The 2015 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Rookie of the Year, Danielle Colaprico’s blend of attractive play, simplicity and a willingness to scrap ensured she stamped her mark as a first-year pro among the league’s best, and although she may not be the first you’ll find stepping up with the dance moves, the Chicago Red Stars midfielder is continuing to find her rhythm impressively in year two.
Even with the grounding of a successful college career, starting life as a pro athlete brings its unique changes and pressures. As far as first years in the NWSL go, Danielle Colaprico aced her introduction, making sure it was one that will stand proud on her record regardless of the moments the game may hold in store for her.
Integral in the University of Virginia making their first NCAA Women’s College Cup final in 2014, ‘Danny’ started every game as the Chicago Red Stars took 2nd place in the regular season to reach the NWSL playoffs for the first time. Although Chicago didn’t quite manage to go beyond the semi-final, the year had been a notable one, and especially for Danny, who would be recognised as the league’s best rookie while also receiving her first senior call to the U.S. Women’s National Team.
Being brought into camp by Jill Ellis to join a team still fresh from that summer’s World Cup win was an excellent way to cap her 2015 and perhaps the biggest representation as yet of the changing picture that has been her life in recent times. New Jersey raised, the number 24 has taken to life in Chicago around a group of accomplished players and certainly the odd character or two, as noted by certain Red Stars players in their interviews on here!
As the scene around Danny in the last year or so has altered, so too has the tempo of the track she plays to, whether she’s winding up for kick-off, or winding down.
“I used to be really into hip-hop before I came to Chicago,” she explained. “This year and last year I feel like I only listen to country, because it’s relaxing and soothing, especially after training.”
“I like easing my mind before I step on the field, so as much as it doesn’t give me the whole ‘pump up,’ it relaxes me and calms me down. I really like Zac Brown Band, Thomas Rett, Sam Hunt; those are like my three favourite artists I stick to, but there’s others I like a lot as well.
“I really like ‘I Like The Sound of That’ by Rascal Flatts. I’m not a big rock person, but I don’t think there’s been a time where someone’s tried to play it in the locker room!
“Last year we went to Lollapalooza, which is a festival I think over four days, and around 50 different bands come out. I’ve seen Drake perform before, Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna, and then I was very close to seeing Justin Bieber, but that never happened!”
Ever-present over 13 games so far this season as Chicago have taken up a playoff spot, Danny was a first-round pick (ninth overall) in the 2015 NWSL College Draft. Two others taken early on were defender Arin Gilliland (eighth) and forward Sofia Huerta (11th), who would become Danny’s housemates during their rookie year.
Each of the trio made a strong impact on the field and on each other as they got to grips with a new city and with all that the first pro year inevitably entails. With Christen Press away with the U.S. for the World Cup for a number of games, Huerta grasped the goalscoring responsibility, and she will be aiming to have a similar effect this time around as she looks to add to her three goals with Press away for the Olympics in Rio.
The former Santa Clara standout, who was the interview focus on here last August, has also taken on another leading role in her second season, as Danny explains.
“Sofia usually plays our locker room music, which is nice because I’m pretty close with her and we listen to the same music so she’s usually playing my kind of songs. We usually listen to whatever’s popular at the time; she calls it ‘Top 40 hits’, so whether that’s hip-hop, a singalong, or maybe some country.
“I think ‘One Dance’ (Drake featuring Wizkid and Kyla), ‘This Is What You Came For’ (Calvin Harris featuring Rihanna) and ‘Gold’ (Kiiara) are some of them right now. We usually take a vote before practice of what we’re going to play, but usually before games it’s Top 40 hits and I’d say before training it’s country.”
In her time at Virginia, Danny experienced differing roles on the field, filling in if she needed to help out somewhere but predominantly orchestrating from midfield. While she signed off after the 2014 season with memories of people and moments that will remain by her side, she also wrote her name into the UVa record books, becoming the program’s all-time leader in assists (44) and appearances (100).
Being able to hit the required technical level to be such a creative force is one thing, but it also takes consistent commitment to maintain the condition to play and perform so often over multiple seasons. Asked about the mood and the moves for the Red Stars in the locker room before games, as well as her preferred state of mind before she heads out, Danny also shares some of what makes up her final preparation behind the scenes.
“I’m usually one to just sit there and focus. A lot of the time I’m doing prep to get my body right for the game, whether it’s activating certain muscles or foam rolling or stretching, stuff like that.
“There’s a lot of stuff that I have to do on my own so I don’t really take part in some of the dancing. I wouldn’t say there is a lot of dancing in the locker room but I’m kind of doing my own thing and trying to get my head right.
