Beats & Rhymes FC

Kristen Edmonds interview: Getting on up down in O-Town – Pride midfielder Orlando vibin’

Courtesy of Orlando Pride

Courtesy of Orlando Pride

 

With two years back in the U.S. following her European exploits, the time was right for Kristen Edmonds to kick a fresh groove in 2016, leading her to an Orlando Pride team where her class has shown through and the beat of her intensity has never played out.

When a new team is born it represents a blank canvas on which to create your culture; from the style of play to the very values people around the club embody from one day to another. The ones behind the scenes who don’t tend to get the attention are the beating heart of an organisation, while those wearing the badge on the field are the most powerful communicators of what you are striving to be.

On the playing side, success comes from a group with valuable individual characteristics, but bonded together by the same desire for success and willingness to put it all on the line for each other. Great things can happen when a unique bunch of personalities and their respective journeys come together at a certain time, and the pieces just seem to fit.

For the National Women’s Soccer League’s Orlando Pride, there is more than a hint of that clash of factors with arguably their standout performer of this year, Kristen Edmonds. The NWSL’s tenth club and second expansion team, the Pride captured much attention with signings like National Team duo Alex Morgan and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, while notable internationals from Brazil, Canada and Australia strengthened the inaugural roster further.

Then there was Kristen. Holding vital experience of the league after two seasons on her native East Coast with the Western New York Flash, the New Jersey-born player had shone further forward in her career but had most often been seen in the backline for the Flash.

With playing time diminished and the overall longing for something new flowing through her, Florida was the destination. Far from merely a solid squad addition, she emerged as one of the league’s understatedly terrific performers, leading 9th-placed Orlando with six goals and two assists.

Her energy and will plays on and on, just like the smooth vibes and timeless, kicked-back cool factor of an era’s musical genre she and so many others still revel in today.

“I think that 90s r&b will always be my favourite,” the one-time Rutgers University prospect began. “I mostly listen to hip-hop and r&b music.”

“Usher is always my number-one option for anything; he has songs that I can relax to and songs that I can listen to when I need to get pumped up. I also like Drake quite a bit.

“I love listening to covers; if I don’t necessarily like a song but I like the lyrics, I can listen to another artist sing it in a different way, I love that. I spend quite a bit of time in my car, so I listen to the popular songs on the radio a lot and if I get sick of hearing the same songs over and over then I will put on Pandora or Spotify and pick a genre I’m in the mood for or find a good playlist.

“I love listening to music! I can listen to a lot of different types, including some upbeat country music; the genre really depends on my mood at the time.

“When getting ready for a game I always have music in my ears!”

An Úrvalsdeild champion in Iceland with Stjarnan in 2011, Kristen had a season with Russia’s WFC Rossiyanka, who beat Dutch side Den Haag and the Czech Republic’s Sparta Prague in the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League before a quarter-final loss to winners Wolfsburg. Playing college soccer in her home state had meant she always had familiar faces cheering her on, so her time on the European scene was understandably a big change.

Coming home ahead of joining Western New York in 2014 was a move made with family taken into consideration and she showed her gratitude to the Flash for her two seasons there when her switch to Orlando was announced shortly before Christmas last year. That trade took her and teammate Becky Edwards to the Pride in exchange for a 2016 number 11 draft pick and a first-round pick in 2017.

Just retired, midfielder Edwards’s presence will certainly be missed in more ways than one next year, with one of Orlando’s pre-game DJ slots now vacated! Kristen describes the favoured flavours of the Pride’s track choices, as well as her own habits when the playlist is jumping and it’s almost time to step out to business.

“In the locker room, Toni Pressley and Becky Edwards usually have their phones hooked up to the speaker. Before training it’s a toss-up for music, but we usually listen to whatever is hot right now to get us ready to play a game.

“I do love to dance but I do not dance in the locker room in front of my teammates; I am a bit shy. I’m usually in the training room getting warm and taped up and then staying loose and focused.

“Sometimes I will get into the beat a bit, nodding my head or a little two-step, but nothing to stand out. At a concert or a night out I will be dancing the whole time.”

 

Jasten: Kristen (left) alongside long-time teammate and partner in crime, Jasmyne Spencer. @kris10edmonds

Jasten: Kristen (left) alongside long-time teammate and partner in crime, Jasmyne Spencer. @kris10edmonds

 

Although their Major League Soccer affiliate Orlando City SC have been around for the past few years (joining MLS in 2015), the Pride of course only began competitive play this April, but they managed to break the league’s attendance record when they did. There was a crowd of 23,403 inside Camping World Stadium as they beat the Houston Dash 3-1 in their very first home game and Kristen and her teammates had the second-highest backing (8,785 average attendance) in the NWSL throughout the season.

