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Friday, March 01, 2024

Six former Gators prepare for NWSL opening day

The NWSL's Challenge Cup will feature six Florida alumni

<p>UF defender Christen Westphal dribbles during Florida&#x27;s 2-1 win against LSU on Oct. 11, 2015, at James G. Pressly Stadium. Wespthal now plays right-back for the Portland Thorns and is one of six former Gators playing professionally in the NWSL. </p>

UF defender Christen Westphal dribbles during Florida's 2-1 win against LSU on Oct. 11, 2015, at James G. Pressly Stadium. Wespthal now plays right-back for the Portland Thorns and is one of six former Gators playing professionally in the NWSL.

The 2021 NWSL season kicks off Friday night with the second iteration of the Challenge Cup, the tournament which was created after the league became the first professional sports league to come back in America after COVID-19 first hit the country.

Florida is currently tied for eighth in the amount of former players which currently play in the league at six. Although Florida has not produced a league star in quite a while, that many players produced in the Swamp will have Becky Burleigh proud. Three also occupy a roster for the first time after just graduating. 

Here are the six to watch for. 

Gabby Seiler, Midfielder,
 Houston Dash

Florida Career: 2016-2017

The three-time All-SEC First Team selection begins her first season with the Dash after a two-year stint with the Portland Thorns. Seiler’s time in the Rose City was hampered by a torn ACL, which required surgery at the end of 2019 and limitedher to 105 minutes of playtime in 2020. 

The 2020 Challenge Cup champions have two federation players on the payroll in 2021, so Seiler will have to wait for an opportunity to play after her injury.

 Christen Westphal, Right back
 Portland Thorns

Florida Career: 2012-2015

Westphal, after three straight All-SEC first team selections as well as All-American honors in 2013 and 2015, Westphal found a home in the NWSL. 

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But the Ohio native bounced around the league at first. She was drafted by the Boston Breakers in 2016, but the team folded after the 2017 season. She then spent two years with the OL Reign.

Despite making a name for herself as a center back at Florida, she flourished defensively with the team that won the community shield in the 2020 Fall Series.

Havana Solaun, Attacking midfielder
North Carolina Courage

Florida Career: 2011-2014

After a hectic 2019 and 2020, the Gainesville-grown Jamaican international signed to four clubs in Norway, France and Cyprus. Soluan returned from her European tour to join the Courage during the 2020 Fall Series and signed a full contract in January. 

After the Courage secured the No.1 seed in last year’s Challenge Cup, it lost to Portland in the first round. Manager Paul Riley will hope to avoid that, and Solaun could lead the team if she continues her form from Norway where she scored 10 goals in 20 games.

Meggie Dougherty-Howard, Defensive midfielder
Erika Tymark, Midfielder
Orlando Pride 

Florida Careers: 2013-2016 & 2009-2012

Two former Gators return to the Sunshine State to play, even though it’s down I-75 in Orlando. The midfield duo will play behind a team that’s top-heavy with big name forwards in Alex Morgan and Marta and Sydney Leroux. 

Both players will serve different roles for the side, which finished second bottom in the 2020 Fall Series and didn’t play in the Challenge Cup due to a COVID-19 outbreak. 

Doughtery-Howard joined the Pride in a trade after a three-year stay with the Washington Spirit. Tymark, on the other hand, comes out of retirement last playing for the Utah Royals in 2019.

It would be criminal to talk about Orlando Pride and not mention their stunning “Ad Astra” kit which Florida fans can get personalized with either of their ex favorites. NWSL sides continue their brilliant creative streak and the new Orlando number takes influence from NASA with a space themed top half and purple bottom.

Vanessa Kara, Forward
Racing Louisville 

Florida Career: 2019

Kara and Louisville will make their NWSL debut in 2021. After a year-long spell in Finland with Tikkurilan Palloseura, Kara came back stateside as trialist for Louisville. She later became one of five to earn a full contract Monday. 

Due to the nature of first seasons, Kara is bound to have some opportunities out wide.

The three seniors who recently played their final matches for Florida and have their rights held by NWSL sides are Deanne Rose, Parker Roberts and Carina Blatrip-Reyes. Rose was the only one selected in the draft at tenth overall by NC Courage and will likely join the side very soon. Roberts has her rights held by KC NWSL and Baltrip-Reyes could join the Dash if they decide to give her a contract.

Contact Myles Herbert at and follow him on Twitter @myles_herbert

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