A big part of Utah Royals FC's 3-1-0 start to the 2019 season had nearly given up on her dream of playing professional soccer just four months ago.
"I didn't think I was going to be playing soccer anymore," said Royals FC left back Michelle Maemone. "I went home during Christmas break and bought a bunch of work clothes. I had interviews lined up for jobs. I had an internship."
Fate or Utah Royals FC head coach Laura Harvey, intervened, selecting Maemone with the 23rd pick in the National Women's Soccer League draft on January 10.
"I was watching [the draft] on my phone between classes," said Maemone. "I really wasn't watching it for myself. I really did not think I was going to get drafted. I was watching it for two of my college teammates who had entered the draft. Thank God, they got drafted to North Carolina. Then, Utah's first pick came up. I was like 'if this is my chance, Utah will draft me now.' Then they say 'with the first pick in the third round, Utah selects Michelle Maemone, Pepperdine University.' Oh my gosh, it was immediate tears. This dream that I had since I was a little girl, I thought, was never going to come true. It had just come true."
"It was like, ok, now I have to prepare. I wasn't ready to go into camp at that point. I didn't think I was going to be playing soccer anymore."
Given the opportunity of her dreams, Maemone worked hard enough to instill confidence in the URFC coaching staff during preseason. So much so that when injuries struck the backline, Harvey gave the rookie the starting nod at left back in the team's opening match vs. the Washington Spirit on April 20.
Despite missing training the day before the match due to a fever of 101, Maemone logged 61 minutes in the 1-0 win before being relieved by FIFA Women's World Cup Champion Kelley O'Hara, who was not yet at full fitness and was unable to start the match.
“I don't think [Michelle] even knew what day it was when she came off," said Harvey after the season-opening victory. "She had just given absolutely everything to the team. And that's who she is, that's just the mentality and character she has. For a rookie to step in and give the performance that she did, [I'm] really proud, especially with the fact that she was so sick.”
A week later, Harvey gave the defender another start. Having shaken off the illness, Maemone rewarded her coach's faith by playing a much larger role in the team's victory against the Orlando Pride. Not only did Maemone contribute to another defensive shutout, her run up the left flank and cross into the area led to the game-winning goal. It was brought down brilliantly by another FIFA Women's World Cup Champion, Christen Press, who spun and curled a shot past the Orlando goalkeeper. The goal gave the rookie her first assist as a professional and the Royals a 2-0-0 start to its 2019 campaign.
"I've heard that Laura [Harvey] doesn't use rookies all that much," said Maemone. "To hear that, and then to be playing, I just think 'wow, she really believes in me. She believes I can do it.' Her and [assistant coach] Scott [Parkinson] have made it really clear to me that they would not put me on the field if they didn't feel I could handle it. It's just been amazing. Words cannot fully explain how much this has meant to me. I just want to help this team reach its goals. We're fighting for a Championship. We want it. If I can be of help to them in doing that, I want to take full advantage. I want to make the girls who have gone off for the World Cup proud. I want them to know that we're going to be able to hold it down while they're gone. I take pride in that."
Last week, with several key players already gone to prepare for the 2019 FIFA Womens' World Cup in France, Maemone started her third consecutive match of the season. In a scoreless first half, Utah’s nearest miss came in the ninth minute when Maemone curled a left-footed shot from the edge of the 18, only to have her effort ring off the crossbar. The match ended, 1-0, in favor of Utah on a clinical finish from striker Amy Rodriguez, but Maemone was just inches away being on the scoresheet. It was close, but not nearly as close as Maemone came to closing the door on her soccer career all-together just a few months ago.
"After our last game, I was signing autographs and talking with some of the little girls," said Maemone. "They told me they want to be out on the field at Rio Tinto some day. I was able to tell them that I remember being right where they were just a few years ago. It's possible. Right when you think it's impossible, it's still possible. You've gotta go for it. You've gotta chase after the things you love with all your heart. If you do that, it's possible."