Sunday’s friendly between the Houston Dash and Tigres Femenil was notable for many reasons, including that it was the final match of NWSL legend Christine Nairn’s career.
Nairn, who began her journey with the Houston Fire Department Academy to become a firefighter this morning, was an inaugural member of the NWSL and was the first player to reach 150 appearances in the league. For Houston Dash Head Coach James Clarkson, her impact on the sport extends well beyond just her impact on the pitch.
“Christine is the epitome of what it means to be a professional in our sport, and it has been an honor to coach her over the last three years,” Clarkson said after the game. “She is one of the best players to have played in the NWSL and has played a massive role in helping build this league into what it is today.”
Nairn, who has been with the Dash since 2019 and was Clarkson’s first signing as head coach, has been a fixture in the league since its debut in 2013. The 30-year-old midfielder has played in 167 NWSL competitions for Seattle Reign FC (now OL Reign), the Washington Spirit, the Orlando Pride and the Houston Dash and was a key contributor to the Dash’s 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup Championship. During that time, Nairn says she has seen the league grow immensely, and expects this growth to continue for years to come.
“I just saw that growth each and every year in the NWSL,” said Nairn. “To wrap your head around playing against Barcelona, playing Lyon, playing Tigres, everything like that, when you put it like that, it just really does show the growth of this game and how big women's soccer is and is getting. I think that as time goes on, I hope that it continues to grow in the way that it is. I think in the first nine years now the standard is set, now we have to continue to put women's soccer on the map whether that's in the NWSL, in the Mexican league, in leagues overseas. I think women's soccer is definitely something that's going to be a big, big part of sports in the future."
Fortunately for the NWSL legend, the Dash sent Nairn into retirement with a dominant showing against Tigres, winning the friendly by a score of 5-1. The match also included a pregame celebration of Nairn’s career and a standing ovation for her when she came out of the game in the 78th minute. For Clarkson, celebrating the accomplishments of the league’s most celebrated players is a necessity.
“I think it's very important, when we talk about the growth of this game, recognizing the players that were at the forefront of this,” said Clarkson. “She does it for the love of the game, not for money and she has kept this league afloat. There are many players like her in the league and they need credit. The effort, time and commitment; at times it hasn't been good, but it's getting better. The league is getting better and everything about it. Without these players, these things wouldn't be possible. I think it's vitally important from a club standpoint, we recognize these players and have a proper sendoff.”