(Image courtesy of Racing Louisville FC twitter)
The legend of Nadia Nadim continues.
The Afghan refugee-turned Dutch international has done it all over her sparkling 16-year career. She has brought Denmark to the precipice of European glory, won trophies in three of the world’s top domestic leagues, picked up anywhere from seven to nine languages (depending on which stories you read), and by next year will be Dr. Nadim after finishing her medical studies and becoming a plastic surgeon. She’s also overcome immense challenges en route to becoming one of world soccer’s foremost icons; her father, an Afghan National Army general was executed by the Taliban when Nadim was 12 years old, forcing her family to flee to Denmark where she would eventually start her professional career.
Her next challenge comes in the form of a return to the NWSL and helping a young expansion Racing Louisville FC grow and achieve success. In that way, Racing coach Christy Holly believes she’s already succeeding.
“Players gravitate towards her,” said Holly. “She garners a respect from players, not only because of her past as a person and what she’s gone through and overcome, but also the way that she’s had her career play out.”
While the forward is a leader and star on the pitch — she bagged 21 goals over the last three seasons in her most recent spell with Paris Saint-Germain in France’s Division 1 Féminine — Holly said part of what makes her such a gravitational force is her intelligence and depth beyond it.
“Seven o’clock in the morning, we’re sitting and having breakfast with her as she’s doing her thesis for her schoolwork. I mean, she opened up a paper she’s reading, which is the Cultural Indicators in Organizational Innovation in Scandinavia,” Holly recalled. “And you’ve got a professional soccer player doing that. That’s the level of intelligence behind this person. That’s the level of intent behind everything she does. So that’ll rub off on the younger players, for sure.”
Nadim’s arrival after a prolonged visa application process represents a final piece of the puzzle of sorts for Louisville. After playing the Challenge Cup and the first few games of the season with an exceptionally young and inexperienced roster, the club have gradually added top-level players from overseas to build depth and raise the entire squad’s level. English transfers Gemma Bonner from Manchester City and Ebony Salmon from Bristol City have been influential in Louisville’s hot run of form over the past several games, with the latter scoring three goals in her five appearances. Nadim, of course, brings an extra threat to Louisville’s revamped attack, but according to Holly, relieves pressure from the rest of the squad, including Salmon.
“We bring in a 20-year-old who’s a young kid and she scores goals and everybody gets excited,” Holly said, referring to Salmon. “With that comes pressure and expectation and bringing in Nadia who’s been there, done that — that can take some weight off her shoulders and maybe allows her to be a little bit more free in some of her decisions on and off the field as well.”
Nadim, nicknamed T-Rex for her reticence toward upper body workouts earlier in her career, has embraced her return to America and her challenge in helping build a new team in Louisville. While she’s been in town for a short time and she says she’s been jet lagged for most of it, she loves what she’s seen of the area and of the team itself. She loves living near the Ohio River and is excited by the team’s brand new facilities. (Though, she mentioned that it’s more humid than she was expecting.) While she’s had two stints in America before — Holly was actually the one to give her the T-Rex moniker during a spell with Sky Blue FC — and more recently with Portland Thorns FC, Nadim feels this is the first time she’s truly felt like she’s receiving the all-American experience. “When we in Europe talk about the US, I think that’s what you imagine,” Nadim said. “I think the others, especially Portland when I lived there, wasn’t really that feel of US. It was always like you’re in Amsterdam.”
Nadim could have chosen just about any club in the world for her next challenge. “I always have options,” she said nonchalantly. She chose Louisville for two reasons: her relationship with Holly and his vision for the club, and perhaps more importantly, her ability to take a difficult task head-on and write history with the new club. “ I love being in areas where you’re the underdogs and you want to create something,” said Nadim. “Coming in as a new club, new organization, I know the beginning is always hard and that’s where I want it to be.”
The most immediate challenge for Nadim and company comes on Sunday, when eighth-place Racing Louisville takes on the seventh-place Washington Spirit at home. Nadim will make her club debut, either as a starter or coming off the bench. Holly said he does want to be careful not to overwork Nadim, who is not far removed from a full season with PSG.
Washington is coming off a 3-2 loss to Gotham FC in which the Spirit played over 80 minutes down a player after a controversial red card was issued, then retroactively rescinded, to center back Sam Staab. Four points separate the two teams in the table, and only eight points separate Louisville from league leaders Portland.
Racing Louisville FC and the Washington Spirit kick off at 7:30pm eastern (delayed from an earlier time due to high temperatures) at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, KY. The match will be broadcast on Paramount+.