Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski has known Shea Groom since she was a young girl growing up in Missouri. Despite the long history together, the two briefly parted ways after three seasons together at FC Kansas City. Andonovski jumped when he had the chance to bring the attacker to Reign FC.
“She fits perfectly in the style of play that we want to develop here,” Andonovski said. “Her intensity, her speed, aggressiveness and knowledge of the game is what excites us as a coaching staff the most. We feel that she has all the tools that she needs to help us become a better team. On top of that, she’s a young player. One of the things we wanted to do this season was get a little bit younger, so she checks all the boxes.”
Groom’s intensity developed at an early age on the gridiron. Her father, Kelly, was a football coach for Blue Springs South High School for 20 years and she grew up at preseason practices, running routes and helping out. She loved the physicality of football, but found that soccer gave her a chance to freely express her creativity.
Tenacity, however, has remained an integral part of Groom’s game.
“Her mentality is amazing,” Andonovski said. “She never backs down. I love that about her. She never backs out of a 50-50 ball. She goes through the ball, through people. It’s amazing how she does it. Regardless of the outcome, she does the same thing every time. When you have a forward with that kind of mentality, it sets a tone for the rest of the team and it makes us all a little bit tougher altogether.”
Groom has drawn accolades at every level of her career. The 26-year-old won two Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year awards while at Liberty High School and was named the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year as a senior at Texas A&M. When Andonovski drafted her to FC Kansas City in 2015, Groom won the club’s rookie of the year award while the club went on to defeat the Reign to win the NWSL Championship.
“It’s funny, when we were in Kansas City it became a huge rivalry with the Reign playing in the finals two years in a row,” Groom said, laughing. “I loved every time we went to Seattle. The fans were ruthless, but that’s why they’re incredible. So many memories playing there, so many players I would much rather have on my side than on the other team. I was so happy that I could come here and meet with (Reign FC owners Bill and Teresa Predmore) and see how they run such an incredible organization. It’s really special to be a part of.”
No story represents Groom’s determination than a week two match against the Chicago Red Stars in 2017. Groom was involved in a massive collision in the second half, but carried on until the final whistle. After the game, an x-ray revealed that Groom had broken a rib in the collision.
“It made me think ‘how could she play all the way through?’” Andonovski said. “That’s who she is. That’s what she brings. She brings that mentality, aggressiveness and toughness.
Now, Groom is working hard to recapture the form that made her such an effective part of Andonovski’s squad in Kansas City after what she called a dip in production in 2018 with Sky Blue FC.
“Coming into a new club in any scenario is going to be difficult,” Groom said. “You have to prove yourself, and that’s what I’m doing. I think I have a little bit of catching up to do given what was a down year last year for me individually. I think I’m recovering some of those tools that make me who I am and trying to rediscover myself as a player.”
Still, the forward has high expectations for where she and the Reign may go in 2019.
“The sky is the limit. It’s a group made of champions and winners. I’ve seen that even in the first week. I’ve played on the pitch against a lot of these women, but to see their attitude off the field, their professionalism and the way that they take people under their wing. They want to have the best group out there to win the game and that’s an awesome environment to be a part of.”