Taryn Hemmings interview: The notes that nurtured Red Stars defender

Photo: Chicago Red Stars / James Smith
Photo: Chicago Red Stars / James Smith

This year has seen the end of the long road back from injury for the Chicago Red Stars’ Taryn Hemmings, and as the defender embarks on a loan adventure with Danish champions Fortuna Hjørring there is a tuneful reminder of home to turn to, should she ever need it.

Finishing her collegiate career tied as all-time leading goalscorer (42) for Denver University’s women’s soccer program, Colorado native Taryn stepped out into the professional game with the Boston Breakers. Two seasons in Women’s Professional Soccer and one year in the WPSL Elite followed that move before the National Women’s Soccer League began play in 2013.

By this time, Taryn was a Chicago Red Star and the book has only recently closed on her second season in the Windy City. Although the team so narrowly missed out on the NWSL play-offs, the versatile performer returned to action in June after 11 months out with a torn ACL and MCL in her left knee.

Re-establishing herself in Rory Dames’ line-up, Taryn played 15 times in all, and with her Chicago contract secured for 2015 she recently headed to Denmark to join UEFA Champions League side Fortuna Hjørring on loan. She has compatriots at the Elitedivisionen holders in Portland Thorns goalkeeper Michelle Betos and her former Boston Breakers teammate Melissa Henderson, on loan from Houston Dash.

There is excitement as well as the feeling of stepping away from familiarity, but Taryn, 28, has experiences such as a successful stint in Australia with Canberra United, as well as a period spent training in Japan, to stand her in good stead. Aside from overlapping with soccer in an abundance of ways, music can be the most incredibly powerful and fitting backdrop to travels to new surroundings.

While she takes in the new, there is always a place for songs that are symbols of home. For Taryn, there is one in particular that evokes such sentiment and she reveals the story behind this.

“‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ – Bob Dylan/Miley Cyrus — I fell in love with the Miley version of this song and told my dad it was my favourite song and played it for him. He started playing a different version on his guitar and said, ‘Taryn, I’ve been playing this song for you your whole life’, so I feel a very strong connection with it.”

An attacking starlet for Denver University’s Pioneers back in college, Taryn weighed in with two assists from right-back for Chicago in the final months of last season. Her four goals also helped Canberra United to regular season and Grand Final glory in the W-League in 2011/12.

Besides time later spent in Denver, she grew up in the town of Greeley and her background is represented in the genre she identifies as her most enjoyed.

“I am definitely a country girl but I like pretty much everything… except jazz, I just do not get it!”

Playing her part for a Red Stars backline that conceded just 26 last season (the second-best in the NWSL), Taryn lined up alongside the league’s 2014 Rookie of the Year, Julie Johnston. The 22-year-old featured on here in May and one of the many details she shared was how Chicago’s Canadian forward Adriana Leon is the one to set the pace in the locker room with her playlist.

It is fair to say that Taryn’s disillusion with jazz would not be much of an issue if she was to ever take over from her teammate on game day, although maybe a few objects would be thrown in her direction for another reason!

“Our DJ this year was Dri Leon; she played a lot of techno music. I don’t think anyone would ever want or let me be DJ because I tend to have ‘song obsession’ and I would want to just play whatever song was my favourite a million times in a row!”


Photo: Chicago Red Stars
Photo: Chicago Red Stars


As much as preparations for each game from a tactical viewpoint count for a huge amount, any added extra that can take the energy of the team up in the countdown to kick-off on the day is surely valuable. Even with the most naturally gifted players at your disposal, a group can struggle without significant camaraderie.

Taryn gives two examples of how the locker room is brought to life when the Red Stars are gathered before a match, with singing from their number 4 offering up some alternative listening for the team!

“Alyssa Mautz always puts on a good show in our locker room for pre-game, and Melissa Tancredi’s dance moves are pretty unbelievable.”

As she said, country is Taryn’s best-loved style of music, so it is understandable that the first record she had came from a male artist of that genre. However, the first she bought for herself was a little bit more surprising for me to learn of, coming from England!

The Brit band she mentions were around for a long time but they are still best known for their 1997 song ‘Tubthumping’, one which might not make it onto Adriana Leon’s locker room playlist.

“The first CD I remember having was bought for me and was Clay Walker’s ‘Hypnotize the Moon’, I think I was in 3rd grade. The first music purchase I made on my own I’m pretty sure was a Chumbawamba cassette tape in maybe 5th or 6th grade.

“So cool, right?!”

Every player has their own story, as athletes and as people, and within that are moments of struggle. It is the emotion that comes at the final whistle to signal a hard-fought win, hitting the back of the net with a strike, or even just the fun and relaxed moments shared with teammates that make all the hardships worth it.

Taryn, who played in the last two WPS seasons with the Boston Breakers before the league folded in 2012, was 14 games into her NWSL career with the Red Stars when serious injury struck. While trying to stop an FC Kansas City attack on the break in July 2013 she fell to the ground in the penalty area, suffering a torn ACL and MCL in her left knee.

