Paige Monaghan Has Goals, And She’s Going to Score
Talk about a storybook ending. After twelve weeks being sidelined with a left hamstring injury, Paige Monaghan was ready to play. On September 25th, in front of her family, friends, and boyfriend, she entered the game for Gotham FC in the 73rd minute in a match against the North Carolina Courage, and nine minutes later, she scored. Gotham FC would go on to win that match 3 – 1.
The Ups and Downs
Back in June, the 24-year-old forward was subbed off in the 40th minute in an away game against the Orlando Pride with a non-contact injury. At that moment, she was not sure what had happened. “Something popped in my leg, and of course with non-contact, you immediately wonder if it’s your knee,” Monaghan told Nets Republic. She’s had injuries before in her career, including her ankle and back, but has never had to deal with a muscle injury.
When she was diagnosed with a torn hamstring, Monaghan took the news in stride. “I was so happy that it was just my hamstring, but then when I was going through rehab, I learned that it was going to be more than I realized,” she said. In fact, Monaghan would be out for twelve weeks.
“It’s different for every athlete, and since I am such an explosive athlete, they told me it would take even longer,” Monaghan explained. Luckily, she had a great support system. Not only did she have constant support from her Gotham teammates and staff, but an unwavering support from her family.
For a player like Monaghan, sitting out for 12 weeks was difficult. She explained that rehabbing a muscle injury was very different from rehabbing a sprained ankle. “With my hamstring, it would still hurt and I didn’t know what was wrong.” By the end of the process, not only had she healed her hamstring, but she also learned patience.
Throughout her injury, Monaghan never stopped cheering for her Gotham FC teammates. “They were so inspiring to me, and said I inspired them. It was unconditional love and support,” Monaghan said. “Twelve weeks is long, but it was definitely rewarding in the end.”
I am so appreciative of the fans and supporters of the NWSL and Gotham. It’s really moving.
Getting back was not a straight line for Monaghan. At the six-week mark, she started training with her team again. “I had a really good practice!” Monaghan recalled. “Everyone told me I looked great and I hadn’t skipped a beat, and I felt great!” However, the next day at practice during a simple passing pattern, Monaghan had no strength in her hamstring. Although she didn’t feel it was a setback, Monaghan took it as a cue from her body telling her that she needed more time.
It would be six more weeks until Monaghan was fit to play. In that time, she saw Gotham’s physical therapist, as well as an outside physical therapist. She was determined to do everything she could to come back healthy. “I didn’t want to come back and get hurt in the first game,” Monaghan said. “I didn’t want to be a liability to the team.”
Missing the game was only part of the anticipation leading up to Monaghan’s return. “I was also dealing with anxiety about being out for so long,” she said. “I wondered how I was going to get into training and push the tempo. I wanted to jump in and be Paige Monaghan again.”
After so many weeks and so many ups and down, Monaghan was finally healthy enough to play, but she still had trepidations. “Our assistant coach Bev Yanez told me something that she used to tell herself when she entered a game. She would say to herself that she was going to change the game.” So as she warmed up, Monaghan repeated this mantra to herself: “I’m going to change the game.”
And that’s what she did. “When I went in and scored, I got so choked up!” Monaghan recalled. “When I turned around, seeing the joy of every single one of my teammates being so happy for me meant even more to me.”
It was such an emotional twelve weeks for her filled with ups and downs, so to score this goal was the perfect culmination of her journey. “All of my teammates were out of their minds excited for me,” Monaghan said. It is moments like these that mean everything to her and is why she plays soccer. “I play to inspire my teammates, and future generations who love the game.” Whether a sub, starter, or not able to step on the field, Monaghan tries to soak in every moment. After she scored, she blew kisses to her family and got right back to the game, determined not to let their opponent have a chance to get back in.
2021 has been a particularly tough year for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). On September 30th, a report published by The Athletic recounted multiple accusations of abuse perpetrated on players by a now-former coach in the league. Monaghan noted that the support from fans for the players during these past few months has kept them going every day. “I am so appreciative of the fans and supporters of the NWSL and Gotham. It’s really moving,” Monaghan said. “I think we are moving in the right direction.”
Paige Monaghan is no stranger to New Jersey. Her Jersey roots made her so proud to represent the team, then called Sky Blue, when she was drafted as the 10th overall pick by the club in 2019. When Monaghan learned she was being drafted to her home state club, she was excited.
When I first met Carli [Lloyd], I didn’t know what to say. Should I tell her I had a poster of her on my wall when I was a kid?
“The best thing I did was go to Butler University and experience the Midwest,” Monaghan said. She enjoyed experiencing a new place, meeting new people, and being independent. But home is where the heart is. “Coming home to represent New Jersey was so special to me,” Monaghan explained. Even though the club was going through some changes at the time, she was just excited to be in the NWSL and help out the team in any way she could. To her, it was a blessing to have an impact on the club so early on as a rookie. “There’ve been so many changes at the team, but it’s just a part of the ride, and it’s always entertaining!”
Monaghan did not take long to make her impact on Sky Blue FC. In the summer of 2019, just a few months into her rookie season in a match against the Chicago Red Stars, she scored her first NWSL goal – and to top it all off, the assist came from none other than Carli Lloyd. “Being assisted by Lloyd and her pointing at me, and scoring against Alyssa Naeher, I was out of my mind excited,” Monaghan said. “I’m jumping into her arms and it became one of the best photos of my entire life.”
In the months prior to this game, Monaghan had been struggling to find the back of the net. She recalled people noticing her, but she was not scoring even in the games where she started. Before the game against Chicago, her teammate and goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan approached her and said, “I’m ready for you to score today.” And that’s what she did. Twice.
