Megan Reid Thought She Was Done with Soccer. It Wasn't Done with Her.05.27.22
This time last year, the players who now make up Angel City’s roster were scattered around the world—many in the NWSL, some in other professional leagues, some still in college. All of them were playing at an elite level somewhere, except one.
Megan Reid was working as an emergency medical technician.
“I never thought this would be happening to me,” she said this week. By “this,” she means a few things: after four and a half years away from high-level soccer, she’s playing professionally in the most competitive league in the world. She’s started every game this season at center back, alongside Olympic gold medalist Vanessa Gilles. And to top it all off, though it’s still early in the season, the team is second in the league and has conceded just two goals.
Looking back, her route to the NWSL feels predestined, one of those stories where everything happened at exactly the right time—though it might not have felt that way as it was happening.
At the beginning of 2017, Reid had just wrapped up her senior season at the University of Virginia. She’d been an important member of the team, starting every game that season and scoring a game-winning golden goal against second-ranked West Virginia. She knew several NWSL teams were interested in selecting her in the college draft. But at that moment, soccer had lost its appeal for her.
“My dad passed midway through spring of my junior year,” she explains. “Soccer was something that we did. I didn’t find the love and the joy in it anymore.”
It happened that not long before she’d lost her father, she’d been home for winter break. “I ended up having a long conversation with my dad and I was like, ‘I don't know if [the draft] is what I want to do,’” she remembers. “And he said, ‘Well, how do you feel about firefighting?’”
It wasn’t the first time he’d brought up the idea. For many years, Reid had wanted to join the military. “I wanted to do intelligence in Afghanistan,” she says. “It was about service and selflessness and stuff like that—and staying active. Those are all things that I wanted out of a career.”
Her dad was less enthusiastic. “I think the military scared him a little bit,” she remembers. Reid had lost her mom when she was young, and suspects that as her only parent, he felt extra protective.
“He was like, ‘I need to protect my kids and make sure they’re on a good path.’” Firefighting—while obviously still dangerous—felt more manageable to him. Reid could stay close to home, and wouldn’t be in grave danger on every call. “I liked the idea of it. It kind of encompassed everything that I wanted to accomplish with my life. It wasn't necessarily about the career path. It was more about what it gave me, or what I could give it.”
It was with her grief still fresh and that conversation echoing in her head that Reid decided to skip the draft and continue down this other path. Not long after her dad’s passing, she’d started helping out at a nearby volunteer fire station. “That's honestly what got me in a much better headspace,” she remembers. “This fire and [emergency medical services] stuff was making me super happy.”
At the station in Charlottesville—Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department—she started out slow, scribing on medical calls and dealing with equipment. She graduated early, the same semester she finished soccer, and spent the following spring taking the basic firefighting and EMT courses she’d need to continue in the field. Now officially a rookie EMT—a status that meant she could work as a full member of the team as long as a supervisor was present—she moved back home to the Bay Area.
Though she’d chosen to move away from soccer, Reid’s time at UVA paid off. She coached for a few months while looking for an EMT job, finally landing one at a San Francisco hospital where the manager loosened the usual requirements and hired her partially because she’d been a collegiate athlete.
“In the sports world, if you don't adjust fast,” she explains, “you don't survive within the sport. So I think for him, knowing those are the qualities he was going to get from me, he thought, ‘I would rather have a super hard worker and teach you the 10% more that you need to know than someone who knows everything, but might be lazier and less communicative.’” It wouldn’t be the last time her sports background gave her a boost in her new career—or vice versa.
After a year at the hospital—and a few months of “doing nothing” during the early months of the pandemic—Reid started an internship at a fire station in Sonoma County. She had no idea at the time that it would mark the beginning of her journey back to soccer.
“We were hiring,” remembers Ted Hassler, her supervisor during the internship. “It was me and two other guys on the interview panel, and these guys are like, ‘Hey, there's a D1 soccer player coming in.’ I'm like, ‘yeah right.’” Hassler happened to be a lifelong player and fan of the sport—the only one at his fire department at the time.
Reid interviewed and confirmed that she really had played soccer at Virginia. “[He] was like, ‘Yeah, I want her on my crew,’” she says. “‘We're going to go play soccer.’”