Her season was ended and she would return home to Colorado for surgery and rehab. Chicago head coach Rory Dames highlighted Taryn’s importance to the team and although the injury meant the start of a long road to recovery, it was one she would successfully negotiate.

In the 81st minute of the Red Stars’ home game with Washington Spirit on June 4th this year, she finally re-entered the action as she replaced Kecia Morway. After all the aches and pains, the flood of thoughts about what the future held, and seemingly endless time spent rehabilitating, Taryn had made it back. She shares the emotions she felt as her number was held up for her to step onto the field against Washington.

“I was really nervous, but really excited the first game I was able to play in. It’s just an overwhelming feeling of relief and happiness to be back to doing what you love.”


Photo: Chicago Red Stars / James Smith
Photo: Chicago Red Stars / James Smith


Chicago had to contend with the unavailability of a number of players during the season for various reasons. Striker Christen Press (a previous interviewee on here) did not make her debut until June, after staying with Swedish side and UEFA Champions League finalists Tyresö FF until their run in the competition was done.

Despite such absences, the team finished 5th and only missed out on the play-offs after the Portland Thorns defeated Seattle Reign in their final game. Highly experienced figures in the Red Stars ranks include midfielder and captain Lori Chalupny, Canada goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, and U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Shannon Boxx. Those players are vital in helping the emerging talents in the squad and Taryn certainly has much to offer in that respect also.

She will be part of the set-up once again when the 2015 NWSL season comes around and it is a prospect that gives her much cause for happiness looking forward.

“I enjoy the people and fans involved in the organisation; my teammates, the staff, our owner. I think everyone is there for the right reasons and for each other and I love that.”

Before she heads back to the U.S., there is the challenge of domestic and Champions League play, as well as a new way of life to make the most of in Denmark. Washington Spirit’s Tiffany Weimer featured on here in December 2012 while with Fortuna Hjørring and Taryn now gets to sample for herself the experience of representing the club.

Fortuna have won five of their opening six league games but were overtaken at the top of the Elitedivisionen by Brondby after drawing with Odense last time out. That was a game in which Hjørring’s Nadia Nadim, a scoring sensation with Sky Blue FC in the NWSL towards the end of this season, was sent off.

Like the Red Stars, the team has a number of up-and-coming players and Taryn has been impressed by the practice sessions put on by the staff so far. She also shares how the northern setting differs from some of the notable U.S. cities she has lived in.

“I’ve only been here a week but I have really enjoyed the training environment. They spend a lot of time working with individuals during the day and then we have team training at night.

“As for my personal surroundings, I feel like it has been very calming to be here. Everything seems to just run at a much slower pace than in Boston and Chicago.”

Taryn started playing soccer at around six years old and like so many of her peers she took a lot of heart and inspiration from the 1999 World Cup-winning U.S. Women’s National Team. From her goal-laden days in the college game, to success in Australia and playing in two U.S. pro leagues, there has been plenty to enjoy so far.

Taryn’s story also encompasses her time in Japan in 2011, where she and Boston Breakers teammate Claire Zimmeck trained with top-flight club TEPCO Mareeze. The pair lived in cabins for a week in camp with the players but shortly after Taryn returned to the States she heard the news of the devastating earthquake and tsunami which hit Tōhoku.

The TEPCO Mareeze players had part-time administrative roles with the nuclear power plant linked to Tokyo Electric Power Company who owned the team (which disbanded later that year). There was an explosion at the power plant in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami but the team’s players were away from their usual surroundings at the time. Although communication lines were affected, Taryn received an email reply to say they were safe and spoke with some of the players soon after.

Soccer has a way of bringing about remarkable moments, lasting friendships, and experiences that provide genuine lessons of life. Looking at her journey leading up to this point, Taryn expresses what the game has given to her in terms of wider understanding.

“I think soccer has taught and is still teaching me to not be afraid to give everything to something you really love. Sometimes it can be really hard to know what the best path to take is, but everything works out in the end.”

The concluding question on here asks each interviewee to nominate four of their career teammates to play alongside them in a fantasy 5-a-side line-up. It is not easy for players to leave out certain current or former colleagues, and like most who have answered this, Taryn had so many more than four she could have mentioned.

Although she mainly operates from full-back now, Taryn has played further forward in her career on many occasions of course, hitting the target frequently for the Pioneers in college. You can still see that ability to pick out teammates for chances, as evidenced by her assist for Christen Press against Kansas City in August.

Taryn introduces her team, and given her choice of any position, she settles on where she would fit into the line-up.

“This is really hard! I think I’d have to go with Alyssa Naeher (goalkeeper), Alex Scott (defender), Lauren (Holiday) Cheney (midfielder), and Lori Chalupny; I’m counting her as my striker.

“In my dreams I’d play forward again, but I think I’ll stick to the back now!”

Follow me on Twitter: @chris_brookes

To catch each of these interviews in future, like Beats & Rhymes FC on Facebook