The Dash were also the opponents when Kristen scored the only goal of the game as Orlando came away from Houston with all three points in May. That was her first of the campaign and first of her NWSL career overall, having previously played so much at the back, and that scoring knack was in full effect on July 10th.

Trailing the Boston Breakers 1-0 with stoppage time looming at the end, Kristen whipped a right-footed free-kick into the far corner to level, before lifting a winner over Jami Kranich deep into added time and taking a heavy knock to the jaw in the process. Thankfully able to return for the next game, she became the first Pride player to take NWSL Player of the Week honours for that Boston brace.

Kristen had dramatically taken centre stage in that game and there isn’t all that much of a dissimilarity between that connection Pride supporters already feel for the team and the bond felt between fans and performers at a music gig. Seeing an artist or band whose songs have helped you through tough times or just added even more magic to happy memories is a special rush, and Kristen effectively has a season ticket for her number one in that regard!

“I’ve never missed Usher on tour; as soon as he announces a tour I buy a ticket! Besides him, I went to a Chris Brown concert when I was in Buffalo, New York.

“It was one of my favourites – the lineup was Omarion, Migos, Fetty Wap, with Chris Brown headlining. I was front row, I’ll never forget it!

“My first concert was *NSYNC and it was a birthday present from my parents when I was younger. I would love to see Drake and Beyoncé live.

“I love live music; I would enjoy eating at a restaurant with live music playing in the background, or going to a live music event with a bunch of different types of artists.”

Raised in Metuchen, New Jersey, Kristen wanted to play soccer at five years old but with her brother, Kyle, not yet old enough to play, her mom decided she had to wait another year! Both parents were and continue to be the pillars of her support system and her biggest inspirations.

One of the greatest beauties of music is how it becomes like a memory sealed in a locket, there to be opened any time you need that strength or just to relive the surge of how you once felt at a point in your life you hold dear. From the boybands to the iconic r&b idols she adored, music is a piece of home and nostalgia to Kristen.

“The first CD I bought, I think, was *NSYNC. I don’t recall my age but I was a huge fan growing up; *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys were posters on my wall.

“Ginuwine was my Usher before Usher became a big artist. I also loved Aaliyah – I wanted to be her – and TLC I loved as well.

“As I’ve mentioned, 90s r&b will always be my go-to when it comes to throwbacks.”

At Metuchen High School, Kristen was tearing it up for the soccer team, hitting 30 goals and providing nine assists as a senior for the Bulldogs. Her talents were not going unnoticed elsewhere either, as she made herself known as a promising track athlete and someone who could ball on the court as well as the soccer field.

The 2000 film Love & Basketball is her favourite, so besides the fact its soundtrack is loaded with r&b and hip-hop, what else puts it to the top of her best-loved list?

“I am a huge sucker for chick flicks! They are my favourite kind of movies.

“I played basketball growing up and I loved (the film’s female lead) Sanaa Lathan. When that movie came out I was in seventh or eighth grade, so boys and basketball and sports were on my mind.

“Of course it being a love story makes it even better!”

A freshman in 2005, Kristen spent her collegiate career at Rutgers, playing in her more natural role out on the wing and thriving for the Scarlet Knights. With six goals and six assists, she led the team in points (24) as a rookie, becoming the first at RU to do so since Carli Lloyd in 2001.

Her senior year, she led the way again with five goals and six assists, ending her four seasons with 78 appearances, 14 goals and 16 assists before graduating in 2009. Prior to starting college, Kristen had played for the New Jersey Wildcats and she would win the Northeast Division of the USL W-League with them in 2012 as the league’s leader in assists (eight in ten games) in a team alongside current pros like Yael Averbuch, Amber Brooks and Rachel Breton.

In her first Wildcats stint, she was part of a Championship-winning 2005 roster containing U.S. internationals like Cat Reddick (before she was Whitehill), Heather O’Reilly, Tobin Heath and Lindsay Tarpley, Canada keeper Karina LeBlanc and England’s Rachel Unitt and Rachel Yankey. Arsenal legend Yankey’s first game was also Kristen’s debut, and they each scored twice in a 9-0 win over the South Jersey Banshees in July 2005.

Also coming up with a double that day was Jen Redmond, a former midfielder out of Morristown, N.J. who was highlighted on here two years ago by Becky Sauerbrunn, with the U.S. defender praising her former University of Virginia teammate’s singing sparkle. Over at Rutgers, it could also be said that Kristen’s career had its own Scarlet soundtrack.

