There aren’t many professional footballers that have balanced the demands of being a young mother with the rigours of their careers. But Sarah Gorden is one such, and now she’s also managed to add a comeback from a serious injury to the list. Wonder Woman can take notes.

During the 2021 season, Sarah Gorden earned Chicago’s first Iron Woman title after playing every minute of every game – 2,160 minutes through 24 games – and was a nominee for NWSL Defender of the Year. A switch to Angel City then followed but then irony struck in March – injury, and a bad one at that. Since then it’s been the road to recovery, with the promise of a debut in front of a huge home crowd spurring her on. 

But while injury is never good, Gorden has drawn all the positives from it that she possibly can; finding time that otherwise eluded her to reset her mind, analyse her game, and iron out some creases. All in, it’s put her in quite the positive mindset ahead of an eagerly anticipated comeback and debut. Catching up with the defender, we talked through the injury and how she’s dealt with it, as well as her future aspirations. And we also uncovered the secret of balancing motherhood and being a professional footballer…

To start with, doing an ACL is a serious injury… how’s your head going through all that?

Well now I would say that I’m in a really good place, now that I’m officially five months out of surgery, and I’m ahead of schedule, and it’s finally feeling like I have a normal knee again…I’m in a pretty good place. I think the hardest part is going to games and, you know, like the games where you see the team grind it out, and it’s a battle. Those are my favourite games. So going to those games is difficult – it’s still pretty difficult, but I feel like I’m in a much better place than I was two or three months ago, when I was really in pain and just trying to have all my physical autonomy again.

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When I was in college, there were the first NWSL college drafts and women's soccer was thriving. It was a perfect time to really believe 'oh, this dream is possible’."

That all stems from a pure love of the game, seeing a ball and just wanting to kick it. How would you describe that connection to the sport and when it first came into your life?

Well, I started playing when I was about six and I was not good, but I feel like when I was about 11 or 12, I really started enjoying it, and a few people told me, oh you’re really good at it, you’re really fast, and I think as a young kid, that’s something that’s important to you too.

But as a young teenager, that’s when I really started to love the game and watch it outside of just playing it, and that’s when it became really important to me.

What about the importance of representation in this country? Could you see even at a young age that you could make a career out of it?

Yeah, for sure, I mean, obviously we’ve had a few women’s leagues in our country. Throughout my time playing I’ve watched a lot of the superstars who I’ve looked up to: Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, of course they inspired me. When I was in college there were the first NWSL college drafts and women's soccer was thriving. It was a perfect time to really believe 'Oh, this dream is possible'.

What was that turning point between it being a dream to actually becoming a reality? Was there a leap of faith?

Yeah, for sure, I had just had my son in college. So, I was young, in a place in my life where I had to make a choice about what I wanted to do. But it was just cool to be able to make that choice, too be able to play professionally, and get drafted, and I was one of those sleeper players. I feel like not that many coaches do without me in the league, so it’s been a really cool journey overall.

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Trying to play the sport and raise a child, it’s a really big weight to hold. I feel so grateful because my son loves the sport, and he grew up around the sport, and around very strong, powerful women."

You mention having a son, that’s obviously an amazing thing to be able to be able to make him proud through what you do. It’s also something that you don’t have to comprehend in the men’s game. Just being a mother in the game, what’s that like?

I’d definitely agree with you, and I’ve said it before, obviously, it’s a huge responsibility to be a dad, but it’s so different being a woman, and a mum, and at times in my life, a single mum. You know, trying to play the sport and raise a child, and it’s a really big weight to hold.

But I feel so grateful because my son loves the sport, and he grew up around the sport, and around very strong, powerful women. So I love that this is his childhood, and he’s grown up around the game. It’s not like it used to be back home – here in America there’s football and basketball for boys, especially black boys, so I think it’s amazing that he really gets to grow up in the game, and I think it’s just going to be special for him.

It’s an amazing thing to raise a kid along with dealing with the pressure of football, you’ve got to give your all to both. How have you managed that?

Well, I feel like I’m finally in a place where I feel like it’s okay to say that people are always like, ‘oh you’re super mum', but the truth is that when you’re succeeding in one, you’re failing in another, you can’t do it all. But I also feel like I wouldn’t be a good mum if I wasn’t fulfilling what I feel like I should be doing, my passions, what I’m here to do, what I’m here to achieve, and so the balance is a really difficult thing, and I think it’s something that I just kind of… I wing it. (LAUGHS)

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Such an incredible position and mindset. Do you feel like you’re on something of a mission when it comes to representing the women’s game?

I feel like I’m definitely on a mission right now. I’ve never been injured before – not even like a pulled muscle, nothing, growing up even. So I definitely feel like it’s given me a chance to take a step back and kind of realign myself with what am I doing here, what do I want to achieve. And I feel like you can get complacent; you can get comfortable, and sometimes an injury is a good way to be like, wait no, I actually want more for myself.

But then off the pitch as well, you know, the injury, and just who I am, I have a lot I want to achieve – I have a non-profit, which is about bringing yoga and meditation and mental health resources to black and brown girls, so I am a very motivated person, and there’s so many things that I’m passionate about and want to do.

