PORTLAND, Ore. – In soccer, sometimes all you need is a second chance.
For Portland Thorns FC forward Hayley Raso, that second chance came this past April when Thorns FC head coach Mark Parsons claimed the former Washington Spirit player off of waivers.
“To be put on the waiver list was something that I wasn't expecting,” admits Raso. “I went through a period where I didn't really know what was going on or what was happening or where I'd be playing or if I was going to continue playing. Then Mark [Parsons] and I were in touch and he sort of gave me a second chance and I came over here a few days after and got straight into it.”
Since joining the Thorns in April, Raso has appeared in all 13 of the team's matches this season, and in her last few appearances, the Australian has blossomed into an attacking threat along the wing.
Against the Orlando Pride in June, Raso assisted Lindsey Horan for the game-winning goal in the 90th minute of what turned out to be a 2-1 Thorns victory.
The next week against Sky Blue FC, in only her second start of the season, Raso earned the corner kick that teammate Dagny Brynjarsdottir headed in for the team's first goal and later earned the penalty kick that forward Nadia Nadim converted to give the Thorns the 2-1 win.
“She's really committed to improving herself and improving how she approaches every training session, every game,” said Parsons. “She's become mentally stronger and more focused and I think because of that, she's improved a lot.
“She puts the team first [and] plays her role, whatever that role is. Because of that mindset...[she is] now having a massive impact for a team that's doing well.”
Raso, who grew up near the idyllic beaches of Gold Coast, Australia, started playing soccer when she was eight years-old. She remembers following her brother out onto the soccer field, often playing alongside him against the other boys, most of whom were bigger and older than she was. It was on those fields that the young Raso honed the 1v1 skills that now make her so dangerous on the field.
But Raso – who steadily progressed from youth national team to youth national team before finally making Australia's 2015 World Cup roster – always felt as if those successes weren't quite real.
At her first professional club, Canberra United, Raso couldn't believe that she was taking practice shots against Lydia Williams, Australia's number one goalkeeper.
“It was a bit of a reality shock when I first got there,” she says of her first few weeks at Canberra, a club that she signed with while still a teenager.
Despite the progression that Raso made as a player, from Canberra United to the Brisbane Roar, and despite having earned that spot on the World Cup roster, she still might never have made it to the NWSL had it not been for Parsons.
While watching footage of some of his Washington Spirit players on loan in Australia's W-League, Parsons spotted the fearless attacker with the matching ribbon in her hair and the tenacity with which she took defenders on the dribble. Who is this? he wondered.
While she struggled at first with the transition to a new country and a new league, Raso ended up making nine appearances for the Spirit by the end of the 2015 season. When she headed back to Australia on loan last October, she did so confident that she had demonstrated enough to be brought back to Washington for the 2016 season.
So when the Spirit waived Raso this past spring, it caught the 21 year-old by surprise. But there was Parsons, ready once again to help bring the best out of the young attacker, and so far, the move to Portland seems to have lit a fire under Raso.
With seven Thorns starters now out for the Olympics, Raso knows that this is her chance to jump into the spotlight and show this league what she is capable of.
“For the national team players to be away for myself and the other players to get that chance to step up, we really do know that we need to take it and we need to prove that we can play without them,” she says.
“We all go out each week giving it our all. I feel we have a bit of a point to prove that we can play and we can do well and produce results and that's what we've been doing.”