Sarah Gorden’s evolution as an elite defender in the NWSL started with her mental game

After developing a mental routine that includes meditation, breath work and yoga, everything changed for Gorden.

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The first time Sarah Gorden played organized sports was on the blacktop in front of her childhood home in Elk Grove.

As a young girl, Gorden would follow her older brother, Jeff, out to the hot asphalt in the summertime, slide on her rollerblades and play street hockey with the boys.

It wasn’t organized exactly, but there were teams, and they kept score. Gorden was always the goalie.

“I was always a defender,” Gorden said. “In every single sport. Even back then playing street hockey, I was the defender. I was the goalie. I always liked defending in every sport.”

She started playing soccer when she was 6, along with softball, basketball and ballet. Her parents, Sue and Jeff, wanted Gorden to be involved in as many activities as possible, much to her dismay.

But Gorden didn’t mind soccer; she was a natural. Her speed separated her from everybody else. As she prepares for her fifth season in the NWSL, Gorden’s speed is what makes her a stifling defender in the league.

Gorden grew up like many of her teammates with the goal of making it to the collegiate level. Beyond that, there weren’t many examples of women playing professionally to look up to, other than the U.S. Women’s National Team.

After the birth of her son, Caiden, in 2014, Gorden began to reassess her goals of playing professionally.

“It never really crossed my mind just because of the influx of the league and the league ending and coming back,” Gorden said. “After I had Caiden was when I said, ‘I think I want to play pro [soccer].’ The NWSL was already formed, and the draft was starting to become a big deal. I thought ‘Wow, I really want to do this.’ ”

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Sarah Gorden started 25 of the Red Stars 26 games in the 2019 season.

ISI Photos

She became the first DePaul player drafted in the NWSL when the Red Stars selected her in the third round in 2016.

As a rookie, Gorden struggled mentally. She describes herself as a highly emotional individual, which has led to anxiety and frustration on the field.

In her first two seasons with the Red Stars, she played just nine games. After developing a mental routine that includes meditation, breathing and yoga, everything changed for her.

Last season, Gorden was one of the most versatile defenders in the league, starting 25 of the Red Stars’ 26 games.

The year culminated with an invite to USWNT camp in December.

“To really work on my mental game was my biggest thing last year,” Gorden said. “Now that I have my routine and have really figured that side of the game out, this offseason was really about pushing myself physically.”

The Red Stars’ mental strength was tested after their 4-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL Championship.

Gorden said the team didn’t react with self-pity following the loss but instead faced their disappointing performance head-on. As the team prepares for this season, the goal is to reacquaint themselves with the mentality this organization was built on.

“We’ve said before we have the Chicago mentality,” Gorden said. “We focus on being hardworking. It’s that blue-collar mentality. That’s what Chicago represents, and that’s what we feel like we’ve always represented.”

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