For a player who has taking as long and winding a road to the NWSL as any, it’s only fitting that Jessie Scarpa’s breakthrough with the Washington Spirit came in the most unconventional of seasons.
Scarpa’s career was as promising as any heading into her redshirt junior year at UNC. Missing 2016 with U-20 World Cup duties with the United States, Scarpa had earned first team All-ACC Honors in 2015 – tallying eight goals and eight assists in the process.
However, would only play just under 400 minutes in her remaining two seasons of collegiate eligibility. First, it was a torn join capsule and MCL. Six games later, it was a torn ACL – her second of her career – along with tears to her medial and lateral meniscuses. Then, at the end of the 2018 season, another turn meniscus – and a meniscectomy to remove the muscle.
For Scarpa, it was never a question of if she was going to comeback – she was steadily focused on making sure she would be able to “see what opportunities presented themselves” in professional soccer after she graduated. But it was legendary head coach Anson Dorrance and her teammates that she credits to making such a whirlwind experience much more valuable.
“My comeback was never really about me” said Scarpa. “It was being surrounded by other people who are going through things, too. Everyone is different – people have sick family members, siblings that are going through something. It was a great, supportive environment to be in. Everyone strived to be the best version of themselves and pushed other to do the same.”
Despite that that November 2018 meniscectomy, Scarpa left UNC determined to further her career at the next level. A tryout with the Washington Spirit seemed the most likely rout – but Scarpa hadn’t registered for the collegiate draft. Still on the road to full recovery, Scarpa went abroad, signing for Lidköpings FK in Sweden.
“It had been a good year and a half since I played,” said Scarpa. “And a good two and a half years since I played feeling healthy. When I got the opportunity to train with the Spirit for a week – they had interest, but I knew I wouldn’t be ready. I thought it was best for my development to head to Sweden. The timing just worked out, and I’m glad I had a stint there.”
Richie Burke and the Spirit kept close tabs on Scarpa in Sweden and were quick to sign her in December of 2019 when her contract expired with Lidköpings. An unused substitute in the Spirit’s impressive Challenge Cup run, Scarpa was a super-sub of sorts in the Fall Series – netting her first professional goal in September.
While others in her position could be discouraged by short bursts of playing time, Scarpa is just happy to get the opportunity to repay the faith her coaches show in her.
2-1 | #WASvCHI
— NWSL (@NWSL) September 12, 2020
“This is a performance sport – you have to go out there and maximize your minutes,” said Scarpa. “I was fortunate to prove to the coaches I can contribute by finding the back of the net. Crystal Thomas did everything on that goal – shaking and baking down the line. I was circling on the back post early, and she made something out of nothing. When I saw her turn the corner again, I crashed into the only gap that I saw open.”
It’s not just on gameday where Scarpa has had an impressive 2020, either. Her incredible goal in training in late September went viral, garnering praise from former NWSL players and the FIFA Women’s World Cup handle alike.
— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) September 25, 2020
“It was just one of those things where you give it a go and it works out,” laughed Scarpa.
It’s great that it was recorded – it’s cool to live in an era where stuff like that is captured and shared. It’s a fun part of our sport. I think it’s great for women’s soccer as well – people always joke about how women aren’t skilled or not as technical as men. Well, when a video like that goes around – it shows that we’re talented footballers, too.”
With an impressive 2020 behind them, Scarpa and the Spirit now look ahead to the prospect of a 2021 Challenge Cup – and the young striker thinks that Washington is just getting started.
“We really enjoy being around each other, both on and off the field,” said Scarpa. “There’s great energy in every training session. On the field, we show a lot of fight. Every game in the Fall Series, we’ve been down at one point and kept fighting to come back. This is a weird year, and with it a lot of changes and challenge. We rely on each other and talk through it together, and we work really hard for each other. It’s moving in a good direction.”