Adelaide, Australia — Veronica Latsko always has a backup plan.
Leading up to the 2018 NWSL College Draft, Latsko lined up options in case she wouldn’t be drafted by one of the nine teams. Latsko talked to teams overseas in Europe and other locations. However, thankfully for her, she didn’t need it.
Drafted by the Houston Dash with the 28th overall pick, Latsko joined a hefty group of Pennsylvania-based NWSL players. Even more specific, she joined the rankings of players from Western Pennsylvania that includes Meghan Klingenberg.
Latsko, who hails from Venetia, Pa., in Washington County, says she didn’t expect to get drafted. Staying in the United States was a main priority for her, so, she’s glad it happened.
“I had no idea if any team was interested in me,” Latsko said. “I didn’t know I was going to make a team and I didn’t expect getting drafted at all. But, I was willing to put in the work and try out and make a roster spot. It was a big question mark.”
Latsko graduated from Peters Township High School and then embarked down to the University of Virginia for her college career. Latsko featured in 93 matches for the Cavaliers, starting 53. She scored 26 goals and provided 14 assists, finishing out her career in 2017.
The Dash, who were waging in a war with an attempt to keep forward Christen Press, needed another option at forward. The organization selected her and she packed her bags for Houston.
A challenging, but rewarding, rookie year
In Houston, Latsko faced challenges, normally experienced by a rookie.
Her constant thought was making the roster, saying that’s all she thought about. However, after “the first month or two,” the atmosphere started to settle down a lot.
“We had our team developed,” Latsko explains. “I really enjoyed my rookie year. It was challenging, but challenging enough to make me a better person and players. All the girls on the team were incredible. My family and friends from back home were always supporting me through the toughest times. It was 100 percent worth it.”
During her rookie campaign, Latsko started the season opener against the Chicago Red Stars. Throughout the season, she would see herself starting some games, or coming on as a substitute. Her first goal came against Sky Blue FC on May 5. Latsko split two defenders and connected on a cross from teammate Thembi Kgatlana.
Latsko said the first thing that went through her mind was disbelief the goal actually went in. However, with 10 minutes left to go, and a 3-2 scoreline, Latsko quickly got focused back into the game.
“There was 10 minutes left and they’re the most crucial,” Latsko said. “The big five minutes is after you score a goal is always a crucial moment for your team and the other team. We were super excited, but super on-it, so we could maintain the lead. We didn’t want Sky Blue FC to get back into the game.”
After the game, celebration ensued with a victory and celebrating Latsko’s first goal. Her parents, John and Lauren, were there to witness the moment firsthand.
“It was definitely a surreal moment,” she said.
Veteran teammates and a brand new coach
Latsko learned a lot from her teammates, veteran and younger, but also her coach.
Vera Pauw was a new experiment for the league. Pauw had never coached a league team, only national teams. She is no longer the coach of the Houston Dash, after accepting a position with the Netherlands Women’s National Team. However, Latsko said that she enjoyed her time under Pauw, whom she called “competitive” and “intense.”
“She was unlike any other coach I had in the United States,” Latsko said. “She had a unique perspective and I’m grateful to have been apart of. Vera definitely brought in my total awareness of the game. She’s an incredible person, in terms of women in sports. I really commend her for that, since her off the field stuff is fantastic. She tries to get the women on the same level as the men.”
As for her teammates, Latsko bonded with all of them.
Latsko lived in a house with Sammy Jo Purdhomme, Savannah Jordan, McKayla Haun and Hayley Hanson, right outside of Houston. She said that they made her time in Houston “100 percent” better and called them lifelong friends.
However, Latsko pinpointed Rachel Daly, who features for the England Women’s National Team, as a teammate she learned the most from.
“Seeing her play up top and seeing how dynamic she is, it gave me a lot of ideas of what I want to be as a forward and what I need to improve on,” Latsko said of her teammate, who has been with the Dash since 2016. “She set a good ground work for that, for what I strive to become. She’s an incredible player and an incredible person. I really look up to her as a forward.”
“You had to be on your game”
Latsko says that the toughest part of competing in the NWSL was the soccer and environment.
It was more of a step up from college than she ever would have thought. However, Latsko was always encouraged by her teammates, coaches and even family back home. She spent plenty of days in the gym getting her fitness right for the pitch.
She called the environment “rigorous,” physically and mentally.
“You had to be on your game and there wasn’t room for mental lapses,” Latsko explains. “When you have the right people around you, that challenge is worth it. It makes you want to get after it everyday.”
