What It’s Really Like To Be A Professional Women’s Soccer Player

Caprice Dydasco is #Goals

Photo by Allyson Holtz

It was 4:15 on a Wednesday afternoon. The sun beamed down relentlessly over Kapiolani Park where a group of young boys hollered, jostled and slid their growing feet into soccer cleats. Simultaneously an array of orange cones were being meticulously laid out by a tan, middle-aged guy sporting all Adidas except for his red shirt that bore a picture of a stern bull without pupils. Below it the words: Honolulu Bulls Soccer Club. He kept looking towards the parking lot where a black Ford truck, that was presumably his, sat. Shaking his head in a combination of disbelief and amusement, he held his gaze for half a minute more before before returning to setting up the field. At the age of five, Caprice Dydasco sat in the backseat of her father’s black Ford truck with her cleats laced up peering out at him and the rowdy looking group of cootie-infested gamins with watering eyes. She wanted to play but she didn’t want to play with them, not because she couldn’t keep up, but because they teased and taunted her for her being the only girl, as if her double X chromosomes were at fault. The clock on the dashboard now posted 4:27 and practice started at 4:30. After one more frantic look out of the rear window at her father who was now blatantly staring at the truck, she grabbed the soccer ball on the seat beside her and took her place on the field, where she would ultimately belong.

Caprice Dydasco, now a 24-year old professional soccer player for the Washington D.C. Spirit, has never since shied away from a challenge. Standing at 5’3”, sporting a pearly white smile, she cites her father and lifelong coach, Jose, along with her older brother, Zane (who would play D1 soccer at the US Air Force Academy), as her “soccer role models.” She’s come a long way since pigtails and shin guards with attached ankle guards.  Caprice was named the Player of the Year twice during her 18-year stint with the Honolulu Bulls Soccer Club, she was a member of UCLA’s National Championship team in 2013 (she was a Bruin with a full ride soccer scholarship) and has played soccer around the world with the United States women’s national under-23 team and in Australia during her off season. “Growing up in Hawaii, we only had three different clubs so it was a very few selection of soccer players because soccer was still growing in Hawaii. There were no girls teams when I first started so I had to work hard if I wanted to play with the boys because they weren’t gonna just let me play. I had to prove myself and that’s one of the big things throughout my whole life. I didn’t just wake up and become a professional athlete,” Caprice said from over the phone whilst she sipped an Americano in a coffee shop in Portland with her mother, Misty, on her birthday in late October.

“GOAAAAALLLLLLL!!!!!” Brandi Chastain had just slid the ball deftly beyond China’s goalie’s reach and into the back of the net. The United States Women’s National Team had just won the 1999 World Cup on home turf in Los Angeles at the Rose Bowl ! A-five year old Caprice hugged her mother on their living room couch, her dad was on his feet ready to dole out high fives, Zane ran down from his room upstairs and it was then that she began to dream. “I think then it became a reality and I did think that I wanted to be one of those girls one day, winning and playing for our country,” Caprice recalled fondly.

The soccer field was the Dydasco family’s church. It was where magic happened, lessons were learned and all three Dydasco children (including True, the youngest Dydasco who now plays D1 soccer for the University of Oregon) were baptized in their own sweat in the heat of the game. By the age of ten, Caprice understood the meaning of sacrifice. She double rostered on the older girls team to get more games in. She played 1v1 drills in her backyard with Zane after dinner. At the age of 14 she began to play competitively with the regional and US National team. She would travel to California, rostering on an adventitious team for a tournament here, a tournament there so she could be scouted by various recruiters. She missed Prom. “Sometimes you can’t make everything work and priorities come in. We’d have games or practices on weekends when everyone else was having sleepovers or birthday parties and my parents would be like okay, do you really want this? I would miss out on the things that kids look forward to,” said Caprice. Soccer then was simply something she enjoyed, her teammates were her best friends but that was seemingly it, right?

Caprice found and made her own successes and in turn decided that soccer was more than a hobby, it was how she identified herself. Decked out in Adidas, she enjoyed four years as a UCLA Bruin playing amongst some of the best collegiate teams in the nation. The “game day” Instagram photos were as Mia Hamm as it could get. “During my freshmen year of college, I had a meeting with my coach and he was like, ‘well, what do you want to do after college?’ I said, I wasn’t sure and he said that he saw potential in me playing professional soccer. It was there in that room that I decided [playing] professionally was my goal and that I would find a way to make it,” mused Caprice.

