As the National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup bubble was ending, forward Rachel Hill started hearing her Red Stars teammates and other players around the league discussing opportunities to play overseas.
The only certainty at that point was uncertainty, and players were considering all options to stay in game shape.
Hill called her agent.
“I asked to see if she could find any opportunities for me,” Hill said. “She found a few options, and it worked out with Sweden. This was perfect because it was kind of a test — only three months. Even if I ended up hating it, it’s three months.”
Hill landed in Linköpings, Sweden, after a full day of traveling and was training with her new team, Linköpings FC, the next morning.
When she wasn’t training or playing, she was usually exploring her new city on a bike, sometimes struggling to find a place to “park” because it’s the most popular mode of transportation.
On the field, Hill’s main goal was to grow her game. The very different styles of play between the NWSL and the Swedish league allowed her to develop in new ways.
She made eight appearances and averaged 68 minutes a game during her three months with Linköpings FC.
“Even in trainings, they do a lot more in tight spaces,” Hill said. “So I got to work on the technical side of the game a bit more.”
The United States’ mishandled response to the coronavirus pandemic has led to countless NWSL players like Hill heading overseas this fall, including four of her Red Stars teammates and several U.S. women’s national-team stars.
Midfielder Sam Mewis, who signed with Manchester City along with USWNT teammate Rose Lavelle, said the experience has been critical in her growth as a player.
“Getting to do it now is especially exciting because I’m getting in a lot of games during what is an uncertain time,” Mewis said.
Both the NWSL and the FA Women’s Super League are great, Mewis added, noting she would love to play in the NWSL again someday. As far as deciding to play in European leagues, Mewis said every player knows what’s best for them.
When No. 1 goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher decided to play professionally overseas in Germany in 2011, the Women’s Professional Soccer league had just folded. Naeher credited her two years there for a lot of her growth and said it’s important for players to make decisions that will allow them to take the next step in their careers.
“Obviously, we want to continue to grow the [NWSL],” Naeher said. “We want to continue to make it one of the — if not the best — most competitive leagues in the world. But I think it’s incredibly important for players to grow their game in every capacity in whatever way they feel they need to do that.”
Overseas experience will help make the NWSL a stronger league, Naeher said. She believes the greatest value is the opportunity to play 90-minute games consistently.
That was especially true for goalkeepers Cassie Miller and Emily Boyd, forward Makenzy Doniak and defender Kayla Sharples, who lacked reps with the Red Stars.
The next few weeks will be relaxed for Hill as she enjoys time with her family in Connecticut. The NWSL’s 2021 competition framework has her excited to return to a more standard season of play.
“I’m really looking forward to being able to grow with this team,” Hill said. “The expectations are really high, as they always seem to be in Chicago.”