Red stars aligned off the field, too
Players bonding over food, games in tourney bubble
One highlight of Red Stars forward Kealia Watt’s day is in the morning when the team leaves their hotel for training.
The Red Stars are all living individually, but they’re sharing a hotel during the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah with the North Carolina Courage, Portland Thorns and Washington Spirit.
The few minutes they share passing through the hotel are the only moments players have to socialize with friends on opposing teams outside of the time they spend on the field as competitors.
“We all try to talk as we walk past each other, but you really can’t,” Watt said. “We’re not even supposed to get on the same elevator as other teams, and everyone’s taking it seriously. We’re seeing other leagues having issues, so we’re really trying.”
A typical day in the NWSL bubble starts with an 8 a.m. wake-up.
The Red Stars had this week off from matches, so their training time has looked slightly different ahead of their final qualifying match Sunday against the Utah Royals.
Training sessions this week started at 11:30 after an optional breakfast at 9:15. Watt said the food provided by the league is great, especially compared to what she has seen in other bubbles. Still, she said everyone needs to switch it up from time to time, and different contactless delivery services are used for those specific cravings.
One favorite for many of the players is a company called Crumbl Cookies. The cookies come in flavors such as Lucky Charms, Lemon Poppyseed and Nutter Butter. They are served warm in a bright pink box, making it easy to spot when any team is indulging, Watt said.
The evenings are spent with teammates, usually watching soccer. Still, it isn’t all business in Utah.
“Rachel Hill brought this card game, and it’s super competitive,” Watt said.
NERTZ is the name of the game, and as relentless as the Red Stars are known to be on the field, they keep that same energy off of it. Because of the stress involved, players cautiously carve out time in the day for a game so they don’t disrupt important events, such as sleep.
All of the Red Stars have played at least once, but not everyone loves the intensity NERTZ brings out of its competitors.
“Sometimes I can’t handle the extra stress, so I’m like, ‘I’m out,’” midfielder Danielle Colaprico said.
The game is played with partners, and it’s essentially a race to get rid of all the cards in your hand. As soon as you do, you scream “NERTZ,” which Colaprico said is the most hysterical aspect of the game. Morgan Brian earned the title of MVP.
“Everybody wants to be her partner,” Watt said
“She always calls ‘NERTZ,’ and all of us still have so many cards left in our hands,” Colaprico said. “We all get so upset.”
The Red Stars try to spread the wealth, making sure each below-average player is paired with someone like Brian. Hill, Makenzy Doniak and Yuki Nagasato are also well-respected in the game.
It’s just a card game, but NERTZ has helped a team filled with new faces establish connections that carry onto the field. The bubble, in general, has provided a unique experience to share moments and create bonds that might not have happened otherwise.
Red Stars coach Rory Dames hasn’t been shy about using the qualifying round to develop a rhythm given all of the team’s changes in the offseason. The team hasn’t scored in its first three matches, putting it at the bottom of the Challenge Cup standings.
The high-intensity practices this week have focused on getting everything to click, much like the players have off the field. ✶
Red Stars forward Kealia Watt heads the ball during an NWSL Challenge Cup game in Herriman, Utah.