The 2014 NWSL season is a new beginning for Chicago Red Stars midfielder Zakiya Bywaters, who spent her off season rehabbing and regaining strength back in her knee.
“It took me longer than I expected to get back to where I needed,” Bywaters said. “But once I arrived at home in Las Vegas, I was able to get the therapy and treatment I needed. Now I can say my knee is feeling the best it has in awhile.”
Bywaters’ rookie campaign came to a crashing halt after six games, when she suffered a torn meniscus in her left knee. The Las Vegas, Nev. native displayed skill and speed in her shortened season scoring two goals including a game winner.
“I tore my meniscus last season in a game against the Portland Thorns,” Bywaters said. “I was dribbling in setting up for a cross when I planted my left leg. I immediately knew that something wasn’t right with my knee.”
The injury that rendered her year short could have shattered the rookie’s confidence. Instead she used it as a learning experience and motivation. Improving her game is the most important thing to Bywaters, who uses her intense passion for soccer as a strength to elevate her game.
“Last season I had a lot of expectations for myself playing wise but I had to transform that into a different perspective,” Bywaters said. “Being a student and taking what I’ve learned from last season and implementing it to when I go back to Chicago. I’m very eager to get back to playing with the team and excited for all the new players we will be getting.”
Even after missing 16 games last season, she doesn’t see any additional pressure on her return.
“I don’t consider it pressure because as professional athletes we’re all in the same position as far as being expected to perform well,” Bywaters said. “For me I just see it as competition now, what am I going to do for myself to get where I need to be and to help the team win.”
For most players, the upcoming NWSL season is a year of goals, achieving aspirations and growth.
“My goals for this next season are to just become a better player in all aspects and do what I can to help the team win,” Bywaters said.
Recently, Chicago made additions to increase their offensive prowess, with the acquisition of Melissa Tancredi and the allocation of breakout player Christen Press. In 2013, Press became the first American to win the Damallsvenskan’s Golden Boot in Sweden’s top flight.
“This is going to be great for the team all around,” Bywaters said. “Offensively it’s going to put the pieces together that we were missing so I’m ready to play with them and continue to learn and grow as a player. I’m very eager to get back to playing with the team and excited for all the new players we will be getting.”
Last January, Bywaters was selected first overall by the Red Stars in the 2013 NWSL College Draft. What was thought to be a surprise first pick was merely an approval of confidence in the midfielder’s talents by the organization.
“I’m just very excited and honored. I’m really excited to be here and honored to be the No. 1 pick. I’m very grateful that the Chicago Red Stars have chosen me to be on their team,” Bywaters said in a post draft interview.
The striker was a standout at UCLA, winning the 2012 Pac-12 Player of the Year Award and was named a semifinalist for the 2012 Hermann Trophy. However, Bywaters was facing a steep challenge in her move from college to professional soccer.
“The transition from college soccer to the NWSL is very different,” Bywaters said. “Once the college season is over you’re on your own as a player and have to try and figure out how to continue to train for a team.”
The 23 year-old also has some simple advice for any 2014 NWSL draftee.
“Just enjoy every moment,” Bywaters said.