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Savannah McCaskill’s offseason commitment to her fitness opens up a new level of play for the young forward

The 2019 season concluded the last week of October, and by early November, McCaskill was in Metuchen, New Jersey, training at AP2T, a gym focused on soccer-specific training.

Houston Dash’s Sophie Schmidt, left, and Chicago Red Stars’ Savannah McCaskill, right, battle for the ball during the second half of an NWSL Challenge Cup soccer finals match Sunday, July 26, 2020, in Sandy, Utah.
AP Photos

Red Stars forward Savannah McCaskill finished the 2019 NWSL season with a sour taste in her mouth.

The Red Stars’ 4-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL Championship was far from the team’s expectations, and for McCaskill, the entire match felt like a blur.

“I never showed myself for a single moment in that game,” McCaskill said. “I let the game be bigger than me, and I let the moments pass me by.”

The hangover from that match is all McCaskill had heading into the offseason, and it sparked a desire in her to refocus and reshape her game.

McCaskill was traded to the Red Stars midway through the 2019 season, and her main goal when she joined the team was meeting the expectations of her new head coach, Rory Dames.

Dames wanted his new forward to make up for an offensive lapse the Red Stars were experiencing with their national team players competing in the World Cup. The young forward fell short, with only one goal in 18 games.

“Looking back, I didn’t do a great job of [coming in and making an immediate impact],” McCaskill said. “Which is another reason I wanted to come into this season and really help contribute.”

The 2019 season concluded the last week of October, and by early November, McCaskill was in Metuchen, New Jersey, training at AP2T, a gym focused on soccer-specific training.

McCaskill wanted to restructure the way she approached her fitness.

Up until that point, McCaskill said she was able to get away with her lack of physical fitness because of her technical skills and ability to see the game. She realized to become the player she wanted to be, that’s what needed to change.

From November until the end of February, McCaskill was working out between five and six days a week. She spent four days in the gym at AP2T, rotating between speed and strength training with Mike Olim and technical skill work with Matt Nigro. On the fifth day, McCaskill was playing pickup with the other professionals training at the gym. The sixth day of the week was dedicated to hot yoga, and on the seventh, McCaskill would relax and recover.

“We had a really great group of NWSL players training there but also USL and MLS guys,” McCaskill said. “You showed up every day, and you definitely didn’t want to get outworked.”

McCaskill returned to Chicago ready to show her growth as a player, but after a week of training, she was back in her home state of South Carolina because of the coronavirus pandemic.

She kept up with her fitness in the offseason by running on her parent’s treadmill and lifting. By the time the team returned to training and the NWSL Challenge Cup rolled around, everyone saw a whole new player.

One highlight during the Challenge Cup where McCaskill proved her value to the Red Stars countless times was the full 90 minutes she played against the Portland Thorns.

Her coaches back in New Jersey were watching from the facility.

“Her investment in the offseason paid off,” Nigro said.

The Red Stars will resume group training on Monday, McCaskill said, after players return negative COVID-19 tests.

McCaskill’s goals have changed slightly.

“Going forward, I want to continue to stamp myself onto games,” McCaskill said. “Whether that be getting on the ball or playing more through balls. Now that a focus on my fitness is underway, I think the more that I can do to show myself in games is going to be my next goal.”