“I’m not really a dancer, unless I’m comfortable in the environment, so I still don’t feel like I can start dancing yet! After a win, usually people are singing and dancing.
“We all watch Alyssa (Mautz) dance because she loves to and it’s funny; no one really wants to step into her spotlight because it’s kind of her thing to do after games when we win!”
A 2014 MAC Hermann Trophy semi-finalist, Danny usually has a song somewhere close by in a lot of her soccer situations, but is music still a major influence when she steps away from it?
“Oh yeah, definitely. I think all the time when I’m just lounging at home, in my room, in bed, on the couch or cleaning, I always have music on; I think it’s soothing and an outlet for me and a way to get my mind off of things.
“On the other side of that, I think it’s definitely a part of my routine before a game. It kind of puts me in game mode, I don’t really know how to say it, but I think without it I’d struggle a bit, so it does play a big role in my life.”
Coming from Freehold, New Jersey, Danny’s family background is Italian and she went to Red Bank Catholic High School in Monmouth County. She was a four-year varsity player, scoring 70 goals and weighing in with 35 assists as she won three Shore Conference Tournaments and three straight Non-Public South A titles.
Even for those at the pro level, specific moments on the field from growing up can be etched into the memory bank, and the same can certainly be true when it comes to the music we heard or owned. For many of us, we tend to remember the first albums or singles we had because there arguably seemed more of a meaning attached to owning a physical copy.
In her 2014 interview on here, Red Stars and USWNT defender Julie Johnston took it back to being seven years old, sitting in the back of the car with her Britney Spears CD from Sam’s Club! For Danny, the vibe wasn’t all that different when she got her first album, and she picks out some of those who have had an artistic hand in her soundtrack up to now, with an unsurprising appearance from ‘The Boss’, her fellow New Jersey native.
“When I was younger, I think the first CD I ever got, I don’t know the name of it, but it was one of Aaron Carter’s albums. I went through a phase where I listened to Taylor Swift a lot.
“I really like Bruce Springsteen and I think that comes from my parents as he’s their favourite singer, so I was always listening to him growing up and I went to his concerts. I really like Chris Brown as well.
“I’d say those were the main ones I listened to before I was into country.”
As well as leading Virginia, Steve Swanson is the current head coach of the U.S. Under-23 Women’s National Team and an assistant on Jill Ellis’ senior team staff. The 2012 FIFA Under-20 World Cup-winning coach was someone Danny already knew from her regional travel team and that familiarity helped make her decision to attend UVa.
Thinking back to her time representing the Cavaliers evokes memories of a lot of winning soccer, as well as getting to share it with a cohesive group filled with talent. After making the semi-final in 2013, the Hoos made their first College Cup final in 2014, finishing runners-up to Florida State.
As a senior on that 2014 team, Danny hit some outstanding form, setting a single-season record for the program as she led the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) with 19 assists, seven of which were game-winners. A Second-Team NSCAA All-American, as well as the ACC Midfielder of the Year, she scored a career-high six goals as she played for the last time at collegiate level with the likes of midfielder Morgan Brian, defender Emily Sonnett and forward Makenzy Doniak, to name but three.
Those three teammates have all since gone on to the NWSL, with 2015 World Cup winner Brian at Houston Dash, Sonnett the number-one pick in this year’s College Draft by the Portland Thorns, and Doniak currently part of an in-form Western New York Flash. As each of the three and Danny were named All-Americans in December 2014, the four selections made it a Virginia record.
Danny’s days on the college field reached their final act at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton that month with a 1-0 loss to Florida State in the College Cup final. The Hoos had rallied late on, however, and Danny was one of those at the heart of trying to make things happen until the last whistle.
Those years on the team hold a special place for her, and after being so close for so long with those teammates mentioned, she enjoys the fact they are now with her in the NWSL, even if it is in opposing colours.
“I think being on a team like that was so beneficial in my development and I have never been on a team like that before; one that truly is one team and all together chasing one goal. I think that led to how much success we had on the field and we were united and we had each other’s backs.
“Obviously we had some great players but I think a big part of it was how we stuck together. It got me where I am today and I am very thankful for that team.
“I definitely talk to them a lot; I talk to Morgan like every day. We don’t really talk much about the games but I think it’s just nice having friends like Morgan and Sonnett and Makenzy play soccer, because I learn a lot from them.
“I joke around with Sonnett all the time and I tell her that I learn a lot from her and she doesn’t believe me. She’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re older, though!’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I don’t care, it doesn’t matter, I still learn a lot from you.’
“It’s nice having friends and players like that around you. It’s always funny to step on the same field as them nowadays, even though we’re not on the same team now.
