Kelli Smith (Smitty to her teammates), is no stranger to the Sounders Women. She has played for them for a span of seven years. She started while still a standout player at the University of Washington. While stook 2011 off, to concentrate on coaching her club teams, the draw of the top quality team made it too hard to refuse coming back for a final year.
She was also excited to learn under former teammate, Coach Michelle French.
"Frenchie being the coach was definitely a huge pull. I knew what kind of atmosphere she was going to create. It was really too good to pass up; playing with Hope again, I played with Hope in college."
Also getting to play with the rest of the National Team players, the youth national team players and fellow UW alum Veronica Perez, made it impossible to stay away.
Coach French says that "Kelli brings a necessary element of energy, excitement, grit, and skill to the back-line."She is known for her ability to read the entire field of play. She anticipates the play of the ball, and is able to shut down the opposing offense effectively. She claims to still be learning the game, especially the positioning techniques of Stephanie Cox and Hope Solo in the back, but she is one of the most complete players on the squad. What she lacks in height at 5’1″, she makes up in intelligence, passion and ferocity. This speedy central defender knows what she’s doing out there.
Kelli notes the intensity of the current incarnation of the Sounders Women as the biggest difference between the Sounders of old and new. Kelli says that they recognize that while the National Team players have initially brought the fans to the stadium, it’s the core players that are going to keep them coming back. It’s the core players that are going to be fighting to break into the final four. She’s proud to be one of those "core" players. "I think what they (the National Team players), have brought to our team, which will continue even when they’re gone, is just the level of intensity in training. And the feeling of what our job is."
"I think we’ve really recognized how big of a difference we’re making in the soccer community, and that we’ve really opened up people’s eyes. We really want to put a good product in front of them."
She and Kate Deines are learning new positions. Kelli is a former outside back, and Kate is a former center midfielder. They are learning to play alongside one another though. They are figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of one another, and are capitalizing on those. They know that Kate can go up and win the air balls, and Kelli can clean up behind her. They have played with one another for a few years, so they understand how each other thinks, and what to expect. That has made their transitions a little easier. It will be fun to watch them both grow into their positions this season.
When asked about playing in front of so many fans, she noted that it’s a stark contrast to the former Sounders Women teams. She said that before this season, the fans were hard to come by, and half of the people in the stands were friends or family. She said that the former "crowd" was more quiet and sullen. "It’s a pretty unbelievable experience to play in front of this many people." She loves the energy of the Jet City Auxiliary before the games, and during the breaks in play. "You feed off of it, you feel it during the game. It’s been pretty amazing." She says that the crowd response to strong plays, or goals just keeps the energy level high for the team. "It’s Seattle, and how much they love soccer, it’s what makes it so awesome."
When asked if she thinks the Sounders Women will continue to grow in the seasons to come, she says yes emphatically. She believes that with the quality of the players, the coaching level, and the outpouring of fan support, there will be plenty of new, talented players waiting in the wings to don the Rave Green. "I really can’t see it slowing down, I think it’s only going to get better."
The next home game for the Sounders Women is May 31st at 7:00pm against the Colorado Rush. They will start off the season at the Vancouver Whitecaps, on May 27th. The tickets are selling fast, so click here to purchase yours now. To learn the songs and chants of the Jet City Auxiliary, or to join the supporters club, click here.