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Downingtown's Becky Edwards reflects on retiring from the NWSL

The Downingtown West High School product's professional career lasted seven years, and spanned eight professional clubs: two in the Women's Professional Soccer era, two in Sweden and four in the NWSL.

Although the National Women's Soccer League doesn't have a Philadelphia team, it does have a number of players who hail from the region.

You know about Delran's Carli Lloyd, of course, and you probably know about Gilbertsville's Nicole Barnhart. You might even know about Havertown's Sinead Farrelly from back when the Independence drafted her in 2011.

Other players haven't had much time in the local limelight, even if they've been playing for a while. That description fits Downingtown native Becky Edwards, a stalwart defender for the Orlando Pride who recently announced that she has retired from playing at age 28.

The Downingtown West High School product's professional career lasted seven years, and spanned eight professional clubs: two in the Women's Professional Soccer era, two in Sweden and four in the NWSL.

Edwards played her final game for the Pride this past Saturday. A few days later, I chatted with her about why she decided that now is the right time to step away from the field.

"Some of it has to do with my personal life - I was just kind of ready to move on and settle down a bit with my boyfriend," she told me. "I gave [playing] my all every day, and at times it was difficult, if I'm honest. Now I'm looking forward to putting that drive and energy into my future."

That boyfriend, by the way is PGA Tour golfer Brooks Koekpa. He isn't as famous as the the Jordan Spieths and Rory McIlroys of the world, but that's about to change in a big way: Koepka is making his Ryder Cup debut for the United States this weekend. Edwards will be at Minnesota's famed Hazeltine golf club to cheer him on.

Edwards and Koepka own a house together in Florida, but they don't get to spend much time together in it. She's traveling often to play soccer, and he's traveling even more to play golf.

"It's absurd," Edwards said with a laugh, though it was clear she wasn't kidding.

She is not afraid to admit that has taken a toll on her.

"At times I've felt a bit stretched thin, if I'm honest, balancing my relationship and his career, and at the same time giving my all to soccer," she said. "I think one of my best attributes is my dedication and commitment to what I'm doing, and at times this season I felt I couldn't give that all."

The latter stages of the season brought time for self-reflection, and ultimately, a decision.

"It just feels right in my heart," she said. "I don't see it getting much better for me. It's been a wonderful career. I've literally given my whole life to this, and I just don't have that same heart and drive that I used to when it comes to soccer. There are other things that I want to do in life, there are other goals I have and other things that I want to pursue."

Edwards' remark about her career not getting much better will be especially resonant for those who watched her twice get called into national team camps, but never earn a cap. The first summons came in 2011 under Pia Sundhage. The second came in 2013 under Tom Sermanni, who would later be her final club coach in Orlando. But Edwards never actually got to that camp, because she tore the ACL in her left knee a few days before.

Though she has played well since the injury, she hasn't gotten close to returning to the national team. When I asked her whether she thought she could have had another shot at the big state, she said she knew it was probably too late.

"If I'm honest with myself and my career and thinking about everything that happened, I think my best shot at making the national team would have been for the cycle that just passed," she said. "I think if I had a chance, it would have come earlier. In my heart of hearts, I just didn't feel it [now]. I felt like the prime of my career was a bit earlier, and if that opportunity was to present itself, it would have happened."

For as much as Edwards wants to put more time into life at home now, she does not plan to stay away from the sport she loves. She wants to be a coach, perhaps not right away but eventually.

"I don't really see my life without soccer - I love it, I will always love it," she said. "Soccer has been a huge commitment, and there's fun things I want to do. I want to run marathons and I want to get my spin instructor license, and there's things I want to be able to do that I haven't been able to do that I'm looking forward to doing."

To each his or her own definition of fun, but you get the idea.

Edwards also hopes to be an advocate for the next era of NWSL players. In particular, she would like to see a players' union. She thinks it will happen, but she knows it will take a lot of time and hard work.

"A union is sometimes seen as negative - in my opinion, I don't think it's always a negative thing," she said. "I think it's important for the players to have a voice.

She credited NWSL Jeff Plush and the rest of the league's powers that be for being "willing to listen to our concerns." But as everyone who follows the league knows, this year has brought problems that demanded more than polite cooperation.

Edwards specifically noted the soccer-on-a-baseball-outfield debacle in Rochester, and Washington Spirit owner Bill Lynch's order to play the national anthem while the Seattle Reign were still in the locker room so that Megan Rapinoe couldn't protest during it.

Those are exactly the kinds of issues that a players' union would stand up to.

"I think eventually, that would be the next step for the players, to create that [union] and build that," Edwards said. "But, I mean, it took MLS [players] seven years to form a union. You have to do it in the right way as well. To pay lawyers and that sort of thing is a lot of money that we don't really have.

In my recent column about the NWSL's present and future, I included some remarks from Seattle Reign (and former Independence) defender Lauren Barnes, noting that she was a representative of the league's middle class. Edwards had a similar stature in the league: an American player who was neither a national team star nor a rookie, but was able to carve out a living as a professional soccer player for five years.