“We sometimes joke about the games but not a lot.”
As Virginia prepared to face Texas A&M in the 2014 College Cup semi they had an Aggies team unbeaten in 14 games standing in the way of their first final. On their way to a 3-1 win, the Cavaliers’ second goal came from Danny’s corner being headed by Tina Iordanou to Emily Sonnett for her to finish.
It was the fourteenth time UVa had scored via a corner that year and Danny remembers how those two players involved made up half of the main quartet who liked to take the floor when the volume got cranked in the locker room.
“At Virginia everyone was dancing. I think there were four people that kind of led the way with the dancing – Emily Sonnett, Morgan Stearns, Jessie Ferrari and Tina Iordanou – but everyone would get up and dance.
“We even did this thing where we’d have the freshmen and one of them would have to dance before each game for like a minute. That was kind of like our team thing and how we came together.
“Emily Sonnett’s a big dancer in the locker room before a game and everyone just kind of followed in her footsteps, I guess. I did sometimes get to play a song but usually I was in focus mode.
“I’d have my own headphones in until everyone started dancing and then I’d take them off and hang out with the team. At UVa it was definitely pump-up/hip-hop I listened to but nowadays it’s more of a mix.”
In her rookie year with Chicago, Danny was a true mainstay, playing all but 24 minutes of a season that took the team to within one game of making the Championship clash. The 2015 campaign was the last for long-serving defender Michelle Lomnicki, who told in her interview on here recently that the NWSL Red Stars made a point of not separating the rookies from the established players.
Perhaps with that in mind, the team hasn’t employed the widely-popular initiation requirement of new players singing for their teammates, although Danny did encounter something almost as daunting back in college.
“I never had to sing but I did have to dance. They got to pick the song and you had to stand in front of the group and dance to it whether it was a slow song or a fast song!
“I think it was Soulja Boy for me, or something like that!”
Even with club teammates there, Danny had a similar kind of ‘new kid’ feeling after she received her first senior international call-up in November for the remaining fixtures of the U.S. Victory Tour the following month. Also a winner with the Under-23s at the Six Nations Tournament in La Manga two years running, she was included again with the full team as Jill Ellis called her into camp at the National Training Center in Carson this January leading into facing the Republic of Ireland.
In between the work on the training field, Danny had a familiar face to share some serene listening with, and away from that, the Washington Spirit star who never fails to entertain was unsurprisingly the one bringing the heat with her song choices.
“Usually with the full team, Crystal (Dunn) would control the music and she’d be dancing, but I definitely was not dancing, because I was shy! She would play pump-up music so I think that’s what they listen to before trainings and games.
“When we were just hanging out in the hotel, I’d usually be with Morgan Brian and we’d listen to a lot of country that was soothing and relaxing. Emily Sonnett controlled most of the music with the 23s and would be dancing and kind of in charge of that.”
Putting yourself out there in new situations with unfamiliar company can have amazing results and most of us can recall a time when an important person in our life was still just a stranger. In soccer, you don’t tend to get to choose your teammates, so to have even one who lets you feel totally at ease is something to cherish.
In Sofia Huerta, Danny has that, so there could really be only one choice if she ever had to swap the midfield for the mic and make a song of her own.
“I definitely would say Sofia because we’re super-close and it’s easy to just be ourselves and I feel like that would play a big part in that! I feel like it would just be something we could sing along to because when we’re in the car we’re singing so loud, even if we’re not very good singers.”
Together with Huerta and the aforementioned Arin Gilliland, Danny has played all 13 of Chicago’s games so far this season, with a pair of assists to her name. Up until not so long ago, the three had been living together while in Chicago, although defender Gilliland has since moved out.
The third housemate is now a Californian ex-Portland Thorns midfielder who expertly converted Huerta’s cross on Saturday (July 16th) to grab a 1-0 win at Orlando Pride to solidify 4th place for the Red Stars. Making the point that they are mindful of not tiring themselves out between games and training sessions, Danny describes how their free time usually gets taken up now that they have more of a handle on their surroundings this year.
“Arin was with us at the beginning of the year but she moved in with her boyfriend in the city, so right now it’s me, Sofia and Taylor (Comeau) living together. It’s nice; we’re living in the same area we were last year.
“I just really like the city; I think there’s so much to do in it and a lot of sightseeing places and a lot of cool places to hang out and chill in our off-time. Last year we really didn’t know what to do in the city because we were new, but we learned a lot.
“We try to keep busy and not just lay around and be boring! We found a lot of things to do, whether it’s just sitting at a coffee shop and reading, or going to the beach, or a restaurant.
