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Veronica Latsko

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Veronica Latsko leaves mark in Australia, ready for Houston Dash return

Photo of Veronica Latsko, a native of Pittsburgh and member of the Houston Dash and Sydney FC, courtesy of Jaime Castaneda.

Veronica Latsko leaves mark in Australia, ready for Houston Dash return

Veronica Latsko went through a whirlwind of emotions last season for the Houston Dash.

Latsko tore her ACL in May, ending her second season in the National Women’s Soccer League early. Latsko, who features for the Houston Dash, had a rookie of the year caliber season in 2018. In her sophomore season, Latsko was relegated to watching her teammates from the bench and working on rehabbing her knee.

However, all of her hard work and focus paid off in the off-season. Many players that feature in the NWSL usually head to Australia once the season ends. There, they compete in the Westfield W-League, which features nine teams. After her rookie season, Latsko joined Adelaide United. However, this past season, she signed on with Sydney FC.

She made her season debut for Sydney against the Newcastle Jets on Dec. 15, 2019. Latsko entered the pitch in the 66th minute.

To her, it was like she never left.

“It was an exciting moment and exciting moments leading up to that first game,” Latsko said, in an interview with Pittsburgh Soccer Now. “That entire week, I could barely sleep. I was so excited. The moment I stepped on the field, it was like I never left. It was just a soccer game. It was time to win and time to score goals.” 

Latsko credits her teammates for helping her through a tough time — in Australia and back with the Dash. She called them supportive, even if she admits her play wasn’t always sharp.

“They never had doubt in me,” she said. “They were amazing and so supportive.”

Sydney, W-League brings great growth for Latsko

The NWSL is regarded as the best league in the world for women’s soccer. There’s a sharp difference between the professional league in the United States and in Australia — and that’s not just because of the seasonal schedule.

Latsko acknowledged that the age in Australia among players is a lot younger than the NWSL. However, there are big, well-known players in the league. On the Sydney FC team, Latsko was teammates with Alanna Kennedy of the Orlando Pride, Aubrey Bledsoe of the Washington Spirit and Sofia Huerta, who now features for OL Reign, leaving Houston.

“Every team has six or seven girls you can rattle off with some national team, NWSL or European league experience,” Latsko said. “It makes the level high. You have younger girls who haven’t gotten their chance to be in one of these more prominent leagues. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have the talent or potential to be. I’m excited to see that potential.”

Latsko said the youthful presence reminded her of college days back at the University of Virginia.

There are 18-year-olds that we’re playing with our teams, they don’t play like they’re 18, like they’ve been around for a professional setting,” Latsko said. “It’s nice to see how much better they’re going to be for years to come. It’s different from the NWSL, but it’s still a very high-quality league and high-quality players.” 

This past season, Latsko featured in 10 matches, totaling 707 minutes. She started eight of her appearances and scored three goals. Two of her goals were inside the box, while a lone goal was scored right outside of the box.

COVID-19 causes unusual situations for Latsko

Right now, sports are on hold all over the world.

Latsko was in Australia when countries began going on lockdown and limiting flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the virus, the final between Sydney and Melbourne City FC — which Melbourne took victory — was played behind closed doors. Latsko said it was odd playing in an empty stadium and she missed the fans. However, she took in the moment and savored in it, as she competed in her first professional final.

“It didn’t really take away from the soccer aspect of it, though,” Latsko explained. “Everyone came into it as if it was a final. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

The Virginia alum said that the loss was heartbreaking, but she was proud to play alongside her Sydney teammates.

“I’d rather lose with that team,” she said. “We were a team, it wasn’t a group of individuals.”

As her time in Australia dwindled down, it was time for Latsko and her NWSL-bound teammates to head back to the Untied States. She admits to being a bit nervous due to the numerous flights being cancelled. However, she hails and praises the work of Sydney FC for getting the players home safely.

Our families were calling a lot and worried that we were thousands of miles away from home,” Latsko said. “That gave us added pressure as well. Up until the last week there, everything kind of seemed normal…. We felt safe going back to the U.S. But, we wanted to make sure we flew home together. We wanted to stick together and be able to navigate as a group, rather than four individuals.”

Latsko said she appreciates the country of Australia for educating people about the coronavirus. She also looks back gratefully to Sydney FC for making players feel calm and confident about getting home safely.

“They made us feel safe before and after the Grand Final, and help ensured us that we would get back home just fine,” she said. “I’m grateful that they helped get us home.” 

