PORTLAND, Ore. – The last time Portland Thorns FC fans saw Gabby Seiler on the field was August 8, 2019, when the team lost 1-0 to Reign FC in Tacoma, Washington. The next week, the rookie midfielder was in Mark Parsons’ 18 but didn’t play. Days later, while training with her team, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament.
Thus Seiler’s first professional soccer season ended with an injury, one that also put the beginning of her second campaign in doubt, But on Monday, as Portland conducted its first practice of the NWSL preseason, Seiler was on the field, taking part in nearly the entire session with the Thorns.
“I have completely out blown [away] my expectations,” Seiler said when asked about being back on the field. “When you get injured, especially an ACL, you never really know what to expect. But for me, I've just taken every day to try to get better, try to get better with my rehab … Having that mindset has really helped me get to this point, being on the field already.”
Over Monday’s final 15 minutes, Seiler worked on her own with a Thorns athletic trainer. To that point, though, she had matched her teammates drill for drill, taking part in a long spell of technical work before breaking off to continue rehab on her knee.
Within the entirety of the session, the message was clear. Seiler may not be completely back to normal yet, but she’s very, very close.
“Gabby has been doing incredible, consistent work in the offseason to be in a great spot,” Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said. “This is going to be a harder stage for her: When you're so close and you can be around the team, and you're in for at least half a session or almost all of the session. It gets even harder when you're that close, being disciplined and being committed – which is harder when you're at this stage of the journey.”
Seiler isn’t the only Thorn on this path. Another midfielder, Angela Salem, suffered a torn ACL last season. She’s scheduled to return to Portland later this week.
“We got two coming back from a big injury. Both are in a fantastic spot,” Parsons said. “I'm excited by their progress, and of course already getting excited to see what their qualities are on the field.”
For Seiler, the ACL repair was her second major procedure in three seasons. After her final year at the University of Florida, the former Gator underwent surgery to repair her right lateral collateral ligament, sidelining her for the 2018 season.
In that sense, 2019 was more than a regular rookie year. It was a bounce back campaign as well as proof of her ability to compete at a level beyond college.
“I just wanted to come in, work hard, learn as much as I could from the veteran players,” she remembers. “This year, even though I'm coming off an injury, I still feel as though I have some really valuable experience from last year. I'm just trying to take that and bring that to this year ...
“I feel pretty confident, but still being able to learn from everyone and getting back into my groove will be great.”
Last year, that groove led her to 15 appearances before she got hurt, 13 of which were starts. She began the season as a central defender, spent most of her time in midfield, but also hinted she could become a viable option at fullback.
Often playing in deep midfield roles, Seiler didn’t record a goal or an assist, but she had a 67 percent success rate at winning 50-50 balls (duels). Among the 40.1 passes she played per 90 minutes, only 10.6 were played backward.
“[I want] to get back to where I was last year, but to get even further along, if I could,” Seiler says, when asked about her second-year goals. “I think having the teammates around me, they really helped me last year. I'm looking forward to being with them again, because they make me better every day.”
If Seiler was able to make this much progress away from those who made her better, imagine what she could do being back around her fellow Thorns. Seven months after her injury, Seiler is back on the field.