“There’s a lot more that we’ve done this year and we really enjoy each other’s company, so it’s nice.”
Naturally, all players have their tendencies and while some choose to be immersed in as much of the game as they can, others welcome a chance to get some respite from it on occasions. Highlighting Steve Swanson as a coach who encouraged her and teammates to watch soccer, Danny pinpoints two highly successful players she has taken particular notice of over the years, in addition to describing how she keeps on track with the Red Stars’ competitors during the season.
“I really enjoy watching (Lionel) Messi play but I think on the women’s side I’ve always loved how Lauren Holiday played. She’s always someone when I was in college and even before that who I’ve looked up to and aspired to be a player like her.
“I like to try to watch a lot of the NWSL games and especially the team we’re about to play; I like to see how they set up on the field and what their tendencies are so coming into the game I know a bit of the background and it gives me a step ahead. I also like to watch the (U.S.) National Teams when they play.
“I really enjoy watching Barcelona play – as I told you, Messi – and I think they have a great way of playing soccer. I wouldn’t say I watch too much of soccer, but I definitely try to watch when I can because I think it’s important when trying to learn from the game.
“Watching other teams play opens up ideas for myself on the field and shows me different ways of playing and how I can change up my style.”
With Danny dictating at the fulcrum of his UVa midfield, Steve Swanson knew better than most about her all-round qualities and said she was unquestionably one of the best collegiate players in the country. He also spoke of how he didn’t think she quite got her due at that time, perhaps not too dissimilar to former Chicago midfielder and captain Lori Chalupny, who is someone Danny feels far better for having worked with prior to her 2015 retirement.
“I definitely learned a lot from Lori last season. I think she’s such a great role model and a great leader and I think that is one of the things we’re missing this year.
“She didn’t really talk that much but the way she played and how she got into tackles and her work rate on the field united the team and made everyone realise that we need to work for each other. I feel like I looked up to her a lot because I don’t talk that much on the field and I think that the way she led by her actions is something I can see myself being better at.
“I definitely looked up to her, she was always there and I had a ton of questions that I had to run by her. She was always there to help and I think one of the main things was that she kept encouraging me and told me that even when I was having a rough practice or a rough game that I’m a solid player and I just need to move on from the mistakes and realise that it’s about what’s next.
“I think that’s one of the main things I took away from her and I watched her do that every day in training; if she made a mistake she’d just be on to the next thing.”
Mental awareness is certainly an aspect that interests Danny, who wanted the right balance between soccer and her academic side as she went into college. A psychology major, she was named to the NSCAA Scholar All-American Team as a senior, gaining first-team honours for the second consecutive season.
Her chosen field of study was inspired by an especially meaningful and authentic role model of hers, giving her a degree of enjoyment along the way, as well as a possible foundation for the future.
“I don’t really use it now in any way but my mom’s a psychiatrist and I’ve always aspired to be like her. It’s a little different but I was really interested in psychology and I wanted to kind of do something like what my mom does and I think that was the major I picked based off of that.
“I took a bunch of courses my freshman year, intro courses that I didn’t like, but psychology really stood out to me as something I wanted to stick with. Those were the classes that I really enjoyed going to every day.
“I haven’t really decided if it’s something I want to use in the future or not but it’s definitely something that I enjoy a lot.”
Growing up with an older brother, Justin, Danny began kicking a soccer ball around at four years old, also playing basketball in her days back home. An integral piece of her young soccer came from the Players Development Academy (PDA), one of the nation’s notable youth clubs for boys and girls and also somewhere she worked with current Manchester City midfielder and friend, Daphne Corboz, who talked about how she loved playing alongside Danny on here last year.
In May, Danny had her 23rd birthday, although players and spectators have been used to seeing her wearing the number 24 for quite some time now. From birth years to sporting idols and family connections, players have all sorts of reasons why they might opt for a slightly unconventional jersey number to align themselves with, so what is the background to this one for Danny?
“I started playing for a boys’ team when I was younger, travel team, and I just got 24. When I went on to play for PDA, the girls’ team, I was 24, and then I went on to college and stuck with it.
“There’s not really a significance behind it other than I’ve been it my whole life and I’ve just decided to stick with it. It’s funny because people ask me, ‘did you pick that number?!’”
In bringing her to the Red Stars, Rory Dames talked up Danny’s ability to operate anywhere in the midfield; as a deep-lying number six, as a number ten with that killer pass in her, and able to fit regardless of whether they play three or four in there. That high adaptability is a powerful attribute and while Danny may describe herself as a simple player, being able to change direction and play under pressure, mixing it in tackles with the league’s best, and contributing to both defence and attack are characteristics of a very well-rounded performer.
