GOAL OF THE YEAR

McCaskill looked like a dif­fer­ent player in CHAL­LENGE cup af­ter ramp­ing up her fit­ness rou­tine

Chicago Sun-Times - - RED STARS BEAT - BY AN­NIE COSTABILE acosta­bile@sun­times.com @an­niecosta­bile

Red Stars for­ward Sa­van­nah McCaskill fin­ished the 2019 NWSL sea­son with a sour taste in her mouth. The Red Stars’ 4-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL Cham­pi­onship was far from the team’s ex­pec­ta­tions, and for McCaskill, the en­tire match felt like a blur.

“I never showed my­self for a sin­gle mo­ment in that game,” McCaskill said. “I let the game be big­ger than me, and I let the mo­ments pass me by.”

The hang­over from that match is all McCaskill

had head­ing into the off­sea­son, and it sparked a de­sire in her to re­fo­cus and re­shape her game.

McCaskill was traded to the Red Stars mid­way through the 2019 sea­son, and her main goal when she joined the team was meet­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions of her new head coach, Rory Dames.

Dames wanted his new for­ward to make up for an of­fen­sive lapse the Red Stars were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing with their na­tional team play­ers com­pet­ing in the World Cup. The young for­ward fell short, with only one goal in 18 games.

“Look­ing back, I didn’t do a great job of [com­ing in and mak­ing an im­me­di­ate im­pact],” McCaskill said. “Which is an­other rea­son I wanted to come into this sea­son and really help con­trib­ute.”

The 2019 sea­son con­cluded the last week of Oc­to­ber, and by early Novem­ber, McCaskill was in Me­tuchen, New Jer­sey, train­ing at AP2T, a gym fo­cused on soc­cer-spe­cific train­ing.

McCaskill wanted to re­struc­ture the way she ap­proached her fit­ness.

Up un­til that point, McCaskill said she was able to get away with her lack of phys­i­cal fit­ness be­cause of her tech­ni­cal skills and abil­ity to see the game. She re­al­ized to be­come the player she wanted to be, that’s what needed to change.

From Novem­ber un­til the end of Fe­bru­ary, McCaskill was work­ing out be­tween five and six days a week. She spent four days in the gym at AP2T, ro­tat­ing be­tween speed and strength train­ing with Mike Olim and tech­ni­cal skill work with Matt Ni­gro. On the fifth day, McCaskill was play­ing pickup with the other pro­fes­sion­als train­ing at the gym. The sixth day of the week was ded­i­cated to hot yoga, and on the sev­enth, McCaskill would re­lax and re­cover.

“We had a really great group of NWSL play­ers train­ing there but also USL and MLS guys,” McCaskill said. “You showed up ev­ery day, and you def­i­nitely didn’t want to get out­worked.”

McCaskill re­turned to Chicago ready to show her growth as a player, but af­ter a week of train­ing, she was back in her home state of South Carolina be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

She kept up with her fit­ness in the off­sea­son by run­ning on her par­ent’s tread­mill and lift­ing. By the time the team re­turned to train­ing and the NWSL Chal­lenge Cup rolled around, every­one saw a whole new player.

One high­light dur­ing the Chal­lenge Cup where McCaskill proved her value to the Red Stars count­less times was the full 90 min­utes she played against the Port­land Thorns.

Her coaches back in New Jer­sey were watch­ing from the fa­cil­ity.

“Her in­vest­ment in the off­sea­son paid off,” Ni­gro said.

The Red Stars will re­sume group train­ing on Mon­day af­ter play­ers re­turn neg­a­tive COVID-19 tests.

McCaskill’s goals have changed slightly. “Go­ing for­ward, I want to con­tinue to stamp my­self onto games,” McCaskill said. “Whether that be get­ting on the ball or play­ing more through balls. Now that a fo­cus on my fit­ness is un­der­way, I think the more that I can do to show my­self in games is go­ing to be my next goal.” ✶

“Now that a fo­cus on my fit­ness is un­der­way, I think the more that I can do to show my­self in games is go­ing to be my next goal.”

Sa­van­nah McCaskill

ALEX GOODLETT/GETTY IM­AGES

A more fit Sa­van­nah McCaskill played all 90 min­utes in a score­less draw against Port­land Thorns on July 1 dur­ing the 2020 NWSL Chal­lenge Cup.

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