As an official sponsor of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), Ally has the honor of amplifying the talent, character and passion of the league’s players. One of the many ways we help tell their stories is through Game Changers, a video series that highlights how players are changing the game, on and off the field.
In season one of Game Changers, viewers were inspired by Jamia Fields, Erika Tymrak, Quinn, Imani Dorsey and Arin Wright. Season two’s roster is just as incredible and promises to both hearten fans and help cultivate the power of being an ally.
Who better to kick off the new season than North Carolina Courage’s defender Carson Pickett?
Episode 1 – Unapologetically: Carson Pickett
Pickett has been playing soccer since she was five years old, and in 2014, she led Florida State to its first NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship. Since then, she has played in more than 100 games for the NWSL’s Seattle Reign (OL Reign), Orlando Pride and North Carolina Courage. In June of 2022, Pickett became the first player with a limb difference to play for the United States Women’s National Team.
Early in Pickett’s career, she had to overcome the frustration of people focusing on her arm rather than her soccer abilities. “I wanted to go to Florida State, be a great student, be a great soccer player and that was it – I wanted it to have nothing to do with my arm,” she explained. However, as she and her team got closer to taking home a championship, Pickett noticed the difference in how she was being treated by reporters. While they asked her teammates about their abilities on the field, Pickett was answering questions about her arm. It was in the wake of that frustration that her parents helped her see the experience from a different perspective – that through her platform, she can reach so many while serving as an inspiration for those like her.
“I had never met another person with one arm. My parents didn’t have anyone to reach out to and it was all just me and my family trying to figure it out. I realized that I could be that person for people.”
Episode 2 – Historically: Madison Hammond
Angel City FC defender Madison Hammond is an inspirational example of how being true to who you are can make a difference. Growing up in an athletic family, Hammond was always encouraged in sports, but it was her heritage that encouraged her to stand up, be heard and know that the power of her past is always with her. It also led her to become the first Native American to play in the NWSL.
Following her mom’s example of “working for it is worth it,” Hammond was a starter and all-ACC academic during all four years at Wake Forest University. After graduating, she was drafted by the OL Reign in Seattle and in front of her mom and sister made history with her first step onto the field.
Hammond explains, “Historically indigenous populations have had to undergo a lot of being swept under the rug, not really being considered as a part of American society in general. And so, it is really important now to be able to add to that conversation, as to ‘I am a real person. I am in this space now, and if you care about this space then hopefully you can care about my experiences as well.’”
Episode 3 – Inspirationally: María Sánchez
Since childhood, María Sánchez’s dream was to become a professional soccer player. However, growing up in a small town with limited resources made finding opportunities to develop into a competitive athlete challenging. Despite her obstacles, Sánchez saw her dream realized in 2019 when she was drafted as a forward for the Chicago Red Stars.
For many professional players, the path to the NWSL starts at a young age – playing for soccer clubs and joining development programs before high school. Without access to those opportunities, Sánchez set her own goals and pursued them tirelessly. She credits her parents – who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when Sánchez was young – with instilling the work ethic and determination she carried with her to rise above all odds as a first-generation Latina.
Following her first year in the NWSL, Sánchez found herself discouraged and doubting her place in the league, ultimately making the decision to play in Mexico’s Liga MX Femenil. This experience not only deepened her skill, it reignited her confidence on and off the field. After a successful season playing for the UANL Tigres, a move she credits for being a huge step in her personal journey, she returned to the NWSL in 2021. Sánchez joined the Houston Dash with a determination to make a name for Mexico in NWSL and inspire other Hispanic girls to chase their dreams.
“I just want to inspire all those [who] think because they grew up somewhere without resources, or a small town or somewhere where they think no one is going to turn and look – I just want my story to be an example for them. To inspire them to chase those dreams and know they can accomplish them if they stick their mind to it,” explains Sánchez.
Episode 4 – Unconditionally: Desiree Scott
Kansas City Current midfielder Desiree Scott and her parents had been fostering DeeJay since he was two days old when in the midst of an already challenging 2020 Scott’s mom got a call from the foster agency saying that they would be removing DeeJay from their home. Being apart – and unable to communicate with him for 44 days – was the ultimate heartbreak. So ahead of preparing to play for the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team in the Tokyo Olympics, Scott started the adoption process, ensuring that DeeJay would never have to leave her family again.
After winning the gold medal in Tokyo, Scott and her mom decided the best thing would be for DeeJay to come live with Scott full time in Kansas City. And now, whether it is at practice, a game or navigating their way through seventh-grade homework, DeeJay and Scott are always together. You can hear Scott’s love in how she talks about DeeJay. “He’s my favorite person … he makes my heart so happy, and I can’t imagine life without him.”
As far as her legacy goes, Scott’s vision is clear: “The kind of legacy that I would love to leave on the game is one that you can be a mom/guardian, one of the most challenging yet fulfilling roles and still play the sport you love, all through a great support system and through a belief in yourself that you can overcome any challenge.”
Episode 5 – Exceptionally: Nadia Nadim
Racing Louisville FC’s Nadia Nadim is a force at forward. Her impressive soccer resume includes playing for Denmark, where she represents the women’s national team and was twice voted Player of the Year. However, as you dive deeper into Nadim’s story, it quickly becomes evident that it isn’t her time on the pitch that has shaped her as much as what brought her there.
Born in Afghanistan, Nadim was a young child when her father, a general in the Afghan army, was executed by the Taliban. This tragedy left Nadim, her mother and her four sisters fighting to understand how to survive. What came next was an act of sacrifice and bravery as Nadim’s mother sold everything she owned to get them out of Afghanistan, and eventually to Denmark, as refugees.
For the next eight months in Denmark, Nadim and her family lived in a refugee camp, and that is where fate stepped in. Next to her camp were soccer fields, and for the first time, she saw girls playing competitively. She realized that was also what she wanted. Although she had never played soccer, she desperately wanted to learn because she saw how it connected people. “You don’t have to understand the culture or the country to play football,” she said. Fast forward to today, and not only has she established herself as a professional soccer player, but she continues to work toward her goals outside of the sport by pursuing her medical degree while still playing competitively.
“I’ve always been that person that was supposed to do the changing. In Afghanistan, I guess I had to change and be different because I was a girl. … There should be a place for me. I don’t change myself, I change the environment around me.”
Watch the game. Change the game.
Investing in women’s sports is important. That’s why Ally has committed to an equal media investment in women’s and men’s sports over the next five years and launched the “Watch the Game. Change the Game.” campaign aimed at rallying viewership of women’s sports. No matter where you’re watching – at the stadium, on tv or online – when you watch the game, you change the game.