Five years is a relatively illustrious and storied career in the National Women’s Soccer League. It’s an unfortunate truth that in its earlier seasons many found it difficult to maintain a spot on one of the few team’s rosters. And yet, after five years Brittany Ratcliffe is still here, entering into a new chapter of her career that has her at the forefront of the attacking side for Utah Royals FC.
Ratcliffe began her professional career in 2016 after being selected No. 17 overall in the NWSL College Draft, as a product of the University of Virginia with 25 goals to her name many expected a high offensive production.
But in her first year she only started in 5 of the 15 matches, failing to net a goal that season for the first time in her career. A lackluster year saw Boston waive her rights, leaving the New Jersey native without a team.
After a short preseason stint with Chicago Red Stars, Racliffe landed with FC Kansas City, where she experianced a bit more stability. While there she played in 22 matches across two seasons, but just as things were accelerating again for her career she found herself following many of her teammates to Utah after the Kansas City organization folded and ceased operations.
“This was one of the most mentally taxing times, during the preseason with Chicago I was literally sleeping on a friend’s couch just trying to make the squad,” Ratcliffe said. “Then within two days time I went from being waived, to hopping on a plane, to literally walk off and jump right into practice with FC Kansas City, but I learned how to be flexible and be prepared for change.”
In her fourth state in as many years Ratcliffe was welcomed into a new home with Utah Royals FC where she got back to some of her offensive prowess, scoring two goals in 10 games, including one in stoppage time to lift the team to victory over North Carolina Courage.
And just like a chapter out of a poorly written book the unthinkable happened when Ratcliffe suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, almost certainly sidelining her for the next year. So, with the injury Ratcliffe packed up her bags and moved back home to New Jersey to recover and reset her eyes on 2020.
“It was incredibly difficult to be away from the team, I had previously torn my ACL in high school, but that was over 10 years ago and it wasn’t my full time job, so being away from the game was that much harder,” Ratcliffe said. “I was thrilled when it was time for preseason to start. To me it felt like a fresh start, something entirely new, even more so than when I was a rookie, then to have it come to a screeching halt due to COVID took some adjusting.”
While for many coming back from injury further time off would have presented as a setback, Ratcliffe chose to view it as a positive, providing her with even more time to work on her fitness and ensure that she was at the top of her game -- which is were she finds herself today, refreshed, rehabilitated and ready for the true crux of her career.
When the NWSL announced the new format for this season as a tournament Ratcliffe was unsure of what it would look like, but much to her surprise she is poised as one of the starters alongside longtime veteran Amy Rodriguez.
“Coming back into this season I almost had zero expectations, I was just ready to play,” Ratcliffe said. “Plus with a new coaching staff, new personnel and new format, everything feels so fresh that I almost couldn’t expect anything, because I truly had no idea.”
On the morning of the first game realization of what was happening struck her as she put her jersey on for the first time in over a year. Setback after setback had presented itself and yet here she was about to step back onto the field, thrust into the belly of the whale with complete joy and excitement.
And while she didn’t score in any of the matches she showed some of the fittest and best soccer she’s played in her career and to top it off she contributed greatly to the team’s lone goal in the second match against Sky Blue FC to earn the win. With her spatial awareness she intercepted a hard pass from a Sky Blue defender, initiating a give-and-go with Rodriguez before passing off the ball to Vero Boquete in an open midfield which set up the sequence for the goal.
With each match it seems as if she just gets better and better, which is exactly where she wants to be.
“When I was coming back from injury I viewed each day as a new challenge, can I just get incrementally better?” Ratcliffe said. “And now that I’m back healthy I view it the same, just a little better each day.”