It had been 1,353 days since Steph Cox’s last professional appearance when she started against the Washington Spirit on June 15. Despite the downtime, the defender returned with aplomb as Reign FC earned a draw at home.
Cox, who was signed as a National Team Replacement Player on May 31, had already been working with Reign FC as an assistant coach. As the season got underway, however, spending time around former teammates and the professional environment had her considering a comeback.
After conversations with Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski, owner Bill Predmore and her family, Cox decided to give it a shot.
After remaining on the bench for a 1-1 draw against Houston, the defender was asked to go 90 minutes in her first match in over three and a half years.
The 33-year-old responded with play that seemed to reflect three years of pent up energy. Cox took a team-high 81 touches, including 11 recoveries and three interceptions, to go with a shot on goal.
“It was so special,” Cox said. “We had a bunch of families from our neighborhood who came out who had never seen me play before with their kids. My parents were there for the game. It definitely felt like a mini-miracle. I didn’t think I could play 90 minutes two weeks after coming back. I’m always pretty hard on myself, but I felt really strong in the game. I was able to intercept a lot of balls and get in the attack. It felt a lot better than I expected.
“I came away with my heart so full for having been out there. I wish we could have gotten the win. I had a free kick that I wish I could have scored .There are definitely things to improve upon, but it’s just really special. It’s special being a coach and getting to impact your players, but it’s special being a player out there and having connections with your teammates. There was a moment at the end of the first half where I hit a long ball to Jess Fishlock in behind and she dove for the header. It was so close to our past moments when we played together before.”
The fullback, who now has 50 appearances for Reign FC stretching back to 2013, recognizes that she’ll have to take recovery very seriously as she works to reintegrate herself to a professional soccer environment during the season.
“Coming back into it, it’s like figuring out my body all over again,” Cox said. “It hasn’t been through this in a while and I’m older now. I’m being a little bit gentler on my body. I’m trying to be honest rather than push through things unnecessarily. We have a steep driveway, and walking up the driveway after the game I could feel it in my legs. I haven’t been achy or sore, but my body was just tired. I think now as a pro so much of it is about recovery. I’m trying to manage that as a mom. Making sure my three-year-old takes a nap so I can sit on the couch and do my recovery. Getting good sleep and hydrating. Just trying to take care of myself.”
Still, for all the work recovery will take, Cox is excited to share these moments with her daughters—including accompanying her on road matches with the club. During the warm-ups on June 15, Cox could hear her daughters calling for her from the grass berm at the south end of Cheney Stadium.
“You try and focus, but you also want to soak that moment in. After the game, my oldest, Kaylee, came sprinting down the field to me. I think that they get it and that they’re proud. It’s special to have them be a part of it, too. I just want them to see that they can follow their heart. That it takes hard work and commitment and being a part of a team, but whatever they want to do I want to inspire and support them.
“It’s definitely worth it. It’s been a joy so far. Even if it was just for one game, it’s been well worth it.”