After Monaghan’s goal in the 71st minute, the Chicago Red Stars would tie up the match in stoppage time. Sky Blue was hunting for their third win of a season filled with mostly losses and draws. “I said to myself, my first goal cannot be a tie!” Monaghan remembered.
Two minutes later with the seconds ticking down off the four minutes of added time, Monaghan received a through ball from her teammate and roommate Julie Doyle, saw Alyssa Naher off her line, and slotted it near post with her left foot. The joy of winning the game and scoring her first NWSL goals are something Monaghan will never forget. “Moments like that in life are part of the reason why you do this,” she said. “I still have chills thinking about it to this day.”
The fact that she was teammates with local legend Carli Lloyd was exciting in its right. “It was so surreal,” Monaghan recalled. “When I first met Carli [Lloyd], I didn’t know what to say. Should I tell her I had a poster of her on my wall when I was a kid?” Monaghan laughed.
Carli Lloyd’s time at Sky Blue/Gotham FC has coincided perfectly with Monaghan’s time. “She is such a professional,” Monaghan said. “With her attitude, her recovery, with how she trains, with how she performs, she’s just a professional 24/7.” Even though Lloyd has made it to the top, she always strived to be more professional with all the little things, and this has consistently inspired Monaghan. “She has really taken me under her wing, and has made such an impact on me, Gotham, and the U.S. Women’s National Team.”
Monaghan almost can’t believe that Lloyd is retiring. “It’s hard to think of the game without her,” she said. “She’s just been around for so long!” In the meantime, Monaghan has been trying to soak up whatever she can learn from Lloyd.
Into The Bubble
In 2020, because of COVID-19 the world came to a screeching halt. The players all returned home, and Monaghan tried to train alone in her backyard. “I felt like, what am I training for? When am I training for?” Monaghan recalled. It was difficult at first to find the motivation, especially given the state of the world. However, Monaghan was able to turn an uncertain time into a learning experience. “Even if I get a little better with something every day, it will help me in the end,” she said.
I just want to be a burst of energy, that threat. I want other teams to think ‘oh no, we’re not done yet!’ whenever I come in.”
Then suddenly, talk began of going to Utah to play a tournament in a bubble. “I remember thinking, there was no way. There’s a pandemic and we’re going to Utah?” Monaghan said. “What a crazy time.”
Utah was a strange experience for her, but the players and staff made the most of it. She tried to focus on what she could improve upon during that time.
In the Fall Series, another tournament that followed the Challenge Cup, Monaghan wanted to focus on scoring goals. And that’s what she did, scoring a pair of goals against Chicago, including a perfectly timed header across the face of goal assisted by Margaret “Midge” Purce. She felt like she was finally becoming a more prolific scorer. “Coaches always said that they have to work on me in the air, and I did that in Chicago!” Monaghan said. “It’s just little victories that I try to focus on.”
Right now, Monaghan is in a role where she finds herself subbing in more than starting. “I just want to be a burst of energy, that threat,” Monaghan said. “I want other teams to think ‘oh no, we’re not done yet!’ whenever I come in.” Monaghan is focused on pushing her teammates and helping in whatever way she can with her extra strength and energy. “Maybe I’ll score a goal or two along the way,” she added.
Once More Against Chicago
As fate would have it, Gotham FC will be facing off against the Chicago Red Stars in the quarterfinal match for the 2021 playoffs. This is the first year since 2013 that the club has made it to the postseason, but Monaghan and the team were not entirely surprised that this was Gotham’s year. “That’s the standard we have set,” she said of Gotham FC. “There is no question for us that we should be in the playoffs.”
The staff at Gotham do so much work behind the scenes, which brings our team closer together. It is vital to our success.
Gotham FC has not done much celebrating yet about making it into the postseason. For Monaghan and the team, their minds are on getting the job done and not losing focus. “We’re not done yet,” she said. “We are playing Chicago, and we want to beat them.”
If history is any indication, Monaghan and Gotham FC should be up to the task of facing off against the Chicago Red Stars, even if their opposition is also a well-composed team with prior experience in the direct elimination games. In fact, Monaghan believes that Gotham FC has something special that many teams don’t: a fresh perspective. Just three months ago, the team saw a new coaching staff come in to replace former head coach Freya Coombe who departed for a job with 2022 expansion team Angel City FC.
“Scott Parkinson and Bev Yanez were a breath of fresh air for us, which I don’t think a lot of teams have,” Monaghan explained. “They provided a fresh perspective.” The NWSL season is long, and while she feels blessed to be part of it, she noted that it can be a grind.
Having new eyes has been beneficial to both Gotham and to Monaghan as an individual. “Scott [Parkinson] pushes everyone every single day, but does a great job of balancing things,” Monaghan said. “When you do a good job, he celebrates the victories with you, but also tells us not to get complacent and points out where we can clean up.”
Monaghan emphasized how Gotham FC is not just the players, but also the coaching staff and front office. She is thankful for their interim general manager Yael Averbuch West and the ownership of the team who made crucial decisions for the club. “Scott [Parkinson], Bev [Yanez], Becki [Tweed], and the staff at Gotham do so much work behind the scenes, which brings our team closer together,” Monaghan said. “It is vital to our success.”
Since Parkinson and Yanez have joined Gotham FC, the team has not lost a game. They look to continue that streak this Sunday in their quarterfinal match against the Chicago Red Stars, and hopefully with yet another goal from the burgeoning New Jersey star, Paige Monaghan.
Gotham FC will take on the Chicago Red Stars in the quarterfinal match on Sunday at 3 PM ET at Seat Geek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois. The game will air on CBSSN. Visit NWSL.com for more details.