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The industriousness of OL Reign midfielder Marley Canales

Canales is hungry to learn on and off the field.

Jane Gershovich / OL Reign

“I don’t think I could be in a better situation.”

When midfielder Marley Canales was selected by OL Reign in the fourth round of the NWSL College Draft last December, those familiar with women’s college soccer considered it basically a steal for the club. Initially signed as a National Team Replacement Player but since upgraded to a full member of the first team, Canales talked with Ride of the Valkyries about how becoming a professional soccer player has also been a move for her to get out of her own comfort zone and learn new things about herself, including eating and enjoying dumplings.

Throughout her collegiate career at UCLA, Canales played as a holding midfielder. “I just love to be on the ball. I grew up watching [Andrés] Iniesta and [Sergio] Busquets and I’ve tried to emulate their game. I love to be on the ball, I love to control the flow of the game and I take a lot of pride in my work rate,” said Canales in describing her style of play. And it’s not lost on Canales that she gets to train with, against, and pick the brains of NWSL MVP Jess Fishlock, Rose Lavelle, and Quinn, admitting there is a wow factor to it, but it is still very real that she is a member of this roster.

“You start to get to know them on and off the field, they’re just like us. They’re competitors, they love the game. It’s their habits on and off the field that makes them so great,” said Canales.

In an interview with Circling Seattle Sports back in April, Canales recalled the day of the NWSL College Draft, after all the picks were in, when she received a text message from captain Lauren Barnes welcoming her and the other new faces to the club. Ahead of our chat with Canales, here’s what Barnes said of Canales:

“Marley has been a great addition to the squad. Her attitude and determination everyday in training pushes the rest of us. She’s a great teammate both on and off the field and I’m excited to watch her grow into our system.”

She was appreciative of what Barnes said when we relayed that message to her, but she’s aware that it’s one thing for her talent to get her drafted and get that first-team spot for this season, but it’s another thing to raise her talent level to keep that spot and become an impact player.

“There’s a standard that my teammates put out and I need to earn their respect. It doesn’t really matter what I’ve done in college, in the past,” she observed. “I just want to show that I can compete at this level and I can take in information, whether that’s from the coaching staff or other players, because I want to be here, I want to learn.”

While she’s only a couple of months into her pro career, Canales recalls a moment from the week the club gathered in Arizona to start training camp that served as her “Welcome to the next level” moment.

“Within the first couple of days, we did an inter-squad [scrimmage]. It’s 11-v-11, we have referees come in and people are absolutely flying. I was ready to go, nervous because it’s my first couple of days with the Reign and I was just thinking, these poor refs. They probably thought they’re coming into a scrimmage and just ref this game and we had players screaming, arguing with the refs for calls, for fouls, offsides. I was just like ‘Oh my god, this is real’. It didn’t matter if we were in a stadium of 20,000 people or Casa Grande, Arizona, middle of nowhere, these players want to compete, want to win. So that was my first experience of this is what it takes, this is what I gotta bring.”

“I don’t know when I’m going to feel like I’ve made it.”

It’d be understandable if you missed it, but Canales has already made her professional debut for OL Reign, substituting into the game in the 87th minute of their regular season opener against Washington Spirit at Audi Field on May 1st. She recalled the moment being a blur, but couldn’t reflect on it as being her “I’ve made it” moment.

“I am very goal-oriented and I’m always hungry for more, so the feeling of I’ve finally made it is kind of foreign to me, because I always want more. Fighting for a first-team contract and fighting to get on the field, you’re very grateful for the opportunity, but you’re always looking to what’s next. What do I need to do to get further?”

The adjustment to becoming a professional soccer player has been interesting for Canales. In college, everything is structured for athletes. Go to class, practice, study, play games, repeat. Having graduated from UCLA in March with a Master’s degree in Transformative Coaching and Leadership, Canales now has time to learn about herself and hopefully find something that allows her to invest in herself as Marley Canales, the person, outside of the rigors of Marley Canales, the professional soccer player.

“I’m trying to figure out what to do with all of my free time. We train, work out in the beginning half of the day and then okay, I don’t have class anymore. What does one do with this time?”

Like most members of the squad, Canales lives with a teammate and they’re all neighbors with each other, to which she has joined in teammate activities like their book club and acknowledges that someday she will become a dog mom because of the massive influence of her teammates with canines of their own.

A quick aside in mentioning the Master’s degree that Canales graduated with — the program is based upon and developed from the coaching and teachings of former UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden, hailed as one of the greatest coaches in all of sports.

“I keep the Pyramid of Success in mind all the time. I was able to learn that pyramid inside and out, and at the pinnacle of the pyramid is Competitive Excellence [also listed as Competitive Greatness] and throughout my program, we read a lot of books, we learned about his philosophies and the reasoning for the placements of the blocks in the pyramid. I think it’s just a beautiful construction of working from the inside out, and how that can make you a great person, a great teammate, and a great player. He was able to coach and mentor some of the best basketball players in the world and even people outside of sport he’s been able to influence. So I look at that pyramid and it’s such an inspiration, because that’s the kind of coach that I really value and love learning about. It’s not just the most talented players or people that make a difference. It’s the people that are willing to do the small things that not everyone wants to do, is willing to put in the work being an honorable person, a hard worker, and a genuine person. That’s what I gravitated towards and I love the pyramid and hope other people can learn just as much about it as I have.”

While there’s plenty of time for Canales to discover and learn things about herself, she does have answers for questions we’ve asked her OL Reign teammates over the years.

If she called the shot, she’d cast Selena Gomez to play her in a biopic about the life and career of Marley Canales, as an ode to her Hispanic heritage. “I don’t know her soccer experience, but that probably could get worked through.”

As for the other major question? “I am a thousand percent pro-pineapple on pizza,” said Canales, elaborating it’s been her pizza order for most of her life. Canales admits she’s a “very plain, basic eater; a tad picky at times, my mother would say,” but she was part of the group that recently took a field trip to Seattle’s International District, where she tried dumplings for the very first time. She is a fan.

“Yeah, I stepped out of my comfort zone, I’ve never had a dumpling before. If any time is the time, it’s right now. Big fan.”

It all goes back how Canales views being drafted by OL Reign and starting her professional career at one of the NWSL’s founding clubs. The standard on and off the field that’s been established and maintained by so many veterans, including the Reign Originals, and stepping out of her comfort zone so she can discover new things about herself as a person as she puts in the work to evolve as a player. Her support system of her family — mother Kelly and father Rudy, her older sister Miranda, and boyfriend Kyle — won’t go away, and they have been able to come up to see her and have future plans to do so as the season progresses.

“I’m honored to be a part of the Reign, happy to start my career here. We’re building something, and already have something here incredible.”

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