The same can be said of Seattle Keelin Winters, who's hanging up her cleats at age 27. Last year, half a dozen notable NWSL players in their mid-20s called time on their careers.

Edwards believes it's more than a series of coincidences.

"For a lot of us, for a long time, we all said, "Okay let's play professional soccer after college," [and] our ultimate goal, for many of us, is to make the national team," she said. "I think it's personal for everyone, and there's a different reason for everyone, but maybe that's why you see people my age retiring. We all gave it our best shot at the national team, and we haven't had too much success - if you consider that success. Everyone has different goals."

All of us who are outsiders to daily lives in the sports world are prone to ignoring the fact that professional athletes are still human beings. We don't really know what it's like to be a baseball player who's away from home for a hundred nights a year from February to November. We don't really know the true impact of concussions on football and hockey players' relationships with partners, children and other family members.

You can cover some of those holes if your employer pays you millions of dollars a year. Edwards and the other players in the NWSL - including many of the league's biggest stars - do not have that privilege.

So I asked Edwards a question that was tough, but necessary: Was retiring now just a matter of smart foresight, or was there more to it?

"It may be an awkward question, but I also think that fortunately, my boyfriend [would] support me financially if I wanted to continue playing," she said. "At the same time, it was my decision to walk away. It was my decision, it wasn't his, it wasn't Orlando's. It was time for me. And I think in my life, picking the college I went to [Florida State], everything in my life has been strategic and thought-out, and this decision was as well. I've done it a lot from instinct and a lot from logic and circumstances and things like that, but for me, logically, my instincts told me this was right. I'm just ready for something new."

There wasn't any anger or resentment in Edwards' voice, or even much regret. Just a straightforward, realistic understanding of the choice at hand. It was abundantly clear that Edwards was satisfied with her past and present choices.

From here, I'll get out of the way and just let Edwards' words stand alone. Below, you'll read some leftover portions of her answers to my questions about her time in the NWSL and what the league can do to improve in the future.

Considering how Edwards' career has unfolded, it seems a fitting tribute to simply let her be heard.

And perhaps even listened to.

It's a season packed into, what, seven or eight months? I think in any professional sport, it's not like a normal job. We don't have free weekends. We play our games at night. It's not a normal schedule where you go and do whatever you want.
In my opinion, at times - I guess in any professional sport, not just soccer and the NWSL - it's somewhat of a selfish life. It's, "Hey, I have to do this, I can't do that." I've missed out on so many family events and things in my life for soccer, and I have no regrets because of that, but I think there's certainly financial limitations.
On the other side of that, the fortunate thing is that many of the women playing in this league find opportunities to coach, or find opportunities to make money. And though we wish it wasn't like that - we wish we could give everything to our sport and get paid like we should - at the same time, it does make you a better person. It gives you coaching experience, and it helps you learn about other things in life than just soccer.
Growing the women's game is something that I'm passionate about, and having the opportunity for young girls to have a league to play in professionally. I grew up going to all the Philadelphia Charge games at Villanova. I was a ballgirl at every game. I couldn't get enough.
And luckily, when I graduated from college, there was a league that I was able to play in for two years. When it folded, I didn't really know what to do. I can't imagine being one of those players who graduated from college when there was no league, because I don't think I would have continued playing. I don't think I would have gone overseas. I had a college degree, I was a pretty good student.
I'm passionate about that. I want young girls, young women, to have the opportunity to play professionally, and to continue to grow our game at the same time. I think with the women's national team and the World Cup and Olympics, people know who the are now. People know what's going on, and the interest is much higher.
I hope that continues to grow, because it has given so much to me, and I am so grateful. I hope that continues to grow. I've seen other professional sports, including my boyfriend's golf career, and they are treated like true pros.
Continuing to have the national team players protect us and fight for us, and continue to protect the league, and everything that it stands for, I think that can play a huge role [in sustaining the NWSL]. And they certainly do - they do care about us as players, and the sustainability of the league.
U.S. Soccer backing the league, I think that's a positive step. I don't know all the details of everything that goes on, but I would assume that without them, we probably wouldn't have a league. And just continuing to find invested owners [and] MLS teams who want to buy in.
Playing in Portland, Houston and Orlando, the three MLS markets [where MLS clubs own NWSL teams], you can tell the difference. You have better facilities, you have an experienced front office, that kind of thing.
There's a variety of different things that go into growing the game and growing our league. It's a personal journey for everyone, because there are so many different circumstances in this league. You have the national team players who live completely different lives than us, then you have rookies that are just coming in, and then I'm kind of in between. I've played in WPS and the NWSL, but it wasn't always an ascending road for me.
Compared to teams that aren't MLS-backed, you can tell the difference and feel the difference. The front office, the media, everyone kind of knows how it works.
Orlando, especially, we would sit down and have our meal with the men's players - breakfast and lunch before breakfast. That's something you'd see at Bayern Munich. That was pretty cool, the way that Orlando took care of us.

The Twitter handle above is for my general news reporting. My soccer handle is @thegoalkeeper. Contact me there for any questions about this post.