Back to the Houston Dash

While the resumption of sports is uncertain, there is one certainty for Latsko. In her third season, she’ll remain in Houston. The Dash forward is looking forward to a comeback season, of sorts, with the Dash. Right now, she’s working out and rooming with teammate Haley Hanson.

Her teammates were in communication with her during her time in Australia. It wasn’t just one-off communication though. From the time she stepped back on the pitch for the first time in months to the final match, Latsko was chatting with teammates and her coaches, as they provided countless waves of support.

My phone blew up after my first game,” Latsko said. “Almost every person on the Dash team messaged me. It wasn’t just individual messages and calls. They were posting stuff on Instagram and social media for me.”

She received countless support from teammates, and especially noted Kristie Mewis. Mewis tore her ACL in 2018, and gave constant encouragement to her teammate who was battling the same injury. Latsko noted that head coach James Clarkson reached out plenty of times, along with assistant coaches Eddie Robinson,Twila Kaufman and Brenton Saylor.

“Throughout the season, they would send me messages of support,” Latsko said. “They would say they were so excited to see me back on the field. I felt so much support from all of them… They would message me throughout the season, even when we lost a game and I would feel like trash, and they would encourage me. ‘You deserve this, you earned this.’ I felt the love all the way from Houston probably every game day.”

Gearing up for her third season in H-Town

There is no set date for when the NWSL season will begin. Latsko said it’s nice to have a break between the W-League season and the NWSL season, but she misses the preseason action she should be featuring in right now. Latsko said that the team is still communicating through Zoom and having team bonding activities on top of meetings.

“We had team bingo night the other day,” she said. “In terms of workouts, they send workouts via different apps and give us our own individual rein if we’re allowed to go to a field, or outside, or even an open piece of grass. The Dash have been great in terms of working out workout equipment… They make sure everyone has enough workout equipment that we’re able to keep up in time preseason rolls around.”

The hardest part about social distancing is not being able to form relationships with her new teammates. This offseason, the Dash made a flurry of moves. New faces like Megan Oyster, Shea Groom, Katie Stengel and Katie Naughton have joined the Dash, among others.

“Having these new players come in with fresh faces, that are younger and have experience, is exciting,” Latsko said. “Young teams means so much growth together and individually. I have heard great things about the girls coming into this program. I’m excited to work with them and form awesome friendships with them. We only get to play this sport for so many years, so the friendships can be life lasting.”

Meanwhile, the Dash parted ways with Kealia Ohai, Amber Brooks and Huerta. Latsko said she had great relationships with those players and noted that while trades are exciting, they’re also sad times for losing out on good friends.

“You do grow close bonds with the girls traded away,” Latsko explained. “I was close with Kealia and Sofia. They were wonderful people to have on the team.”

Looking ahead to an exciting 2020 season

When the season does start up, Latsko will be ready. She’s excited to return to the pitch at BBVA Stadium. However, Latsko said that if the possibility of closed-door matches comes up, she’ll be ready for them and ready to represent Houston.

“We’re professionals,” Latsko said. “It might be weird playing in an empty stadium, but if it’s best for public safety, that’s what we need to do. We have to play our best, knowing our fans are watching at home, and we represent them even if they’re not into stands.”

In Houston, she loves the fans and she’s a popular face right back. She said that Houston Dash fans are an amazing group and it’s a true honor to play in front of them.

“When they’re beating drums and holding our banners, it’s an exciting atmosphere,” she said. “It makes us feel like we can rise up to game day and be the best we can possibly be. Our fans bring that out in us.”

Latsko and the rest of the players in the NWSL will await updates from the league. Right now, Latsko is training hard to compete for an exciting and successful 2020 season — whenever that may be.

Veronica Latsko

Veronica Latsko celebrates scoring for Sydney FC in the Westfield W-League. Photo courtesy of Jaime Castaneda.

The sport of soccer is Rachael Kriger's area of expertise. Kriger covers Steel City FC for Pittsburgh Soccer Now and provides various columns, with occasional work with PITT Women's Soccer. Elsewhere, Kriger covers the Riverhounds SC for PGH Sports Castle. Her coverage expanded to Last Word on Soccer, where she began NWSL coverage and USWNT reporting. Kriger is a member of the official NWSL Media Association and the North American Soccer Reporters, serving as the NASR's Communications Director.

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