Before former Texas A&M soccer standout Ally Watt pulled on her Melbourne City uniform for the Australian W-League Grand Final on Friday, she received several texts from fellow players from around the world.
“Wow, I don’t get how you’re still able to be playing,” most of the texts read, Watt said.
Her response looked ahead to the weeks and possibly months to come.
“I’m going to take advantage of it,” Watt said. “I don’t know when I get to play another game or train again with the team.”
While most of the professional sporting leagues took a hiatus to wait out the spread of COVID-19, Watt’s Melbourne City FC defeated Sydney FC 1-0 to claim the W-League crown, in front of a small group of friends and family allowed to watch the game live.
With the win, Watt became the first former A&M soccer player to win a professional championship overseas.
“How you envision winning a championship, it was a little different, but it still didn’t take away the feeling of that we accomplished so much,” Watt said. “It was a really historic season for Melbourne City this year.”
In Watt’s first professional action, her Melbourne City squad posted an 11-0-1 record, earning a league-high 34 points on the way to winning the Grand Final. Watt joined the team with five matches remaining, scoring three goals in 173 minutes played. Two came in a 3-1 victory in the regular-season finale.
In the Grand Final, Watt was a defensive-minded sub late in the game to help persevere the single-goal lead.
“It was neat to see her be able to go over there and get that experience, living and working in Australia for a while,” A&M soccer coach G Guerrieri said. “That’s a lifetime type of experience for so many people.”
While she found her stride quickly between the lines, there was a much higher learning curve to living abroad as the novel coronavirus began to spread across the world. Most of the international players on Watts’ squad feared they might be stuck in Australia long after the season ended if travel was restricted.
“It was all stressful,” Watt said.
“It was good to be a part of a team where a lot of us were experiencing the thing,” she continued. “A lot of internationals and a lot of people who were from Australia and trying to get back home in other parts of Australia. We were all together in that, and we were having to remind ourselves that we had to keep focusing on the games ahead and a championship to play for.”
Hours after hoisting a trophy with her Australian teammates, she and many of her other international teammates hurried to flights to return to home countries, ending any travel uncertainties.
Watt said she will continue to train as best she can while practicing social distancing in preparation for the National Women’s Soccer League, which is slated to start this summer. Watt was the sixth overall selection by the North Carolina Courage in January’s NWSL draft, the highest selection for an Aggie. It is common for NWSL players to spend the offseason playing in Australia, Guerrieri said.
As of now, training is scheduled to begin April 5, but Watt is unsure if that will remain. The opening games of the season, due to start April 18, have been officially postponed.
Depending on how her rookie season in the NWSL plays out, Watt said she is open to returning to Australia for another season in the W-League.
“It was a really amazing experience going down there,” Watt said. “I think it would be something that I would love to do again, and it would be best if I could go back to Melbourne City because I had such an amazing experience there.”
Whether she returns or not, she will always remember being part of one of just a handful of live sporting events played on earth during a global pandemic.
“We came to realize it was a little bit of a historical thing we did,” Watt said.