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29.01.2021 - 10:34 Uhr | News | Quelle: Soccerdonna
Samantha Johnson: Be humble, stay true to yourself, and remember where you came from.
On November 27, Melbourne City announced the signing of American center back Samantha Johnson for the upcoming W-League season, who will return to professional football for the second time. Before she started her College Career at USC Trojans, she played soccer for Highland High, a high school in Palmdale, California, where she broke many records, and represented the United States at the U-15 – U-18 levels. At the U17 World Cup in New Zealand in 2008, her team finished second after losing to North Korea. Playing as a forward in 82 games and scoring 15 goals for USC Trojans in her college career, in 2013 she decided to put her career on hold to focus on her Master’s degree. In 2014, she signed for Chicago Red Stars after attending their Open Tryouts. In June 2019, after 117 appearances for the Red Stars, Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Utah Royals, winning the W-League with Melbourne Victory in season 2018/19, she announced her retirement at the age of 28. Samantha Johnson talked with Soccerdonna about her comeback, her life on and off the field, the pandemic and her future plans.
Soccerdonna: Hi Samantha, First, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with us and huge congratulations on your (second) comeback. How are you doing?
Samantha Johnson: Thank you! I seem to always find my way back to the game and it feels good. I am so so fabulous. I am finishing my last 72 hours in quarantine here in Sydney, Australia. I am very eager to get into training and meet my new teammates.
Soccerdonna: The football world had to go through many hurdles this year due to the Corona pandemic. Some leagues had to be shortened, some leagues had to be cancelled, there are travel restrictions everywhere. How are you dealing with all of this? And what did you do during these times to prepare yourself for your comeback?
Samantha Johnson: During most of the year I was living my life as a happily retired player. I spent quarantine in AZ with my dad. That was very fun. I spent most of the time working on how I was going to help the kids. I am constantly working through that in my brain. My comeback preparation did not become real until my coach Craig Harrington (editor’s note: now former head coach of Utah Royals FC) called me to come train in August. He was very nice and gave me the open arms to come back to their training environment to get myself fit again and be around the team. I am forever grateful to him for that.
Soccerdonna: One year after you retired, you will play again with the help of your agent Maggie Ntim, who is the first black female football agent in the US, of Trinity 3 Agency. How did you both come into contact and what convinced you to give football another chance? And what was it, that made you think, ‘okay, this is the right moment to give my comeback’? Because if we remember correctly, we are currently in a pandemic and there are so many hurdles with the visas etc.
Samantha Johnson: I was introduced to Maggie by a mutual connection, my friend Ayo. He and I connected through US Soccer. The initial conversation was meant to be about how to get more minority players in the league proper representation and really leverage their talent for better marketing opportunities. It turned into Maggie saying she always wanted me to be her first female pro player she represented. I never turn down a trailblazing moment. She convinced me we could do some real good based on what I do off the pitch. There are hurdles/ adversity in everything you do. What’s meant to be, will be and you get what you work for so it’s working out for us.
Soccerdonna: Melbourne City FC had a phenomenal season last season. They won the league and the Final Series and haven’t lost a single game. This season will be completely different without most of the Australian international players and NWSL loanees. What are your goals with Melbourne City FC for this upcoming season?
Samantha Johnson: Playing goals are something that I believe are good for younger players because they are objective. I am a veteran and have a lot of experience. My focus is not necessarily objective but subjective, if you will. I, of course, will play a huge role individually on the pitch but, I play an even bigger role for the young ones. They have a real opportunity to show the world they can perform at this level. I want to empower them to not be afraid of these growing pains that are ahead. They will see when I arrive, I am a ruthless individual and sometimes you have to be to maintain focus and be grounded during good and bad days. So, my “goal” is to be their resource and get them to learn the pro game as quickly as possible.
Soccerdonna: You played for Chicago Red Stars and Utah Royals FC in the NWSL and for Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory in the W-League. What are the differences between both leagues?
Samantha Johnson: The differences. I’d say the main difference is that the W-League is connected with the men’s teams and has direct support from that infrastructure. We obviously have a completely different structure in America.
