Washington Spirit’s title-winning reserve team of 2015 makes for great ‘where are they now’ reading.
There are nine names on that list that would go on to play in the NWSL, either for the Spirit or other clubs, with U.S. women’s national team players Andi Sullivan and Margaret Purce among them.
But there’s also a player in that side who is now a German champion, with 84 caps and a major tournament semi-final appearance for Austria to her name, who can lay claim to scoring one of the best goals in the UEFA Women’s Champions League last season – in another semi-final.
On her way to the top, Sarah Zadrazil didn’t follow the traditional path that many coming out of college in the United States do. Unselected in the 2016 NWSL Draft, her route was different.
“I was [at Washington Spirit for] a few weeks in pre-season but it was super clear that they wouldn’t sign me in the beginning,” Zadrazil, the first Austrian to take up a sports scholarship in the United States, tells Goal.
“Then Mark [Parsons, former Portland Thorns head coach] called and was like, ‘Hey, do you want to come to Portland?’ So I went and tried it there. But I think at the end, everything worked out how it was supposed to. I ended up in Germany, which was just good for my career in general.
“We had the European Championships coming up and I knew if I stayed at Portland, I probably wouldn’t play as much. There were so many good players that year and Mark was totally honest with me, but it was a cool experience to just train under him, with amazing players there, and just to see what it was like if you were a pro athlete in the United States.
“It’s a super high level of football. In Portland, there was Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Allie Long, Christine Sinclair – so many great players who you always looked up to. I took a good experience with me and I think this definitely helped me get to where I am today.”
In the five years since Zadrazil left the United States, she’s proven herself as one of the most reliable central midfielders in the game. An admirer of Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham as a young girl, she brings a blend of athleticism and superb technical ability to the role.
After four strong years with Turbine Potsdam, who finished in the top four in Germany each season, that skillset earned her a move last summer to Munich, where she is now part of one of the best teams in Europe.
Potsdam, a dedicated women’s club, was once the best team in Germany – “you can just see the whole city supports the team” – but Bayern is another beast. The facilities are “next level” and the challenge of getting on the pitch is even greater.
“I didn’t start the first five games, I think, last season,” Zadrazil recalls. “But I was okay with it because I knew we had such a strong squad. When I got the chance to play, I think I did well, so that’s why I started a lot of games after.”
By the end of the campaign, she was a stalwart, with only four players playing more league minutes as Bayern ended their five-year wait for a title.
“It was just relief and pure joy to lift that trophy at the end and to be the champion of Germany,” she says, the club having had a difficult period in the spring that helped Wolfsburg put the pressure on. “It’s my first official title and it made me hungry for more.”
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The next step this club wants to take is in Europe. One result in that tough spell was a defeat to Chelsea in the second leg of the Women’s Champions League semi-finals, the Blues overturning a 2-1 deficit from the first leg to make the final.
“It’s just small things that make the difference at the end,” Zadrazil, who scored Bayern’s consolation goal in their 4-1 defeat in London, says. “Everything is getting closer. Every team is improving and it is small things at the end. Hopefully, next time, we can make it to the final.”
The Bavarians start their bid to go one better on Tuesday against Benfica. They will also face Swedish side Hacken in their group before seven-time European champions Lyon.
“I think our squad got better this year,” the midfielder believes. “We got some high quality players again this summer so we’re definitely able to rotate more and to give more playing time to every player, which is great.
“[That] helps us a lot because there will be a lot of games, especially the next two weeks. That’s important and that’s what makes us even better this year.
“I’m just excited to get started and we have Lyon in the group, which will be the first big test to prove how good we are – and I’m ready.”
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