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A Special Feeling: Amanda West on dream start to rookie season with the Houston Dash

PHOTO: Houston Dash Communications

Amanda West sat on her couch and kept looking at her phone.

As the hours were prolonged so far that it ended up being the next day, West’s anxiety was starting to build up. Would her name be called? Or would she be a free agent in the National Women’s Soccer League? If she didn’t get drafted, would she have to go to Europe?

Past Midnight, West got her answer. No, not Europe. But Houston, Texas.

Amanda West became the first-ever player drafted from the University of Pittsburgh women’s soccer program into the NWSL, being selected by the Houston Dash with the No. 36 overall pick in the third round.

As soon as her phone rang with a Houston area-code, relief washed over.

“When I got the phone call, I was like, oh man, what a relief,” West told Pittsburgh Soccer Now. “That was one of the most stressful nights, for sure. The Draft felt like it kept going on. The anxiety and the stress builds as the rounds go on. It was such a relief. There was so much joy. I was watching it at home with my family, so we were all smiling, cheering and there was lots of hugging. It was a great feeling.” 

Immediately, West found herself back at the bottom of the totem pole — back to rookie status. However, five years of collegiate soccer at Pitt grew West into a mature player, ready to handle what the league threw at her. Now drafted, she was ready to go to work.

“Immediately, I was excited to get going and get some experience in this league under my belt,” she said, recalling her post-celebration thoughts. “I knew going into this that the NWSL is the, in my opinion, the most professional competitive league in the world. It’s one of the best to play in. I was excited for the challenge up ahead.”

“It was a really special night and a special feeling.”

New city, new team, same West

“It’s been really good so far.”

West has made a big splash in her first National Women’s Soccer League season. The former University of Pittsburgh forward has been garnering minutes for the Houston Dash, making 10 appearances this season.

West was known for her goal-scoring at Pitt. That talent hasn’t gone away since making it on the big stage.

In her sixth appearance with the Dash, West scored her first professional goal, off a deflected ball that rolled right to her. West didn’t have to do much thinking; scoring has always been second nature to her.

West spoke with Pittsburgh Soccer Now just days before scoring her first goal against the Kansas City Current, in a 1-1 draw on May 5. After the match, she said the feeling of scoring her first professional goal was pure elation.

“That was my first professional goal, so that’s one that I’ll remember forever,” West said. “It was a really special moment, not only for myself but to share it with my teammates. We have a really good group here. There’s a lot of people on the team that we work hard for each other. That was a moment for the whole team, as well. Fran [Alonso, Houston Dash head coach] always gets so excited when we score goals. He’s very energetic. It was awesome to share that moment with the girls and the coaches.”

Just a few weeks earlier, on April 20, West picked up her first assist, getting the ball to teammate and Mexican international Diana Ordóñez.

“It was a great feeling to get my first assist. That game, we ended up losing to Portland,” West explained. “At the time, that was to make it 2-1… We got that one back, and I was just happy we got back into the game. At that point, we were putting the pieces together and creating chances offensively. It was only a matter of time before one got in. Diana was able to capitalize on that. She’s always someone that’s going to be in the box that you can look to for finishing on crosses. I knew she was going to be there, so I headed it back across. Her angle was better than mine.” 

West’s minutes are no fluke, either. With the recent departure of María Sánchez, the Dash needed more offensive weapons. Although West plays deeper with Houston than she did for Pitt, she still gets looks in front of goal — something that manager Fran Alonso notices.

West has been a regular figure for Alonso, starting six of her 10 appearances.

“It definitely gives me some confidence,” she said about Alonso giving her minutes as a rookie. “I think we are a team that is still learning and trying to put the pieces together. Not only am I brand new, but so is Fran, and so is the system that we’re playing. A lot of other players are new, too. We’re all learning and growing together, finding our identity and trying to implement a new style of play. I really appreciate that he sees potential in me and sees me fitting into the system that he wants to play. My job, at the end of the day, is to do my job, do what he asks and wants of me. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

West said she harkens the Houston Dash of 2024 — who currently sit at 3-3-5 and are 10th on the table — to the Pitt Panthers team she walked into as a freshman, back in 2019.

“It honestly reminds me of my time at Pitt,” West explained. “I was in a very similar position when I first came to Pitt. We had a lot of growth and building to do. That’s the case here, too. I’m no stranger to that. It’s definitely given me some confidence and I feel good about it. It’s a familiar feeling.”

Embracing the professional life

West, like any new player joining a new team and environment, had some jitters when meeting her new teammates. West, a Canadian, was around other Canadian internationals, like Sophie Schmidt and Allysha Chapman, and made friends with other rookies like Avery Patterson from North Carolina and Kiki Van Zanten from Notre Dame, both ACC rivals.