Soccerdonna: You represented the United States at the U15, U16, U17 and U18 levels, and played at the U17 World Cup in New Zealand in 2008. Can you describe your feelings about wearing the badge of your country on your jersey?
Samantha Johnson: That feeling of representing your country comes with a lot of pressure, privileged pressure I would say. It’s not the type of pressure that makes you nervous. It is the type of pressure that’s soothing and gratifying. I would say it is interesting to leave your country and represent it as an “American” not a black, brown, Asian or whatever ethnicity we label each other when we are on American soil. Over there/anywhere I go in the world… I am just the “American girl”.
Soccerdonna: Women’s football is currently on the upswing despite the pandemic, with the help of many bigger organizations like FIFA. Australia, Norway and many other countries announced equal pay and broadcasting rights are being distributed throughout the world. What are your thoughts on this, and what do you think still needs to be done?
Samantha Johnson: I will speak about the infrastructure I grew up here in American. The national team structures on the men's and women's side are completely different based on each of their CBA’s and many other factors, but the club is different. The pathway to pros for the girl's side is much different than the men's. The ‘pay to play’ model definitely skews the talent pool because it’s not an inclusive structure.
Soccerdonna: One of the reasons why you decided to pause your career was to focus on your education and getting your Masters. Now you are working on your Doctorate in Education. How will you balance studying while playing football in Australia?
Samantha Johnson: That was not one of my reasons at all. I decided to retire because what I was putting into the game was not giving me the return I needed on or off the field. Sacrificing that much to be pro for 20K a year for what? All I want to do is enhance education for children who require alternative learning structures and support. Now that I have Maggie, she has helped me align my purpose to help the kids by leveraging my on the field talent. You need people in this world to back you and she backs me. Together we will do great things for my communities and change the game for the next generation of footballistas.
Soccerdonna: You are serving on the executive board of America SCORES, an organization that advocates equal opportunities for every child. Can you tell us more about this organization?
Samantha Johnson: America SCORES is an amazing organization that provides soccer and poetry programs to underserved youth all over the nation. I love being a board member because it allows me to connect other athletes and executives to us (Am SCORES) to leverage more resources. I hope to be with them for a very long time and enhance where I can.
Soccerdonna: Now I’m getting a little on a personal level, and I hope you don’t mind, that I’m asking you about this. The whole world saw what happened in the past 6 months in the US. There were many controversies about kneeling during the anthem. In the NWSL there’s the The Black Players of the NWSL coalition, which works to make sure that every black player in the NWSL won’t be disadvantaged. Obviously, there is still a lot to do about this. Do you see the Coalition moving in the right direction? How do you feel about the movement overall and what do you think is needed to give it more of a big push? (Not the coalition, but the movement overall)
Samantha Johnson: It was really hard to see how much pain the country was in. It is constantly going on whether people talk about it or not and there are very real issues that need to be talked about and solved. As a people, we definitely aren’t doing our part as individuals and waiting for someone else to do it for us or give us an award for doing our part. Imagine if it was normal for civilians to think about how they wanted to impact their community positively so their neighborhoods could thrive. Imagine if it was normal to appreciate differences and think of differences as an opportunity to add something to your emotional and mental arsenal. Imagine if everyone did what we call in football/ soccer a job and a half. First you always do your job for the team, then you do half your teammates' job to help them. This happens all over the field. Imagine if that were normal for civilians to think and be this way from childhood. Imagine what we could be as a nation. Imagine...
Soccerdonna: What are your future plans? Can you imagine playing in the NWSL again or even playing in Europe?
Samantha Johnson: We will see what opportunities come. I cannot say where I will end up… you just never know. I will be grateful for whatever opportunity presents itself.
Soccerdonna: Lastly, do you want to say anything more? Like maybe to the readers?
Samantha Johnson: “Be humble, stay true to yourself, and remember where you came from.”
Thank you, Samantha, for taking the time to do this interview with us and we wish you All the best for the upcoming season with Melbourne City!!
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