Jane Campbell Didn’t Have an Excellent First Start (And That’s Okay)

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Saturday evening’s game between the Seattle Reign and the Houston Dash was a bit of a bust for some people. Reign fans were all in, and with good reason. Seattle scored consistently and well, earning five goals over the 90 minutes of play, while the Dash tried time and again and only managed to find the back of the net once, when Poliana scored one for the visitors in the 84′. 

But all over social media, fans of both teams, fans across the NWSL, were talking about one thing: Jane Campbell. Some commiserating for the young GK, some mocking, some wondering why she was out on the field at all. 

https://twitter.com/DavidSRudin/status/855990993585418242

https://twitter.com/richardfarley/status/855974896836370433

And I get it. Jane Campbell had a bad night. The Dash as an entire team had a bad night. But–it’s not the end of the world. 

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Campbell is a rookie. For all her achievements, this is her first game on a new stage, and like anyone in any line of work, there are bound to be mistakes the first time out. It’s natural, it’s a part of the process of learning and growing as an athlete. Waldrum put her out there, and kept her out there. And while some might see that as cruel as the goals kept coming, really, it was an act of faith. Of having faith. Of demonstrating to Campbell that, yes, she’s having a hard night, but the team–the coaches–believe in her. Pulling her last night would have done irreparable harm to her psyche, and made her doubt herself, and her coach’s belief in her, every time she put a toe on the pitch the rest of the season.
  • Should she have started last night, against Seattle? Maybe not. But Randy Waldrum put her in the XI. And the thing is, she had to start sometime. It’s always better to get the first start out of the way rather than wait until she has to come in to replace an injured Williams at some point in the season. Starting her now in Week 2, even against Seattle, is a little bit like tossing her into the deep end to see if she can swim, yes, but it’s also a way to get those first-match jitters out.
  • It’s Week 2. There are 22 more games to go. If there’s a time to have a rough week, it’s now. If there’s a time to make mistakes or even just have an off day, it’s now. There are 22 more weeks to learn, to improve, and to make a mark on the season.
  • Campbell made mistakes, of course, but she didn’t fail. She hesitated here, and she misjudged there, and at one point around the fourth or fifth goal she had a little “Are you there, God? It’s me, Jane” moment. But her play wasn’t worse than any other keeper on their worst day, and better than some, to be sure.  
  • Lydia Williams might have had a shut-out last week against Chicago, but we don’t know why she was on the bench Saturday night and Jane sent onto the field instead. It could have been a deliberate decision on the part of Waldrum and the coaching staff–get that start in the books. It could be that Williams was suffering from a minor injury or illness, and the Dash decided to play Campbell instead (Janine van Wyk sat as well, to the confusion of fans, and it was only revealed after the game that she was dealing with a flu) and save or rest Williams. There are many reasons Campbell could have been listed as a starter, and as much as fans would like to be involved at every level of the decision-making process, we’re not entitled to each and every detail. 

Yes, Campbell and the Dash had a tough game. One that brings to mind other nights that some teams might prefer to forget. Like the 2013 game where Sky Blue beat Boston 5-1. Or Portland’s 1-4 loss to the Boston Breakers in 2014. Not to mention Portland’s 4-1 win against the Breakers a year later in 2015. Or literally any match between Western New York and Boston in the 2016 season. (I don’t know why Boston appeared in all my examples but it made me laugh.) 

The point is, it’s happened before–across the league–and it will happen again. Maybe to them, maybe to another team. And further, it’s happened to GKs with a wide range of on-field experience. It can happen to anyone. 

Moreso, the blame for the scoreline doesn’t and shouldn’t sit entirely upon Campbell’s shoulders. Her backline had more holes than Swiss cheese. Her midfield was missing one of its most game-changing players, as Andressa was out with a hamstring strain, and Morgan Brian is still struggling with her right knee. And her frontline, for all the talent and goal-scoring opportunities that Rachel Daly and Kealia Ohai bring to the pitch, just could not get the ball into the back of the net, and not for lack of trying. The Dash’s loss was a team effort, and as a team, the Houston Dash just couldn’t get anything to fall in their favor Saturday night. 

But the comments about Campbell highlight an interesting issue in the league and in the sport. Goalkeepers are basically soccer unicorns. There are far fewer of them, by percentage, than any other category of field player. And a first start, a first cap, for a goalkeeper is a rare event. Consider that the last time a keeper earned a first cap for the USWNT before Campbell’s substitution against Russia on April 9th was in 2014. That keeper? Was the US’s current #1, Alyssa Naeher. As fans, we’re so unused to seeing a keeper get a first start that our expectations are sky high anytime one takes the field. We romanticize the event, and that’s unfair to the players, most of all, but also to ourselves. Because we build expectations that we cannot help but be disappointed by. And we tend to get irate when that inevitably happens. 

Saturday night was a tough loss for the Dash, there’s no doubt about that. You can bet that they’re disappointed in their play, and they should be. All of them. They didn’t come out and play their best–they were nowhere the team we saw beat Chicago handily just a week ago. And Campbell, of course, will need to reflect upon her play and unquestionably has progress to make. But for a first time on an NWSL pitch? Against players of international caliber, players like Jess Fishlock, Megan Rapinoe, Christine Nairn, and more? 

She might not have excelled, but she played okay. 

And right now, in Week 2, and for a first start? 

She did just fine.