A few days into the three-month internship, Hassler told her, “‘I got to see what you got.’” They pulled the four fire engines out of the garage, ran a leaf blower over the floor, and set up foam rollers as goals. “Ten seconds into the game,” he remembers, a coworker was in on goal, and Reid “came sliding in out of nowhere. I’m like, ‘Oh, she’s legit. All right. This is going to be fun.’”
Those soccer games—two v two, walls in play—became a regular occurrence on Reid’s 48-hour shifts. “It was so much fun,” she remembers. “I just genuinely started to love the sport again.”
Still, she also loved her job. She'd arrive at a call, what was often the worst day of someone else's life, and be the calm professional doing what needed to be done to save a life. She loved the brotherhood she'd entered into with her coworkers. And she was good at it: Hassler remembers her as one of the fastest learners he'd ever encountered in more than two decades on the job.
Working in that field, there are also hard days. Some calls, Reid says, get to you more than others. Early on in her time at Sonoma Valley, her team was called onto the scene of a car accident where the driver was dead on arrival. She'd hit a tree going 80 miles per hour and the bottom half of the car had nearly disintegrated. "For me, it was just seeing the entire contents of this person's life just strewn across the ground, over a 100-yard radius," Reid remembers.
The calls where they couldn't do anything to help—those were the hardest part of the job.
Around that time, she was talking to a college friend, who told her, “if anyone could go back to the sport, it would be you.” Veronica Latsko, another college teammate who now plays for OL Reign, had remarked after a game, “Reider could have played in this league.”
“It was almost like, ‘I dare you to.’”
This is when the first of several moments of wild synchronicity happened: a coach from Reid’s youth club, Lamorinda United, reached out, asking if she wanted to play for the club’s Women’s Premier Soccer League side (the WPSL is the highest level of amateur women’s soccer in the US). She played seven of the team’s eight games that season—training independently during much of that time, no less—and helped the team win their division. She wanted more.
Through a club connection, she waded in further and landed a job with FC Thisted, a team in Denmark’s top professional division. That season ended last November, and Reid could have gone back, but right on time, a second coincidence happened: Steve Swanson, her coach from UVA, called and said he’d gotten her on the discovery list for San Diego Wave FC. “I have to give being in the states a shot before going overseas,” she decided.
She joined the team for preseason camp, and it wasn’t easy. Stepping into an NWSL environment for the first time can be a shock for a player fresh out of college, let alone someone who hadn’t played at an elite level in years.
“I was obviously out of the game for so long,” she explains. “So being in a team environment for the first time in four years was odd to me. I was kind of figuring out how to play within a team again at such a fast pace.” Plus, the Wave’s defense was already stacked, with players like Abby Dahlkemper, a USWNT mainstay, and Naomi Girma, the top pick in the 2022 draft, holding down the back line. Reid wasn’t surprised when she didn’t make the cut.
She called Swanson to give him the news. He told her to stay in San Diego one more night so he could make some calls and see what he could do. The next day, she hadn’t heard anything, and was packed up and ready to go. “I'm like, no big deal. I'm just going to head home. Keys in hand. And I get a call and it's 'Hey, Coach Freya [Coombe] is about to call you.'"
The third coincidence: Angel City were, at that moment, on their way to Chula Vista for a training camp. “She said, ‘do you want to come meet us?’ I said yes.”
The rest, more or less, is history: having trained with San Diego for a month had helped her shake off a lot of rust, and she impressed the ACFC coaching staff enough to land a roster spot. That was unexpected, but even more improbable was that, following injuries to key defenders Sarah Gorden and Paige Nielsen, Reid found herself in the starting lineup.
“It was incredibly intimidating,” she says. But this is a woman who’d responded to 911 calls. She’d seen cars split in half, bones sticking out of bodies—and had learned not to fixate on the shocking details, but to stay calm and focus on patients’ vitals. “You're kind of like a duck on water. You look really calm, cool, collected, but underneath, you're moving a million miles a second.”
Whether that’s something she learned as a first responder, or a quality she’d had to begin with, it’s one that suits a defender. The stakes are different, but in a lot of ways, a person you’d trust to pull you out of a rolled-over car is someone you can also count on as the last line of defense in a soccer game in front of 22,000 screaming fans.
As far as what’s next for her, Reid isn’t planning too far ahead. “The reason I came back to soccer,” she says, “was because I loved it and it was fun. I found that newfound love and joy of the game, and so for me, it’s just maintaining that.”
In terms of what’s next for Angel City—as in right now, this season—she has a clearer vision. “I’m here to f***ing win.”