What about the things that you have done so far? What are your proudest milestones along the way?

Well, here’s the thing – I played in Chicago for six years, and we lost in the championship the last three years, (LAUGHING) so I can’t even say there’s a winning moment that I’m super-proud of. I think that for me, one of the things on the field that I’m proud of is being a rookie, never seeing the field, and finding a way to stick through and be a single parent, but still not playing, kind of being like, what am I doing here?! But finding a way to really focus, stick through it, and become a better player from it. I think that’s honestly one of the things I’m most proud of and it seems like a really small thing now, looking back, but it took a lot of mental work, a lot of heart, a lot of focus, a lot of everything.

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The aim going forward is recover from injury, first and foremost, but then beyond that, where do you set your aspirations?

I would love to get called into camps again, and get my first cap. When you’re away from the game, you like, have so much time to think about you want to do, what do I want to do. ACL’s like a nine month process, and it’s really slow, so you have time to work on the small things – obviously I’m not doing any technical work or anything with the ball right now, but I’m really working on small parts of my game and my movement, which I would never have the opportunity to work on if I wasn’t injured, so that’s cool. I feel like I can come back as a totally different player.

Has it been a point of reflection as well, in that sense?

Yes, of course. So much reflection. It feels like that’s all you can really do in the first few months, because you can’t move that much. But in a good way I’m a huge meditator, so I feel like it’s really got me into my routine, and really got me focused on small holes, chinks, and small things.

I mean, it’s a proper bitch to have covid and everything that came with that, and then double down on that with a long injury like that… The hunger levels must now be through the roof then?

Yeah, they’re pretty high. I feel like our league is much different this year than it has been in the past, because a lot of players are injured or maybe even moving out of the game, or pregnant – there’s a lot of players that are pregnant.

Watching the young players is really fun, but then it’s also exciting think oh I can’t wait to get out there and playing again! (LAUGHS)

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I feel like I’m on a mission right now. I’ve never been injured before, so it’s given me a chance to take a step back and realign myself with what am I doing and what do I want to achieve. I feel like I can come back as a totally different player."

What would you say the landscape of the game is over here?

Well, I our league is obviously expanding this year with two new teams, and they’re looking to expand in the future, so it really is a great time to make a name for yourself. There’s just so many openings to it, it doesn’t matter who you are, you can really step up. I feel like our league has always been so transitional and fast paced, and kind of crazy, and people will talk about it and be like, ‘they’re not playing soccer, they’re kicking and running!’ And it’s like, well sometimes you gotta do that, right?

But it’s just high energy, and I feel like that’s the best way to describe it. And it’s fun to play in. You can be the Number one team and you could lose to the last place team, it doesn’t matter.

Being part of Angel City, sell out games and it looks like an incredible place to watch football. What’s it like to be a part of that?

Well, that’s another reason that I cannot wait to get back, because I see a sold out crowd, and I’m coming from Chicago where we had about 5000 fans on a good day, so I want to play in front of that and be a part of that, and that’s part of the reason I came here. But it’s crazy, like the opening day, I can’t even explain how the energy was, because it was just electric. It was amazing to be a part of it.

The off pitch culture that comes with the game over here, obviously there’s so many great women who are culturally aware. Does it feel like it’s a really great place for people to express themselves?

Yeah, I feel like there’s a few parts of that – one of them being our league here has done a great job, and kudos to the likes of Megan Rapinoe and the OGs of the league – they’ve done a great job of paving the way for us to express ourselves, with fashion, with speaking out about things, with any way we want to express ourselves. I feel like it started with taking a stance on a lot of social issues, things that we have going on, and then things like fashion;  I can wear what I want to wear, and be who I want to be, and no one in this league and none of the supporters of this league, will do anything but support you, and raise you up for it.

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Are there causes now that, because you have that voice and that platform, that you really want to push and change in the game?

Well, I’m very loud off the field, I’ve been a big advocate for a lot of social issues. Obviously, Black Lives Matter, and just there’s so much going on here, I mean, I feel like you guys, I feel like you guys see it on the news, and you’re like, what’s going on in America?! (LAUGHING) it’s a shit show! But I’m just all for treating people with love and it just turns into so many smaller issues, and it’s not even about that anymore. But part of the reason I started my non-profit was to help create space within the lives of people who’ve been through trauma and stuff like that.

It’s an amazing thing not to just firstly say that you want to do something, but then actually put it into place. And there’s obviously a lot of graft with stuff like that, that goes behind the scenes, even on an admin level. Is it an experience to learn new things and explore new territories at the same time?

Yeah. And also, sometimes it’s so overwhelming, because you want do so many things (LAUGHS), you don’t have the time to do all these things. It’s definitely like having a business, it’s like there’s so many different laws and rules and things to follow, but at the end of the day, it’s just about bringing this resource to people.

And finally, then – when you do get to feel a blade of grass under your feet again, how’s that going to feel?

It’s going to feel amazing. Honestly, all I’m looking forward to right now is being able to just start a little bit of ball work, a little bit of technical, it’s all I want to do.

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Sarah Gorden wears the Nike Mercurial Superfly IX, which you can pick up at