'Oh my God, I beat Keisha!'
That’s the text Sh'nia Gordon sent to her mother after practice the day she successfully dribbled past Kadeisha Buchanan for the first time, her former college team-mate who, today, is a four-time Champions League winner and an Olympic gold medalist.
The Lyon star was already a full Canada international before she graduated, named the best young player at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, so to get the better of her was certainly worth the excitement.
“She's such a good defender,” Gordon, now of CSKA Moscow, tells GOAL. “I guess since she used to be a forward, she just knows what I'm going to do. I don't know. She's just a step ahead.
“She's fast so if you ever get past her, she's able to catch back up. She's smart. She's a good leader. She's a really hard defender to get by. Really hard.”
Since the pair left West Virginia University, they are not the only two to land professional deals at big clubs.
Ashley Lawrence, another Olympic gold medalist this summer, is at Paris Saint-Germain. Michaela Abam plays in the NWSL with the Houston Dash and represented Cameroon at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Bianca St-Georges is also in the U.S. with the Chicago Red Stars.
That’s just a taster of a long list.
But it was Buchanan and Lawrence, both a couple of years older, that inspired Gordon.
“They graduated college before me and they moved to PSG and Lyon and I'm like: 'Wow, they're in France. That's so cool. I want to go there. I want to play against them. I want to be in that league,'" she explains.
“Then, it all happened. I played against them. They actually inspired me to go there.
“I entered the [NWSL] draft just to see. But I always wanted to be in France, that was my dream and that was the goal for me.”
When an offer from Metz came in, Gordon remembers taking it “so quickly”. It was a move that introduced her to a totally different style to the “one-v-ones” and “fast play” she was used to in America.
“I learned all this combination style. I improved my one touch ability, just little things like that,” she explains.
A military kid who moved around a lot growing up, the experience of being abroad wasn’t particularly daunting and she was able to flourish as a result.
Despite Metz's relegation, her individual performances impressed Dijon, for whom she scored seven goals last season as they finished eighth in the top flight.
Then, this summer, she made another big move and joined CSKA Moscow, a club widely recognised across Europe.
There were a few surprises when she arrived. Russia itself was one – in a good way. When she first walked into the dressing room for her first game, she got another when she saw the back of her shirt.
“At first I was like, 'What is this?' And everyone is like, 'That's your name!'” she recalls. “Now that I understand the letters and everything, and I appreciate Russian culture and language and stuff, I actually love my jersey like that.”CSKA/Goal
Gordon sounds shocked at herself when talking about how well her Russian is progressing too.
For some, it might be surprising to see the forward continuing her journey in Russia, which doesn’t have the reputation of France in the women’s game.
But Gordon was drawn to the size of CSKA, the second most successive club in the country, as well as the people running it.
“When I was trying to decide if I wanted to go here, they really convinced me with their family-like atmosphere. The owner, he just loves family,” she explains.
“We’re women at the end of the day. He encourages us to have a life. Get married, have kids and stuff, he's very big on that. That's just something I really like because you don't really get that from many coaches.
“It's like ‘football, football, football’ and then women are constantly deciding, 'Oh, I want a baby, but I have to stop playing'. That's a big issue in women's sport. But him, he's very big on family.”
With such a huge club, which she repeatedly praises for its professionalism, there is another dream that Gordon can chase.
It’s one that her former college team-mates Buchanan and Lawrence know all about: playing in the latter stages of the Champions League.
CSKA were narrowly beaten by Cypriot side Apollon Limassol in qualifying this year, but are determined to improve on that next season, while also aiming to take back the league title they won in 2019 and 2020.
Winning the league sits at the top of Gordon’s goals. But for a player who played in college with some of the world’s best, who cites Cristiano Ronaldo as her favourite player, and who loves to watch Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, the ambitions are big and certainly don’t stop there.
“I'm hoping to get invited to a national team camp,” she says. “That's a personal goal of mine. And I'm hoping to score as many goals as I can.”
With U.S. women’s national team players abroad becoming more of a normality than in the past, when it was seen as crucial to be in the NWSL, a path has now opened up from Europe.
“I would love to be playing back at home and stuff, but it's just, honestly, for me at this moment, this part of my career, it is just better to be here,” Gordon says. “And I like it here.”