It may only be the second season that midfielder Christine Nairn will wear a Houston Dash jersey, but she is the most veteran player in the National Women’s Soccer League. Sitting at exactly 150 regular season appearances – the most of any player in the league – the midfielder provides plenty of experience and knowledge to what is now a fresh-faced Dash squad.
“Since I’ve been back for year two, it’s just been a breath of fresh air,” Nairn told Keeper Notes’ Jen Cooper on the Club’s new weekly City of Soccer podcast. “Coming back to the Club this year, I’ve already met with [head coach] James Clarkson and he’s been down to business this entire offseason.”
In fact, Clarkson has made many moves since the Dash’s last NWSL game back in October. Plenty of trades and signings have occurred over the past few months, and Clarkson is looking very much for a playoff push. It’s very clear to Nairn exactly what her head coach is piecing together.
“We were just ten percent off [last] season,” the midfielder explained. “When I came through the doors [this year] it was like I’m a rookie and this was a brand-new club with a brand-new message and players and everything and I’m so excited to get started.”
Nairn has been part of her fair share of NWSL clubs over the years since the beginning of the league in 2013. She played for Seattle Reign FC (now OL Reign), the Washington Spirit and Orlando Pride before joining the Houston Dash in 2019. Out of all the clubs she’s been with, the midfielder believes the Dash have been one of the most professional NWSL clubs she’s been a part of and a large part of that comes with Clarkson.
“He doesn’t treat us like women. He treats us as soccer players…I don’t want to be treated like anything else besides a soccer player,” Nairn told the Keeper.
Expectations are high from Clarkson, and Nairn is more than willing to rise to the occasion. Typically, Nairn spends her NWSL offseason playing abroad in Australia’s W-League, most recently for the Melbourne Victory in the 2018/19 season. However, this year, those plans shifted as she thought about her future and where she wanted to be come 2020.
Originally, the midfielder’s plan was to head to Australia after the 2019 NWSL season and re-join the Melbourne Victory. Things changed once she picked up a back injury. Although her mind was still set on Australia in the offseason, her body was clearly giving her a warning. After talking it over with family and the Houston Dash coaching staff, Nairn decided to stay home this time around.
“For me, to be able to shut my body down for two months was exactly what I need,” Nairn said. “I think I needed a mental break. I needed a physical break and an emotional break.”
Despite not actively playing any matches or going to team trainings during the offseason, the DC native took control of her offseason regimen. From hitting the gym multiple days a week to training with a local boys team weekly, Nairn’s self-discipline was put to the test.
“If I don’t show up, it’s on me. If I’m not prepared for the season, it’s my fault. I took that as a challenge,” she reminded the Keeper. "I’m not the youngest one, but hey, I’m going to be the most prepared.”
Nairn carries the mentality of a seasoned veteran who isn’t complacent with where she is in her career. There is more for the number ten, more she’d like to accomplish in her time here with the Houston Dash. Just like the league, Nairn enters year eight in 2020. With so much experience already, she has become a leader to those younger and newer faces coming in, including newly signed goalkeeper Amanda Dennis. Dennis, like Nairn, is a Penn State alum.
Dennis went undrafted in the 2020 NWSL Draft this past January. Nairn, who keeps up with her college team like most of the NWSL players do, took on a leadership role and reminded the goalkeeper that a lot of well-known NWSL players now went undrafted as well.
“For us to snag her is like a hidden gem, and she’s a Penn-Stater, so win-win, right?” Nairn laughed on the podcast.
Goalkeeper Amanda Dennis won’t be the only one looking up to Nairn for guidance this season though. With so many new faces, whether they’ve already played in the league or not, are going to look to the midfielder with all her years of experience.
Though she does admit to being the comic relief for the newcomers, Nairn does heed important advice for those joining her on this journey with the Dash this season.
“This league is absolutely wild,” she said. “The highs are never as high as you think and the lows never as low. I think if you can look at the big picture at the end of the day, Hey, [we’re] making money kicking a soccer ball.”
Through trades, waives, travel and many other challenges that have come her way, Christine Nairn has kept her head up and given it her all, and she’s not done yet. The seasoned veteran enters year eight on a mission to take the Houston Dash farther than they’ve ever been before.
Her last piece of advice: “You might do this, you might do that, but enjoy it cause we’re not working a 9 to 5.”