Even playing against big-name players like Marta, Carli Lloyd — a former Dash player — and Alex Morgan, Latsko’s confidence didn’t waver. However, after the matches, she would allow herself to be little awe-struck.
“When you’re on the field, you definitely respect them, but you don’t feel the same awe-struck as you feel on the field,” she said. “When Marta [of the Orlando Pride] is dribbling you, you think in a soccer mind. Don’t let her meg you, don’t let her get by you. After the game, you’re like ‘Wow, I just played against this person’ or ‘I tackled this person and won the ball.’ When you’re in it, you don’t really feel it. But when you step out, it’s like ‘Wow, that was really sick!’”
She said that some of her favorite players to face were Marta and Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Reign FC.
“Some of the shots and crosses [Rapinoe] had against us, I was shocked seeing how close I was,” Latsko said. “It was awesome. It was a great experience playing with or against these amazing players.”
“Every game was crunch time, go time”
While the Dash didn’t find themselves in the playoffs, the team came close.
The Dash finished in sixth place with 32 points. In the NWSL, since there are only nine teams, there is a four-team playoff system. It was a fight until the very end, with only the North Carolina Courage and Seattle Reign clinching a spot before Decision Day.
Whether it was the beginning of the season or the final stretch, Latsko says every game for the Dash became “life or death.”
“We went into every game wanting a win,” she said. “We had to prove every time we stepped on the field that we’re not a bottom ranked team, that we’re a top four team. So, we didn’t have a switch in mentality. The leadership on our team constantly motivated us. I couldn’t tell you a game we went into and said, ‘Eh this doesn’t matter.’”
“Every game was crunch time, go time.”
Latsko said she hopes to rejoin the Dash for a second year. She’s confident that the team could make the playoffs.
“I love the girls and I loved the overall team and facilities and the club,” Latsko said. “I would be super grateful to go back to Houston. We have an enormous amount of talent in Houston right now. We are definitely playoff contenders for next year. But we need someone to put in the hard work and is able to shape that hard work into something real, something organized.”
Latsko is referencing the fact that Houston does not yet have Pauw’s replacement.
Instead, all three teams without a head coach — including the Washington Spirit and the Orlando Pride — have had a quiet offseason. Latsko said she wants a coach that is “able to take our talents that we have and make the most of it.”
“They need to pride on hard work and getting the job done,” Latsko said. “They need to be able to be organized and have every session organized to develop as a team and individuals.”
Unlike other players, especially national team players, Latsko isn’t having an offseason.
Instead, the forward decided to follow the likes of many other NWSL players and head to Australia. When the NWSL season ends, the W-League in Australia is just beginning. Latsko signed on with Adelaide United FC, where her fellow Dash teammate Amber Brooks plays. Also from the NWSL with Adelaide United is Utah’s Gunnhildur “Gunny” Jónsdóttir.
So far, Latsko and Adelaide United have featured in one match, which was a 0-0 result against Melbourne Victory Women. Latsko started the match and went the full 90 minutes.
Latsko said that she’s “extremely excited” to be in southern Australia.
“To be able to play soccer all-year round in a competitive environment, it’s something a lot of people don’t get to experience,” Latsko said. “I’m truly grateful for it. When I’m down here, I want to improve my overall level of play. I’m hoping when I leave Australia, that I’ve stepped up my decision in play, handle pressure on the ball better and I’m technically sound.”
Latsko said that everyone down in Australia has been supportive of her development, personally, and through working outside of practice.
“It’s an incredible experience.”
Preparing for next season and offering advice
Latsko said she’s looking forward to playing in Australia, with the team’s next fixture against Brisbane Roar FC Women on Nov. 18. Beginning this season, all of the Australia W-League is available to stream on ESPN+.
However, she’s excited to get back and hopefully feature for the Dash.
If she could give a piece of advice to the 2019 NWSL College Draft class, she says to go in with an open mind about everything.
“You never know what to expect with the league,” Latsko said. “Everything can change in one week, one day. Every game is different, every coach is different and you never know what to expect. One game you might start and play the full 90, the next you might not travel. The toughest part is probably the mantelpiece and making sure you’re ready at all times.”
Latsko also stressed importance to prove yourself in the moments you get.
“You never know when your moments will be,” Latsko said. “It helps a lot to have people to help you. I would not have been able to get through it without my support system.”
“I would say it was a pretty good season.”
Have no fear, @v_latsko12 is here!
— Houston Dash (@HoustonDash) October 11, 2018
COVER PHOTO: Veronica Latsko of the Houston Dash against the Utah Royals FC on Aug. 5. Photo courtesy of Wilf Thorne/ISI Images.