She followed in the footsteps of teammate Julie Johnston in winning the league’s Rookie of the Year and ‘JJ’ was the one who felt the force of Danny’s initial shot before she buried her first professional goal when that strike came back out to her, as Chicago beat Sky Blue 1-0 last May. With the option of any current or former player (male or female) in the world to stay behind on the practice field for some shooting with, it was another of the Red Stars’ National Team contingent who emphatically got her approval.
“Definitely Christen Press – it’s crazy to me how good she is at finishing. There’s definitely times after training where she’ll stay and do finishing and she’s nailing every shot and she’ll put it wherever she wants it on the goal frame.
“I try to get little insight from her and I think it’s important because she’s gone to the next level over the years she’s played soccer and she knows stuff that I don’t know. Sometimes she shows me a little technique or tries to help me with things, so I think I’d say her because I definitely learn a lot from her.”
For young players especially, taking what you can from the established players you work with and come up against is one of those essential fibres to the game. Despite her young age, Danny has already seen herself how quickly you can suddenly become one of those others are looking to for pointers, as she went back to Virginia last year to train and saw the emerging Cavaliers who are just finding their way.
She has also been back to coach girls in the Olympic Development Program in her home state, as well as making similar contributions while out in the community with the Red Stars, so are we perhaps already seeing the beginnings of Colaprico the coach?
“I definitely think it’s a possibility. I haven’t really thought that much about it but I do enjoy helping kids, and looking back, I was once at their age and I was eager to learn more and more about the game.
“I think training kids is awesome and they want to learn just as much as I do when I was younger so training them makes me happy. It’s definitely something I want to look into.”
Although from Freehold, Danny’s club soccer came further north, so she spent much of her time away from her hometown, going to school in Red Bank and coming home before she was off again to train. When moments as significant as getting called into senior camp with the USWNT arrive it is fitting in a way to think back to those games and fields where it all began.
Jill Ellis has previously said how she has only included players over the last nine months who she views as possible contenders for the 2019 World Cup, and to know she is highly thought of at the top is something that can offer immense pride and further motivation for Danny. When she took a glance back at all the game has given her up to now, it was the idea of continuing to work and believe while reminding herself not to force too much that she emphasised.
“I think that soccer’s taught me a lot about being patient. This career is a process and I need to be patient and take it for what it is.
“Sometimes I’m not going to get what I want right away – whether it’s getting to the next level or if I’m going through an injury – and I need to be patient and not worry so much about it. I’d say I’m pretty impatient and I kind of want things to happen right away, but I just need to realise that it takes time sometimes.”
Taking the pace back up from that, we finish with the regular closing question and a nod to one of the game’s quickest, most competitive and undeniably enjoyable scenarios. The small-sided game is one all of its own and throughout recent years, the players on here have been asked which career teammates would be with them in their line-up of five if they stepped in this arena.
As it will feel pretty close to impossible for most to narrow it down to their ‘ultimate best four’ players they’ve worked with, there is no emphasis on ability and the picks can be for whatever reasons the interviewee prefers. It is of course just a sample selection of the many they could just as rightfully choose, but these are some of the names who’d make Danny’s squad.
Red Stars midfield teammate Vanessa DiBernardo was one she immediately thought of and took time to mention, while there are at least two or three at forward she would want to have and wouldn’t be too hard to identify! Here are the ones who at least get to start this small-sided game.
“I’d definitely say Morgan Brian (midfielder). I’d say Daphne Corboz (midfielder)…this is hard; I have a lot of options here!
“Emily Sonnett (defender) and I’d say Alyssa Naeher (goalkeeper). Alyssa’s probably the best keeper I’ve ever played with and I think it’s been great having her.
“I think she’s a great leader on the field and she’s always talking to our backline and organising people on the field. She’s someone I definitely look up to because of how well she leads our team and that’s also through her actions, because she’s such a good keeper.
“It’s always nice when you have that keeper who’s going to make that one save to keep the team in the game and motivate us to work hard for her because she just saved that for us. I didn’t know she’s as vocal as she is, but it’s great having her and it’s something that we need on this team.
“I’d say the main thing that impresses me about Sonnett is that she’s always going to work hard and she hates to lose, which I think is great to have as a defender. She’s going to fight until the end, she’s going to fire the team up and make us compete until the end and I think that’s important to have behind you.
“With Morgan on the National Team, I definitely learn a lot from her and she’s someone I look up to with how hard-working she is. With Daphne, I loved playing with her; she’s one of my really good friends and we still talk every other day.
“We always joke about how we wish we could be playing again together because it was so much fun at PDA.”
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