“My whole freshman class had to pick a song to sing at our end-of-preseason barbecue. There were nine of us, so it wasn’t as bad as having to do it alone, but I was still very nervous.

“We made up our own lyrics about what we went through in preseason to ‘I Will Survive’. In my four years of being at Rutgers, my class had the best song and I would say we went down in history.

“We even used props. Everyone loved it!

“We performed it again at our senior banquet. Everyone had a laugh.

“In college, there were a couple of girls that could carry a tune. Every team I’ve been on there has been at least one player that can sing and play guitar as well – I’m jealous.”

After college, Kristen won regular-season W-League championships (Northeast Division) in 2009 and 2010 with the Hudson Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues, where her teammates included her future Western New York captain Brittany Taylor. She had served as co-captain during those summers and her time in Europe also brought its success and enjoyment, with her travels as a Champions League player at Rossiyanka taking her through as many as 11 nations.

Any move to a new country will open up the door to all kinds of cultural nuances, and when it came to the locker-room scene, Kristen explains a little of the change from what she is accustomed to back home, as well as what her time in Europe taught her overall.

“I think in the U.S. we use music more for pregame to get pumped up or just stay loose and have a good time before games. In Iceland and in Russia, we didn’t always listen to music as a team so I would put my headphones on.

“Playing in Iceland gave me the opportunity to become a professional player. When I was there we won the league, so that experience in itself was unbelievable.

“It is my favourite country I’ve been to! I would like to go back to visit one day.

“Living overseas, there and in Russia, helped me grow as a person. It was the first time I was really on my own and it was eye-opening; it made me appreciate the small things and to not take anything for granted.

“Being able to travel to different countries gives you a different and humbling perspective on life. I am very grateful for those opportunities and I would do it again.

“Playing in Champions League helped me grow as a player as well. I think being overseas gave me the experience I needed to be able to come back to the States and play in this league, which is the best in the world.”

On her return to soccer back home, Kristen was identified by Western New York coach Aaran Lines as someone who could bolster their outside-back position. In 2014, she was a regular fixture in the Flash team, playing 22 times (19 starts), though she was limited to 11 games (ten starts) in her second year in N.Y.

The end of Kristen’s contract coincided with a personal feeling that she had reached her limit of growth as a player there, so a new challenge was apt. The Orlando switch was a meeting of new beginnings, but even in a completely different part of the country with a first-year organisation, some things manage to stay the same!

As touched upon, the familiarity of play between Kristen and Becky Edwards had been highlighted by the Pride as they looked to build a team and knit chemistry, and they got that and then some when they added another former Flash teammate into the mix. Forward Jasmyne Spencer is one of the NWSL’s most exciting attackers at her best and Kristen describes her as her ‘little sister’, with the two becoming ‘Jasten’ whenever they’re together (often!).

Kristen played more minutes (1701) than any Pride player this year, while Spencer was the only one to play all 20 games. Two of the most enjoyable to watch on the field, they also kept people updated with their adventures off it, and back in 2015, they were actually part of a five.

As part of Flash duo Jordan Angeli and Chantel Jones’ ‘The JoJo Show’, their group took on ‘The Cool Kids’ (Chelsea Stewart, Sabrina D’Angelo and Taylor Leach) and ‘The Flashbacks’ (Angeli, Amanda Frisbie, Kristen Hamilton, Elizabeth Eddy and Pia Rijsdijk) in a competitive display of choreography, expression and as much timing as possible! Asked which career teammate she’d get on board if she ever had to record a cover song, Kristen thought back to it.

“Actually, in Western New York, we did a lip sync battle. Me and four of my teammates (Jasmyne Spencer, Lynn Williams, Jamia Fields and Jaelene Hinkle) were ‘The Flashy 5’ and we did two Jackson 5 songs.

“I would do something like that again with Jasmyne Spencer. She took on the role of Michael and absolutely became Michael.

“If there were two songs, I would pick one and she would pick one. I would obviously pick an Usher song!”

 

The Flashy 5: Kristen and her Western New York teammates in lip sync battle mode, led by Jasmyne 'MJ' Spencer.

The Flashy 5: Kristen and her Western New York teammates in lip sync battle mode, led by Jasmyne ‘MJ’ Spencer.

 

Seen by Kristen as a rebuild of sorts for her, this chapter with the Pride has resulted in her confidence soaring, with the added trust and responsibility invested in her having a positive mental effect. Former U.S. and Australia head coach Tom Sermanni quickly noted her understanding of the game and versatility, commenting over the season on how consistent she was and how she had the ability to impact the game no matter the minute.