Before graduation, she was drafted to the Washington Spirit as the 19th overall pick in the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League College Draft. Little did she know that the dream she was living would end as moving up in the world did not necessarily equate to high living. Women’s soccer in the United States has been a struggling entity despite its early successes. In 2003, the Women’s United Soccer Association (the league that preceded the NWSL) folded, five days before the World Cup due to a lack of sponsorship and and severe lack of revenue. The Women’s Professional League rose to take its place in 2009 and fell as it was subjected to similar internal problems and a lack of resources in 2012. Consequently, the  NWSL took its place in 2013 and Caprice and her team at the Washington Spirit have just played out their fifth season. “It was a shock for me in a sense because college soccer was more professional than the NWSL right now,” sighed Caprice, “we don’t have the funding and resources right now.”

Straight out of college, riding high on the back of accomplishment and well-deserved glory, Caprice remembers receiving an incoming call from her coach. She’d be moving across the country, bidding the promise of the west coast and summer forever goodbye and imagined her life as a professional soccer player, the apartment she would have and the relationships that would grow and blossom. The call did not go the way she thought it would as she was informed that she’d be living with a host family because the soccer club didn’t have the budget to pay for her housing. “I took a step back and was like what, I’m a professional athlete, why am I living in a complete stranger’s house?,” she questioned, “You don’t hear about these situations from professional athletes in other leagues. I was grateful of course for a roof over my head and the family we live with is amazing but it’s sad because we don’t even get paid enough to be able to pay rent on our own.” Yet this would only be the first of many disconcerting realities that came hinged to living out her dreams.

Photo by Allyson Holtz

Players in the NWSL, along with their coaches, only have a job for 8 months out the year during which the league takes place. The 4 remaining months of the year thus become a stressful time for players as they are expected to stay in shape, remain on top of their game, whilst sustaining themselves financially. “You have girls retiring early at the age of 24 because it becomes a reality that if you’re not playing a lot, it’s like why are you putting yourself through all this stress? You don’t have a savings account and we all have friends who are living and working in other cities, getting regular jobs but here we are, a lot of people aren’t totally happy. With our schedule you can’t necessarily get another job either, so a lot of girls work remotely or do online schooling,” explained Caprice. But this is not the case across the board. Other clubs like the Portland Thorns FC and the Orlando Pride SC are funded by the men’s league, the Major League Soccer, better known as the MLS, and thus their players are given access to the resources and funding they deserve; essentially because they are “treated like the men’s teams,” said Caprice. Those teams thus attract the best players in the world versus them being spread out fairly to all clubs in the league. “Our salary for rookies is 16k per season and the men’s salary cap for rookies is 70k, that’s a difference of 50k, which is crazy because we do the same thing,” said Caprice without stuttering.

So why do you do it? The question inevitably arises. “I’ve realized that a lot of us now play professional soccer because we love the game and that’s the only reason we really do it. We want to grow this league for the future, for the girls who are playing now that are 10-years old so that they’ll still have it and it can be a dream for them,” said Caprice passionately. Players are also moving to create a union type establishment of sorts because although they all sign two-year contracts, a coach can waive a player at any moment. With only 20 players allowed on each roster, if he or she wants to bring on new talent, they must cut someone. “You could walk in one morning and walk away with no job,” said Caprice. For the NWSL players, it’s perhaps not about what is lacking but what can be built.

Photo by Allyson Holtz

Caprice is in her off season now but notes that being a professional athlete is still a 24-hour job. Aside from eating right, training and spending her hard earned money on chiropractic visits and massage therapy sessions, she’s spending time with her family who are often the stars of her Instagram feed while also working on a series of children’s books. “I enjoy working with kids so I spend my time visiting hospitals and schools so I wanted to have something that I could take to them,” said Caprice cheerily. While she’s only 24, she still recognizes the impending reality that her career as a professional soccer player won’t last till she’s 65 and ready to retire but the appreciation for her here and now ultimately comes into play when she returns to the islands. Sometimes you can even catch her back at her old stomping grounds at Kapiolani Park. “I always tell my dad that his girls that he coaches don’t want to see me again but he’s always like, you don’t realize how special it is to these girls that they have you to look up to. It’s very humbling and I take it for granted at training everyday but when I come home I have family’s thanking me for giving their daughters a role model. Coming from Hawaii everyone is family, we’re proud of whoever is at the top of whatever they are doing. I’m glad that I can show them that anything is possible if you sacrifice, work hard and truly love what you are doing.”


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