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‘I know Andonovski believes in me’ - Groom on USWNT ambitions, facing Lyon or Barcelona and the Houston Dash's NWSL play-off push

15:00 BST 10/08/2021
Shea Groom Vlatko Andonovski composite
Previously called up to the U.S. women's national team by Jill Ellis, the midfielder hopes success with the Dash could lead to another opportunity

Shea Groom may harbor ambitions of playing for the U.S. women’s national team, but this summer she was wearing a different jersey.

With Rachel Daly, the Houston Dash captain, representing Great Britain at the Olympic Games, Groom and her team-mates showed their support, their new shirts complete with Daly’s name on the back.

“I've been getting some heat for not wearing U.S. jerseys, but I was just trying to support everybody!” Groom laughs, the gesture one of many that highlights the camaraderie in Houston that "goes a level deeper".

Speaking to Goal, she is this time wearing her U.S. gear, celebrating the USWNT's bronze medal.

With Dash midfielder Kristie Mewis part of that team, she says she may still have to order her jersey too.

“It's been incredible to watch Kristie's story and the way that she fought back from injury,” Groom says, with Mewis’ club form having been rewarded with her first cap in six years and an Olympic call-up.

“She just put her head down and had consistent games, never complained, never got too low, never got too high and just did whatever to help the team win. What an inspiring story for all players in the NWSL.”

Groom herself has been on the fringes of that USWNT picture. Last year, she was called into a training camp by Vlatko Andonovski, the national team head coach who she has known since she was nine years old. In 2015, he coached Groom and Kansas City as they won the NWSL Championship.

“Our history, it's good and bad. I think he has really high expectations for me, but at the same time, I know he believes in me and sees so much in me,” the 28-year-old, who received a call-up from former coach Jill Ellis in 2016, says. “It's just about me rising to the occasion and really giving him no doubt.

“I'm just trying to put together a consistent season, get on the scoresheet and help my team win. Hopefully, the rest of it takes care of itself.”

In Houston, Groom’s presence has been especially big during the Olympics, with the Dash losing six important players.

When she won the Championship in 2015, many of Kansas’ biggest stars were away at the World Cup, and Groom was among the young players who needed to fill the shoes of some of the most notable names in women’s soccer, from Heather O'Reilly to Amy Rodriguez.

“Just to learn from some of those players and get to play alongside them - I had no idea what I was doing, but they always made me feel extremely confident that I could be something special in this league," she says. "I don't know if I would've got this far without that experience and without those players building me up and encouraging me.”

Of those stars, it was Lauren Holiday who really took Groom under her wing in what would prove to be her final season. Holiday, a World Cup winner with the USWNT, would be the first player in the league's history to have their jersey retired, an honor which speaks volumes.

Groom describes her as “one of the most impactful players" she has played with.

“Helping the younger girls learn and grow and just getting that confidence out, that's a difference maker when you come into this league,” she says, remembering what players like Holiday did for her. “I definitely feel a much bigger role - bringing the energy, bringing the things that make me special and trying to bring that out of everyone else as well.”

That quality on and off the pitch has shone since Groom arrived in Houston. The club has never finished in a play-off spot, but after winning the inaugural Challenge Cup last year, it is in a different place.

“[That] set a precedent that the Houston Dash isn't bottom of the league anymore. We're a place people want to come to,” Groom says. “We had that negative connotation with the Dash and we really wanted to prove people wrong and tell people this is a great club to be at, top to bottom.”

That success secured Houston a place in another exciting competition too - the Women’s International Champions Cup. The Portland Thorns will host the tournament, with the last two winners of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, Lyon and Barcelona, joining them and the Dash.

“It'll be another great test for us, as well as just another opportunity to show who the Houston Dash is and to show some of our players on a world stage,” Groom says.

Having upset the applecart in the Challenge Cup, the team will be looking to do the same again. They face Portland on August 18, hoping to frustrate one of the best crowds in the women’s game.

“You live for the silence that comes when your team scores a goal,” Groom says. It is a feeling she knows all too well, with a brace in the 2016 season helping Kansas win 2-1 in Portland. “I think I thrive under the hostility.”

But the competition will not just be a chance for Houston to just ruffle some feathers. Ahead of the business end of the NWSL, it could give them a huge boost.

Despite a difficult last month, they are two places and two points off the post-season spots – and their Olympians are on their way back.

“It [could be] huge, just to give us that confidence to continue the last little segment of our season,” Groom adds.

“We're right there. A few different results go our way and we're top of the table. [Success in the WICC] would just help us solidify that confidence, and that unity, moving forward.”