Stumptown Footy caught up with Thorns defender Emily Sonnett ahead of the USWNT game against Denmark to chat about her experience in the W-League. Sonnett has been playing for Sydney FC in the NWSL offseason, who are second in the W-League ladder going into the final stretch of the season—after losing their first three games—and look good to make the playoffs. When she hasn’t been away for USWNT camps, Sonnett has been ever-present for Sydney, playing a big role defensively in a team that has let in the third-fewest goals in the league and are on a seven-game unbeaten streak.
Tyler Nguyen: You’re in national team camp now. How does it feel to be back there?
Emily Sonnett: It feels really good, especially after having been in and out during the last NWSL season. It feels good to be back playing again with world class players and continuing my development.
TN: You’ve been back and forth a couple of times between Australia and the US in the offseason for US national team camp now. Has it been tough to fly back and forth so often?
ES: It’s always a struggle. I didn’t know I’d be coming back—that’s why I ended up choosing to go to Australia. But once you know you’re going, you can plan ahead, whether it’s on the flight, before the flight, taking countermeasures with recovery after. It’s not ideal, obviously, but when you know travel like that is coming, you look ahead and plan for the best.
TN: You stayed in Australia for the Christmas break—have you ever spent Christmas away from home before?
ES: No, I have not. My parents sent my sister out, she got there Christmas Eve and stayed for eight days, which was nice. Thanksgiving, I’ve been away a couple of times, but never Christmas. It was different. My host family that I’ve been living with are very kind, and they let us hang out with them too, and it was a good time.
TN: How has living in Sydney been?
ES: It’s a really cool city. The best part, I’d say, is the food. The food is so, so good. It’s kind of like Portland, in a sense. They have a lot of different cultures that Portland also has. A lot of Asian food that’s to die for. Japan’s so close, the Vietnamese food—it’s really cool. Seeing the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge—I have to cross it every day to get to training—it’s kind of surreal to think that it’s where I live.
TN: The W-League is a league that I don’t think many Americans have been paying attention to until recently. Did you hear about it from your teammates?
ES: Yeah, I’ve had Australian teammates who play there every year, I’ve had college teammates who went on to play there and in the NWSL, and I’ve only heard good things about it. I think it’s a great alternative to just training in the offseason here in the states. You get to be part of a team, exploring a new place, and still get the training in. It just felt like the best fit for my offseason training.
TN: How have you found the W-League as a competition? How is it different from the NWSL?
ES: It’s different. The W-League is in its 10th year, so they’re doing something right. They do have to go deeper into the player pool, which means younger players: I don’t remember the last time I played with a 15-year old, but that’s just something they do. It’s how they develop their players. In terms of the NWSL, you have more athletically developed players coming from college when they enter the league, where in Australia they’re still doing development with their players in the league. It’s not good or bad, it’s just different.
I’ve been asked a lot since coming over here in press conferences, “did the Matildas spark your interest in coming over here?” And yeah, they did. The Matildas have been doing so well, and they train in the W-League, so that solidified my interest. They’re a squad that’s young and they’ve shown a lot of potential, obviously, ending up on the winning side over the US [in last year’s Tournament of Nations]. It’s not a team that anyone can just overlook. I know if I’m on a team with Matildas on it, training with them, it’s going to be good.
TN: I’m glad I get to speak to you this week because of the huge transfer news last week: your Sydney FC teammate, Caitlin Foord, is joining the Thorns next season. What can you tell us about her? What can she bring to Portland?
ES: I’ve only played with her a couple of weeks, just two games, but the international experience she brings—she’s been in the international game since she was 16. I watched her play for Sky Blue in the NWSL. She brings quality and experience, and we lost quality and experience in the off season. Gaining something like that will be huge for the Thorns going into 2018. Her presence and her ability to play all attacking positions, that versatility, is going to play well for us over the course of the year. Thus far she’s been great to get to know. She’s really funny. I’m really excited for everyone to get back together for the Thorns.
TN: Sydney’s defense looks really solid despite having only really played together as a unit for a short period of time. What do you attribute that to?
ES: Defensively, we struggled in the early part of the season. We lost the first three games. Sydney has always been a team that has qualified for the playoffs for the Grand Final, and with a new coach this season, and a lot of new players, people didn’t really know what was happening the first few games. The team really pulled it together in the fourth game when I wasn’t there and they beat [Melbourne] City, a huge team in the W-League. After those first three games we all had lunch with the coaching staff, got on the same page and have been playing very good team defense to help us climb the ladder.
TN: One of the great things about the W-League are the really high quality pitchside mics. We can hear you screaming at everyone during the TV broadcasts: would you say that you are a leader in that defensive unit?
ES: If anything I try to lead by example, sticking to my principles and not doing anything too crazy. It’s hard for an international player to come into the league and immediately become a real vocal leader, trying to get everyone on the same page—the season is only three months long after all.
TN: It’s been exciting to watch you showcase some of the more attacking aspects of your game at Sydney: carrying the ball out of defense, playing passes up to the forward lines. Can we expect to see a more attacking Emily Sonnett in the NWSL this next season?
ES: Part of the reason I joined the W-League is because I wanted to get comfortable and consistent going forward, being able to have the confidence to play attacking balls, feeding the midfield and the forward line, beating players one on one and dishing it wide. I’d love for that to be part of my game in the NWSL, but honestly, with our midfield being world-class, it’ll be pretty difficult doing those things when I can just give the ball to some of the best playmakers in the world.
TN: How did you talk your way into taking that penalty in the game in the first round against Brisbane?
ES: We had a couple of attacking players subbed off, and Lisa de Vanna wasn’t actually playing that game. I don’t think anyone was really stepping up to take it. After a couple of seconds of confusion in the team I just said “here, I’m going to take it.”
TN: It was a great penalty.
ES: Usually on teams the first person who speaks up to say “I’ll take it,” everyone on the team backs that person. It could have been anyone really, it just happened to be me, and they gave me their full confidence once I decided. I don’t remember the last time I took a PK—probably college. It was great. We didn’t end up winning but it was good to have a spark and to show a little bit of fight.
TN: Emily, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. Everyone’s looking forward to seeing you back in a Portland shirt.
ES: Yeah, it’s coming soon, and I’m really excited.