With a six-month offseason in the NWSL, some Thorns FC players decided to head abroad to keep their soccer skills sharp before returning for the 2016 season. This offseason, Mana Shim made her first trip to play overseas, joining Iga FC on loan in Japan. Shim helped Iga FC in its playoff battle to remain in the top-flight league in Japan and now Iga FC prepares for its quarterfinal match in the Empress Cup later today.
Fans had the opportunity to submit questions for Shim, asking about Japan and her experience there over the last three months. Check out some of the questions and her answers as she talks about how she’s grown as both a player and a person during her time there.
How do you think your success in the NWSL and abroad will translate to the young ladies following you back home in Hawaii? (Michael Sullivan)
MS: I hope that I can inspire young girls in Hawaii to expand their goals beyond what the island has to offer. Soccer is growing at a quick rate, but too often opportunities to travel are thwarted because of financial and logistical reasons. Wherever I go, I always have Hawaii in my heart and I want girls to know that they can dream of playing professionally in the NWSL and abroad.
What's the main thing that you've taken away from your time in Japan? (Anusha Agarwal)
MS: That the world is a big and beautiful place! Since I've been here I've learned so much about football, people, culture, and myself. I can't possibly narrow it down to one simple takeaway but I will say this: growth inevitably happens when one is pushed outside of their comfort zone. Don't be afraid to reach and be uncomfortable.
Do you think playing in Japan has grown you and your abilities as a player, if so in what ways and how? (Johnny Cabrera)
MS: Yes, definitely! The most critical improvement I've made has to do with my movement off the ball. I think my strengths come through when I have the ball at my feet, but sometimes I fade out of games because my movement when I don't have the ball isn't as great. Also, the Japanese are ridiculously technical. They do individual footwork every single day. It's a good reminder that repetition is just as important as innovation and progression in our sport. Because of their incredible technique, they rarely make simple errors.
What have you learned while in Japan and how do you think that will help you moving forward in your soccer career? (Sarah Morgan)
MS: Overall, I would say that I'm learning so much about football on and off the field. I'm trying to be a sponge and absorb it all. One of the most challenging things about being a professional is the mental piece. How do you deal with criticism, pressure, self doubt, expectation, frustration, and fear? The list goes on and on. Ultimately, our job is to manage our bodies and minds so we can get in the zone and perform consistently at the highest level. It's easier said than done, but experience goes a long way in this department. I am confident that my mental game is much stronger after three months here.
How is the style of play in Japan similar and different from NWSL and the Thorns? (Rocco Salvatore)
MS: Overall, there's more finesse and less physicality. Everything is about movement, angles and deception. The players here are like ghosts; they are always moving in your blind spots. They also hunt in packs. There aren't too many straight up 1-v-1s. The ball movement is really quick and they put together ridiculous amounts of passes.
Did you watch the MLS Cup final with any of your Iga teammates? What did they think of the match? (Mike Kurfis)
MS: I had to wake up at 6 a.m., so I ended up watching it by myself in my apartment. Someone on the Thorns staff helped me with a link so I could watch it live. It was amazing. I am elated for our Timbers and for our city.
Are you looking forward to next season? Do you love Japan? (Marie Hutchinson)
MS: I can't wait for next season to start! The offseason is long. I can't wait to play at Providence Park in front of our Riveters. I feel a sense of clarity, excitement, and optimism heading into next season.
How is your Japanese? What are you doing in your spare time when you aren’t playing soccer? (Chris Spalding)
MS: My Japanese is coming along. I know enough to get by. Occasionally I'll try to say something and Hawaiian or Spanish will come out. If nothing else, my affinity for language has been confirmed.
In my spare time, I’m sightseeing and trying to take everything in. I enjoy the simple things – having a warm tea and walking around the little town where I live. I've learned how to make chopsticks, attempted to play the guitar for the first time and I established a morning yoga routine. I also really enjoy going to the local spa after training. It's basically a large bathhouse where you can sit in the sauna, hang out in the jacuzzis (there are a variety of temperatures, bubbles, and minerals), and enjoy a nice warm shower.
What are some of the standout dishes you have enjoyed in Japan? (Clayton Bradley)
MS: The sashimi and sushi are ridiculous. I could eat raw fish for every meal. The ramen and udon is delicious but not super nutritious. I try to stick with a solid meal of grilled veggies, over easy eggs (the eggs are top notch here) and some sort of fish. And the yakiniku! Iga beef might be the best red meat I've ever had. It's so tender and you get to cook it yourself. What's not to love?