While there was much for the Houston Dash to celebrate during their 5-1 victory in a friendly over Tigres Femenil, it was the final moments of NWSL legend Christine Nairn’s career that caused the biggest outpouring of emotion on Sunday night.
For Nairn, the pre-game ceremony celebrating her career and the standing ovation she received as she was subbed off in the 78th minute were welcomed ways to end her final week as a professional soccer player.
“I've cried more than I think I ever have in my life. I think it just goes to show that I still love this sport, you know, getting teary eyed again,” said Nairn. “I love this sport so much, I love this team so much and it's a hard decision, but I'm excited about the next step, selfishly for myself. But it was the perfect night for me to have my parents in the stands and to be able to see them and to walk away with such a ceremony and walking away with my head held high with a win and my teammates hugging me as I come off the field. So, for me it was a perfect ending to my career."
Nairn’s departure, which allows her to pursue her dream of becoming a firefighter, will leave an impact on not just the Dash, but the NWSL as a whole. An inaugural member with the league, Nairn was the first player in league history to appear in 150 matches and has been a fixture as the NWSL has grown to its current state. Those who got to play alongside her, such as Dash midfielder Makamae Gomera-Stevens, whose two goals on Sunday helped secure a win in Nairn’s final game, understand how special it is to play with a player of her stature.
“I think it is good that I am able to say that I got to play with a legend, that she helped me grow here and get the basics down of this new environment that I am in,” said Gomera-Stevens. “It is sad that we have to say bye, but I think it is cool that I got to play beside her in her last game.”
Nairn’s retirement also marks the departure of the first player that head coach James Clarkson signed when he joined the Dash. Clarkson said after the game that despite it being an emotional moment, he is grateful that the team sent the 30-year-old midfielder off with a win.
"I couldn't talk, I was crying," said Clarkson. “That was pretty tough, I wanted to make sure she could come off and get the standing ovation that she deserves, and it's been a very emotional week for her. I thought she played great and it was a lovely sendoff for her. We spoke about it before the game, we wanted to give her something that she would remember.”
Despite being less than 24 hours removed from a career as a professional soccer player, Nairn does not have much time to think about her career change, as her first day in the Houston Fire Department Academy is on Monday.
“I'm very excited for this next opportunity for me,” said Nairn. “This organization has done such a good job to show their full support in me, hopefully becoming a firefighter for the city of Houston. So, I can't really say anything but thank you. They've done everything in their power to make this a smooth transition. Now I just got to sleep and start a new career literally in probably 12 hours."