about it, but I’m also getting anxious preparing for the preseason, especially knowing I still have to compete for a spot on the team. So it’s exciting but I’m definitely still trying to prepare as much as I can.
And you probably already put in a lot of preparation over the last few weeks just to be drafted.
RB: I took a little time after the fall season wrapped up just to recover, and then I was preparing right away. Whether I got drafted or not, the plan was to play so I started preparing with that in mind. Then, once you’re drafted, it’s basically a good reminder to kick it into another gear.
You make it sound pretty simple, but even with four years of soccer you graduated early as a Scholar All American, so you clearly kept outstanding grades. How did you balance all that all while preparing to play professionally?
RB: For me, a big part of it was coming into college with credits from high school. That put me on track to graduate early as long as I continued to take a normal class load. That way, if I eventually decided to leave early to turn pro, I technically wouldn’t have had to take any extra courses. I decided to take courses this past summer because it would make my fall course load easier. Also, during the season, I really wanted to be able to focus on the season and the goals I wanted to accomplish here. That helped me focus on our team and really only worry about the draft after the season was over.
The turnaround from that fall season into training for the draft was pretty quick. As the draft got closer, what were you hearing? Did you have a sense of who might be interested in picking you?
RB: Our coach [Stefanie Golan] took a lot of initiative helping [all the draft-eligible Gophers] out. She did a lot more than I’ve heard is normal for other coaches to do. We obviously have no idea how any of this works because we’ve never been through this. So she did everything she could to reach out to teams and get us out there. We were hearing back from a few teams that were interested, but I still didn’t know if I would be drafted. So I knew Kansas City was interested, but a lot of these teams don’t know how the early rounds will go and who may be left in the later rounds. And even with the teams that are interested, you’re never sure if you’ll get drafted or you’ll just be invited to camp.
FC Kansas City staff have been on the record saying they were tracking your progress and were happy to have you on board. Have they given you any idea of what they expect or where they might want you to play on the field?
RB: We haven’t talked too much about those kind of things, but they gave us a work out plan and I’m trying to figure out how to naturally incorporate that with the program I’ve done with the strength coaches here. Obviously I want to come in with a foundation of what they’re doing, know how they like to run their conditioning.
— FC Kansas City (@FCKansasCity) January 13, 2017
You had a really solid four year run at the U of M. What do you think the biggest challenge will be as you transition to the professional game?
RB: For me, my career at the U was a steady incline. My freshmen year was very difficult. So I’m trying to prepare to make sure this transition won’t be too tough. My main focus is on my own fitness level, but I’m also anticipating a lot more speed from opposing players. Even though I felt fast enough in college, I’m sure it will be a little bit different at this level. I’m also working to address some things I might have been able to get away with to this point but could hold me back at the next level.
For people who check out Kansas City’s roster for the first time, they’ll see some seriously big names in the women’s game. You also won’t be the only former Gopher, with Cat Parkhill joining the team last year. What’s it going to be like for you going into that locker room for the first time with players you’ve watched as a fan?
RB: I have no idea! I’m someone that tends to focus on my position and fighting for that spot. But it will also be a great environment for me to train with and against some of those really big name players. I think they’ll help me grow a lot, whether it’s me going up against forwards or other defenders, helping me evolve a little bit. It will be interesting, because by this time in my career in Minnesota I was more of a leader and helping younger players. So I think it will be a nice change of pace to be on the other end, receiving a lot of that help from people around me.
With those big name players comes more attention and exposure. Do you think about what that added attention and pressure will be like at the pro level?
RB: That’s such a small part of it for me. I’m not too worried because I feel like we got quite a bit of attention here as the only [Division I] program. We packed our stadium and I really enjoyed that. Seeing young girls standing around the fence looking at us play is really special. Part of the reason I was really interested in playing in the US specifically was because I want to be part of the [NWSL] growing. I think it’s really important to be part of the early stages and helping to draw people in. It’s something I’m definitely excited about.