However, West was surprised to see how quickly everyone — rookie and veteran — welcomed her with open arms.

“I was immediately embraced with open arms into this group. Everybody treats you like you’ve been there for years, which is really great,” she shared. “Off the field, I think the team gets along really well. We hang out a good bit. That was something that I was really pleasantly surprised when I got here. The older players really didn’t treat you like you were a rookie, and that you had to earn their time and respect. They gave it to you right away. They’ve been really welcoming, and in turn that makes me want to learn from them and be better for them. That was really nice to experience.” 

Playing and training with Canadian players like Schmidt and Chapman, who is currently on maternity leave, has helped her grow in knowledge of the game.

“Sophie has just been around the game for so long, and she’s had such a long and successful career,” West said. “She’s so experienced. Watching her and learning from her on the field, I’ve learned a lot from just observing how composed she is under pressure, how she sees the game. You can just tell in the way she plays that she’s very mature and an experienced player. She’s super comfortable on the ball.”

Of course, like every young Canadian girl, West grew up admiring, appreciating and in awe of the talent that is Christine Sinclair, the most decorated Canadian player and world’s all-time leading international goal scorer.

They faced off in April, an experience that West called “surreal.”

“I think it’s probably one of the coolest things in my life to play against Christine Sinclair,” West stated. “That was wild. I grew up watching her play, so to be on the field, going against her, was really cool. I’ve never played in front of crowds this big before.”

Recently, West played against her favorite opponent thus far: her Pitt teammate Landy Mertz.

Not long after West was drafted, Mertz was selected by the North Carolina Courage with the No. 52 overall pick in the fourth round. Although they weren’t on the pitch together at the same time, Mertz made her NWSL debut against the Dash on May 24, in a Houston 3-0 win.

West said that she and Mertz talk every single day.

“We FaceTime, we text, we’re very much still in touch. She knows everything that goes on in my day, and vice versa,” she said. “We share our experiences together… She’s doing well in North Carolina. She remains to be one of the most hard-working people I’ve ever met. I know she’s going to get her chance soon, and she’s going to do great things with it.”

Mertz isn’t the only person from Pitt that West keeps in contact with. She also speaks regularly with her Panthers head coach Randy Waldrum, who was the first-ever coach of the Houston Dash, as well.

“He will always be someone that I go to for advice for soccer, no matter what,” West shared, adding that Waldrum helped guide her through all of her potential career options. “He’s someone that I was very close to while I played at Pitt. I know that he cares about me beyond being a soccer player at Pitt. He’s always the guy that I go to if I don’t know what to do, need advice or ask him what he thinks. I know he’s been watching the games and he’ll text me about the games.”

“I still keep in touch with him and I always will go to Randy, especially if I need guidance.” 

Embracing the new challenge

West stated that she wants to make a trip back to Pittsburgh in the fall for a couple games, supporting her former teammates and close friends. She also stated that while she and Mertz were the first and second players drafted from the Panthers program, she doesn’t expect them to be the last.

“It’s great to be the first to come from Pitt, but I’m certainly not the last. Obviously Landy was drafted too, but I expect many players in the new coming years to be drafted,” she shared. “I can’t wait to see our first round pick, and more history and accolades that will be broken.” 

As of right now, West is enjoying and embracing her new challenge as a professional soccer player. She went into the season with low expectations when it came to stats and time she would see on the pitch. Those expectations have been exceeded, and she’s still learning each week.

“My outlook, going into this year, was to gain as much experience as possible, in terms of learning from the players, new coaches and being in a new environment,” West said. “Obviously, watching the games and seeing the speed of play, you can see it’s different from college. It’s much higher pressure, and it’s a lot more defensively demanding and very transitional. I wanted to go into my rookie year and learn as much as possible to become a better player.”

West and the Dash will face off with Racing Louisville on Friday night, with the game kicking off at 8 p.m. ET. West said that after each game, the Dash feel they’re moving in the right direction.

“There’s a lot of new things happening in our team: new system, new coach,” she shared. “We’re trying every week to implement what we’re trying to do, day in and day out at practice… Hopefully we can get rolling.”

The sport of soccer is Rachael Kriger's area of expertise. Kriger covers high school and women's soccer, with occasional work with Pitt Women's Soccer. For the last five years, she has been the Color Commentator for the Pitt Women's Soccer program. Elsewhere, Kriger contributes for MLS Multiplex, part of the FanSided network. She formerly wrote for Equalizer Soccer and Last Word on Soccer. Kriger is a member of the official NWSL Media Association and the North American Soccer Reporters, serving as the NASR's President after two years in the role of Communications Director and Vice President.

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