Kyah Simon has led multiple club team in goals. She has clinched a continental championship for Australia by making the final penalty kick. She’s scored winning goals in two FIFA World Cups.
Last summer, however, she was as far as she’s ever been from soccer glory. Simon couldn’t even dress herself or cut her food without help from her mother.
The Houston Dash’s latest arrival and potentially a spark for their so-far punchless attack, Simon is excited to resume her club career following nearly a full year of rehabilitation from surgeries on both shoulders.
The 26-year old midfielder will be available for selection Saturday afternoon when the Dash play host to the North Carolina Courage in a nationally televised game at BBVA Compass Stadium.
“I’m feeling refreshed,” Simon said Thursday after her second training session with the Dash. “Unfortunately, I am coming off a hamstring strain, but my body is feeling good. I am glad to get here to Houston, get settled into the time zone, get on the pitch to get some training and get to know the girls.”
Long injury history
Simon’s recent hamstring strain paled in comparison to what she endured with her shoulders for the better part of a decade.
She said both shoulders subluxed or dislocated eight to 12 times apiece before she finally had enough. She played the 2016 season with the Boston Breakers but withdrew from the second year of her contract to focus on her physical and mental health.
“You don’t realize how much you need both arms in everyday life. As a 26-year-old, it was hard to again become reliant on your mom to do little things like dressing you, cutting up your food and cooking it for you.”
The timing was right, too. With the Asian Cup (2018), World Cup (2019) and Olympics (2020) on the horizon, Simon said taking a year off in 2017 made sense. She knew she would need to be fully fit to help Australia go as far as possible in all three major competitions.
“It is tough because as a football player, people think you only need your legs and your feet and you’re good to go,” Simon said. “But it started to have some implications on the way I was playing. I couldn’t use my body as much. You use your upper body more than you realize.”
Simon had to change the way she played in important situations, such as how she held off opposing players as she positioned herself to receive a pass. As a result, she lost confidence. She couldn’t play with the same expression that lifted her to her highest levels of success.
As difficult as that was, she said nothing was more trying than regaining her strength and mobility following the surgeries. She had surgery on one shoulder and then had to keep that arm in a sling for two months. After those two months, she had surgery on her other shoulder and had that arm in a sling for two more months.
She had to move in with her mother and younger brother.
“It was quite tough. You don’t realize how much you need both arms in everyday life,” Simon said. “As a 26-year-old, it was hard to again become reliant on your mom to do little things like dressing you, cutting up your food and cooking it for you. That was one of the lowest points of my career.”
Simon was in the early stages of her shoulder problems when Dash coach Vera Pauw saw her play at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Pauw on Thursday said she remembers being impressed by Simon’s performance on the right side, which is likely where she will play for the Dash.
Pauw was so enamored with Simon’s skills that she set aside conventional wisdom during the NWSL Dispersal Draft for Boston Breakers players in January. Boston players who were under contract or had recently been selected in the college draft would not count against the salary cap or roster limit and would not occupy an existing international roster spot.
Simon did not fall in those categories because Boston only retained her rights when she took the year off. So when the Dash picked her at No. 6 overall it confused much of the women’s soccer world.
At the time, however, Pauw said she valued Simon higher than any Boston player other than Rose Lavelle.
“It is her performance itself because she has a lot of pace and power going forward,” Pauw said this week. “She’s very direct and opportunistic. Another side of it is she is a calm, natural leader. There have been people wondering if she is strong enough. She is, but she does it in her way.
“She has respect and status in the hierarchy from all the players. That is good in this team because the young players need players they feel comfortable with and somebody who is very clear about how we do things.”
Pauw and Simon talked before the Dispersal Draft, and Simon told Pauw she wanted to return to the NWSL and would be happy to do so with Houston.
Though it took an extra month for Simon to arrive due to her hamstring injury and her participation in the Asian Cup, the delay was nothing like what Simon suffered through all of last year.
With that behind her, she wants to restart her career by performing even better than she ever has.
“I’m 26 and still want to develop and play my best football,” she said. “I think my best football is still ahead of me with some big years coming up.”