Headed to Olympics, Red Stars' Mallory Swanson grateful for support after major knee injury

Swanson tore her left patella tendon playing for the U.S. in April last year, but has returned to form and earned a trip to Paris for the 2024 Olympics.

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Mallory Swanson earned a spot on the United States women's national team roster for the upcoming Olympics.

Mallory Swanson earned a spot on the U.S. women’s national team roster for the Olympics.

Gretchen Schneider/Red Stars

On April 8, 2023, in Austin, Texas, Mallory Swanson tore her left patella tendon playing for the U.S. in a friendly against Ireland. The injury dashed her hopes of competing for the U.S. in that summer’s World Cup and ended her NWSL season with the Red Stars.

The tear could have snuffed out more than just a year of Swanson’s prime, altering the rest of her career. Appearing on “The Women’s Game” podcast last winter with USWNT teammate Sam Mewis, Swanson recalled seeing her displaced kneecap and later needing an additional surgery because of a septic joint that required six weeks of anti-biotics via an IV.

She persevered through rehab and made it all the way back, resuming her role this year as the Red Stars’ most dangerous attacker. On Saturday, she scored the Red Stars’ only goal in a 1-0 victory at Houston. It marked her seventh goal of the season and extended her scoring streak to four games.

Her performance and talent also vaulted her to the front of the national team lineup. New coach Emma Hayes selected her for the USWNT’s Olympic roster for her first major international tournament since the 2019 World Cup.

On Monday, Swanson reflected on what she has gone through, recognizing those around her who kept her spirits up and encouraged her to keep going after she was carted off the field in Austin.

“Definitely wouldn’t be back if I didn’t have their support,” she said at Red Stars practice. “The support of my teammates, the coaches, organization, my friends and family — I give all the credit to them. When you’re down bad, it’s those people that you need to pick you up. I definitely wouldn’t be here without them.”

One of those people is a Red Stars teammate who will join Swanson on the plane to Paris. A stalwart for the USWNT, Alyssa Naeher has been the No. 1 U.S. goalkeeper for almost a decade.

Swanson appreciates her presence — and the evolution of their relationship.

“Our relationship and our friendship has completely changed throughout,” Swanson said. “I met Alyssa in 2016, and ever since then, she’s kind of been by my side and has always supported me. Throughout the years, it’s been really special just to not only share on-field experiences but off the field, and have each other continue to grow as players and also as people.”

Naeher has seen the ups and downs Swanson has had to navigate and is proud her teammate is headed to Paris. She wants Swanson and the rest of the group to return home with something else as a reward for their work.

“To have a firsthand view of the last few years for her and everything she’s put in, all the work that she’s done both on and off the field to get to this point, I know it has not been easy for her,” Naeher said. “As a friend, as a teammate, just to watch her . . . . I know she, along with everybody else, was excited to get that official call from Emma. I couldn’t be happier for her.

“I’m proud of her, I’m excited to go over there with her. Hopefully we can come back with a gold medal.”

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