It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
After the Washington Spirit traded her to the Houston Dash, Niki Cross had every intention of retiring right then and there. Stay in Washington or go to her hometown Boston Breakers, those were the two options she had in mind.
“I was a little disappointed, not because of hearing bad things about the organization but more so just logistics,” Cross told HoustonDashSoccer.com. “Moving home from Germany and being closer to my family, just being on the East Coast is so much easier than flying back and forth from Houston. I think in the end, though, it was probably the better move.
“The organization in general, the support they’ve given me to spend some time at home, to take longer on the breaks we’ve had. The team has been great, it’s a really great group of players. I’ve just gotten a lot of support from every part of the Dynamo and Dash organization.”
A conversation with head coach Randy Waldrum convinced Cross to join the Dash through the end of the Women’s World Cup when national team players had returned to the fold. That time has come, and now Cross faces her final two games as a professional soccer player, at home tonight vs. FC Kansas City and ending Saturday in front of friends and family at Washington.
Cross has played in every match for the Dash in 2015, and is fourth on the team in minutes played. She started opening day at center back, but moved into a midfield role midway through her stint as the team looked for a steady presence in the middle of the park. After being that presence for Dash in a much-needed time, Cross is ready to be that presence for her family.
“Any player, any athlete, the time and commitment you give you to your sport—there’s so much you get from it but there’s a lot you miss,” Cross said. “You miss the smaller moments, you miss the birthday parties, Christmas, Thanksgiving, all sorts of things. So I think just to gain those memories with my family is big for me to take on a different chapter.”
Those moments will be even more cherished for Cross now, after she found out while at home on Mothers Day weekend that her mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
“It was always my plan coming into the season [to retire after] the World Cup break,” Cross said. “It just reassures that the decision I had was the right decision. Just to go home and spend the time with your family that you’ve missed all those other years is a bonus.”
Even with the news of her mother’s illness, Cross was determined to stick to her commitment to Waldrum and the team to play through the World Cup. That decision, Cross said, could be credited back to her parents more than anything.
“Even my mom would be mad if I left,” she said. “That’s how they raised us, to stick to your commitments. Honoring my mom and my family just to stick to what I had planned and committed to with Randy and Brian [Ching], so I think there was no way I was going to back out of it.”
The level of professionalism that Cross brought to the team on and off the field has been integral to getting the Dash to where they are at this juncture of the season. Waldrum
“This kind of epitomizes what Niki’s all about with her character and being a true pro,” he said. “It would have been really easy to want to go back and spend all of this time with her mom as she goes through some difficult times right now, and Niki chose to stay here and honor what she told us in the beginning. I can’t say enough about her professionalism.”
The sacrifices made for a team that she had never played with prior to this year were more than what Waldrum could have asked of any player: “We’ll forever be indebted to her.”
For Cross, Saturday marks one last time to suit up for the Dash and play the game that she’s given the last 25 years of her life, though her teammates have tried to convince her nearly everyday to join them on the plane ride back to Houston. Cross says that’s not likely to happen as she determines what’s next in her life, whatever that may be.
“I have no idea. What’s next? Plan my wedding, it’ll be something much easier to do when we live in the same city. Just spend a lot of time with my family.”