While Sunday’s Reign FC loss to the Utah Royals wasn’t the result the club wanted, there were a few positives to celebrate. At the top of that list was the re-emergence of Shea Groom, who scored her second goal for Reign FC — blasting a loose ball into the net to equalize the game in the first half.
Groom, who was pulled at halftime to manage minutes during a tight stretch of matches, finished her 45-minute stint with two shots, one goal, and three chances created. She was the primary link in the attack as the team pushed to overcome a third-minute Utah goal that put them behind early.
“It felt good to feel like myself again and obviously to get a goal, but I always want to win,” Groom said after the match.
While that feels like something a player who hasn’t scored since May would say, those words — “it felt good to feel like myself again” — might be among the most powerful Groom has uttered concerning her professional soccer career.
To understand why is to know what motivates Groom.
As she told Ride of the Valkyries after scoring her first Reign FC goal against the North Carolina Courage in May, Groom plays at her best when she’s happy and confident. Only then can the 26-year-old play the style of game that suits her — with aggression, winning balls in the air, and putting her body on the line for her teammates.
In her own words, Groom is on a journey this season to re-establish herself as a “menace that nobody wants to deal with on the backline.”
When these motivating factors were stripped from Groom during a trying 2018 season with Sky Blue FC, she was close to saying goodbye to the game forever. Without joy and support, what was left?
“This offseason was the most trying chapter yet. Thought about hanging it up — didn’t love it anymore. Wanted to give up because I thought I had lost all the things that made me, me,” Groom shared in a Facebook post after the Reign’s home opener, where Groom electrified the crowd after blocking goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’ attempted clearance and nearly sliding the ball into the goal.
If not for a fateful call in January, Groom might not be making those plays at Cheney Stadium. It was then, just months before the season kicked off, that the Reign struck an agreement with Sky Blue. Groom was heading to the Pacific Northwest to reunite with a coach who put her in U.S. Women’s National Team contention three years prior.
For Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski, bringing Groom on this season was a no-brainer. She played for Andonovski for three years when he coached at FC Kansas City before the team folded. There, she scored 17 goals, including a team-leading eight in 2016.
“We wanted to bring some young talent this year to mix with the great, experienced veterans we have,” Andonovksi shared. For the second-year Reign FC coach, the players had to be energetic, intense, enthusiastic, and hungry. “Shea checked all the boxes.”
Taking the offseason off to reset her priorities meant that Groom didn’t enter the season at the level of fitness and familiarity on the ball she would have wanted. It’s taken her some time to reconnect with the player she once was — not to mention form new partnerships with a rotating cast of players who have stepped onto the field due to injuries and World Cup duties. But as fans in the stands at Cheney Stadium have come to recognize, Groom continues to grow more into that role as a menace every match.
“From the tired and weary girl who couldn’t get out of bed to the fierce and feisty girl who actually smiled again while playing her favorite game. Here’s to more work, but also to so much more joy,” Groom concluded in her Facebook post back in April.
The Reign FC forward was quick to note after scoring her first goal of the season that while the joy was returning, she felt like she still had a lot more to prove.
“I think there are new levels I can continue to reach in my career,” Groom told Ride of the Valkyries earlier this summer. Her coach agreed, noting that while the hunger has been there for Groom, he expects she’ll continue to fine-tune her final product and finishing touch.
Fans saw more of that on Sunday as the Reign took on the Utah Royals, but that goal might have been just the beginning for Groom this season. With eight games remaining for Reign FC in the regular season — and a playoff spot still in question — Groom’s tenacity is going to be a critical piece of the puzzle. Luckily, she’s happy and confident heading into the final stretch.
“I felt like a bird with a broken wing coming here, and this team nursed me back to being myself again,” Groom shared with Ride for the Valkyries, expressing her gratitude toward the entire Reign FC staff for believing in her. “I’m remembering who I am and what makes me special.”
Shea Groom is now ready to soar. The rest of the league better watch out.