As well as the aforementioned winning double versus Boston and her first goal at Houston, she scored again at the Dash in September and also netted against Seattle Reign and Sky Blue FC during a very impressive season. Always possessing that incisive attacking side of the game, she thought of who she’d go for if she could bring in any player at all to stay behind for some shooting practice with, coming up with a couple of picks.

“Male, I would choose Cristiano Ronaldo. He is not my favourite player but I am a fan of him.

“He is a goalscorer and an unbelievable finisher. I could learn a thing or two from him, it would be a fun session.

“Female, I would choose Carli Lloyd. She posts some of her training on social media and I would love to do a shooting session with her!

“I’ve had the opportunity to play with Carli and she strikes a ball with the best of them and has helped me with my game as well.”

A future in law enforcement is an avenue Kristen has spoken before of possibly pursuing one day, though she doesn’t see herself as a street cop. Getting to work with dogs is something she’d love, and as a volunteer at a shelter she has fostered pups before, including her much-loved blue nose pit bull, Nellie.

At a team physical day ahead of this season, there was a list of food likes and dislikes devised for each player, and with Sugar Babies a particular favourite of Kristen’s, she knew right away how her ‘likes’ column would be filled! She enjoys longboarding, while she recently drew some comments urging her to stay safe when she posted about being reunited with her Kawasaki ZX-6R!

Maybe it’s just now that so many more people are getting to know about her, but with this year being such a springboard there is the feeling that it’s all there for her at 29 to enjoy and achieve more from here. Seen by her peers as someone who leads by what she does, the fact she can go so strongly to the end of games is undoubtedly testament to her off-season individual training work.

The rookies like Dani Weatherholt and Sam Witteman have been thankful for the help Kristen has been on hand to provide, with her knowledge extending far beyond just where to be at certain points on the field. It is no simple task to put so much aside in order to make soccer a priority, especially when the circumstances seem for all the world to be telling you to give it up.

Kristen is one of those bright characters you always want around, but she’s had her uphill battles to reach where she is. She reflects with a mixture of happiness, satisfaction and a motivation level only enhanced by the best individual season of her pro journey so far, as she considers what she’d have to say now to the Kristen who had the ball at her feet back in Metuchen.

“I’ve had to fight to be noticed since I was little playing soccer. I’ve always been the underdog and a blue-collar player.

“I wasn’t always noticed and (I was) overlooked a lot. I feel like this is sort of my breakout season.

“I’ve grown as a player over the years and had to build up my confidence little by little. I’ve learned that no matter what, I have to be the best I can be every day.

“My mom gave me a quote to put on my wall when I was struggling in one of my college seasons. It said, ‘don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.’

“I took that to heart and it has stuck with me. I will always strive to be great, even if it goes unnoticed to many.

“I’ve learned to be more confident and to trust in my own ability. I would tell the young Kristen that the potential that people tell you is there, is reachable, but it’s up to you to go get it.

“No one is going to give you handouts. Be confident and go for it!”

 

Kristen's parents join her for her home opener with Orlando this year. @kris10edmonds

Through every step of the way: Kristen’s parents join her for her home opener with Orlando this year. @kris10edmonds

 

It has been a year Kristen won’t forget. The goals and performances have been extremely commendable, but her off-field work and amiability in helping to build the community around the Pride in this inaugural year will be remembered every bit as fondly.

For a player with such a background in the game, it may sound strange to be talking of her current progress as a starting point. This was, though, a season in which she breathed new colour into her life and career.

There might be a little wait now before she gets to carry on where she left off, but she at least gets to step out into the fantasy arena in this regular final question. As the leader of this team of five, the player is given four places in their small-sided team to be filled by any players they have ever worked alongside.

They can approach their selections in any way they wish: friendship, ability in small spaces, significant memories they share with that player, or whatever else it may be. With so many teammates through the years to choose from, it would be impossible to give credit to all who are deserving, but here’s a sample anyway!

Kristen decided to build this one from the front, starting with the ‘Jas’ to her ‘ten’, of course.

“Forward: Jasmyne Spencer – she is good in small spaces and very quick. She can defend and get behind players with speed or with the ball.

“She causes havoc and will step up in big moments. Midfielder: Carli Lloyd – she plays with an intensity and determination to win and score goals and can do so from anywhere.

“She was just voted the best female soccer player in the world – need I say more? Defender: Brittany Taylor – I’ve been playing small-sided games with her since we graduated college and our record is very good because we are both so competitive and hate to lose.

“She is very good on the ball and can read the game very well. She is also a beast on defence and will clean up everything in the back as well as be able to score goals.

“Goalkeeper: hands down, Ashlyn Harris. She is a brick wall – the best keeper I’ve ever played with!”

To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes

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