HomeBad Ass AsiansHawaii's own Caprice Dydasco is making waves in the NWSL
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Hawaii’s own Caprice Dydasco is making waves in the NWSL

by Akemi Tamanaha, AsAmNews Associate Editor

Caprice Dydasco, the National Women’s Soccer League Defender of the year, may have been born to play soccer.

“I started playing soccer when I pretty much came out of the womb,” the 28-year-old defender for NJ/NY Gotham FC, a team in the National Women’s Soccer League, joked during an interview with AsAmNews.

Both of Dydasco’s parents played soccer but gave their three children the option to pursue other sports.

“I just felt like myself on the soccer field,” she said.

Dydasco grew up in Hawaii where there were very few competitive club teams. She started out playing with boys, eventually joining an under-10s girls team. When she was 14, she began playing for the U.S. youth national soccer teams. From that point on, her soccer career became serious quickly. This year she received an ESPY nomination for best player in the NWSL. Her journey to get there has not been easy.

Making history at UCLA

In 2011, Dydasco left Hawaii to play soccer at the University of California Los Angeles. She had spent most of her youth career playing forward and center midfielder. But during her freshman year, her coach told her she would be playing fullback.

In today’s modern game, fullbacks (wide defenders) are often expected to make runs forward to join the attack. Dydasco believes her experience as a forward aided her defensive performances at UCLA and in her pro career.

“I think if I didn’t play forward I wouldn’t have been a good defender now because I wouldn’t know what to do when I got past the halfway line and I think it’s just very fluid for me,” she said.

During her junior year at UCLA, Dydasco helped the team win its first-ever NCAA championship. Several legendary U.S. Women’s National Team players like Lauren Holiday and Sydney Leroux had played for UCLA but the team had never won a championship.

“I think it’s a cool thing to know that your class and your team will go down in history,” Dydasco said. “It was really exciting.”

A challenging professional journey

In January 2015, Dydasco was drafted to play for the Washington Spirit in the NWSL. She said the transition from college to the professional league shocked her.

“You go from club to college and it’s a bit of transition but you’re still around the same age group. You go from college to pros and it’s a total shock because of the experience these players have had whether it’s international, or just in this league,” she said.

Suddenly she was surrounded by players who had a deeper understanding of the game and who played it at a much faster pace. That season she played just five games for the Spirit, describing her rookie season as one of the most mentally challenging points of her career.

“You can be the best player in college and come to pro and not play at all,” she said.

As she struggled to get minutes, Dydasco also had to navigate being a young player in a young league. When she joined the Spirit, the NWSL was just two-years-old. The minimum salary that year was $6,842, and players did not earn an income from the league or health benefits during the off-season. The league sent players to live with host families during the season who “felt like complete strangers.”

Dydasco says she was lucky to have a family that could support her through a mentally and financially challenging time. She noted that several players were forced to retire early because they did not have outside financial support.

In 2016, Dydasco played 12 games for the Spirit, doubling her appearances from last season. Her momentum was cut short when she tore her ACL during the 2016 NWSL championship game. It can take six to ten months to recover from an ACL tear. Dydasco has torn her ACL twice in her career.

Photo courtesy of Gotham FC

She tore it a second time in 2020, a year after she was traded to Gotham FC in 2019. Each time, she says she’s proud of the way she’s handled her recovery.

“Both times when I tore it I was like, ‘Okay I’m not done. I’ll be back next year. and it wasn’t even a doubt in my mind.”

A key player for Gotham FC

In 2021, after recovering from her second ACL tear, Dydasco had one of her best NWSL seasons. She appeared in every game for Gotham, playing over 2000 minutes for the club. In October, she celebrated her 100 NWSL appearance, a remarkable milestone for veteran players in the league. She recorded five assists that season and scored her first NWSL goal.

Dydasco appeared five times on the NWSL Team of the Month lists. On November 15, 2021, she was named NWSL Defender of the Year. Her fantastic form has carried over into the 2022 season, earning her an ESPY nomination for Best NWSL player.

Becoming a voice for the AAPI community

Anti-Asian hate has risen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but so too have efforts to combat hate by educating Americans about Asian cultures and traditions. In the NWSL, Dydasco has become an advocate for the AAPI community.

Dydasco’s father is Guamanian, and her mother is Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Hawaiian. Growing up in Hawaii, she was used to being around people who came from different Asian backgrounds.

“I never really saw myself as ‘Asian’ because I just fit in with everyone else. Until I went to college, then I kind of noticed I stood out a little bit,” Dydasco said.

Currently, she is one of the few Asian players in the league. She was recently on a panel hosted by the MLB, NBA and NFL to discuss AAPI perspectives in sports.

“You have to represent the whole spectrum of Asian Americans and that’s their view of how Asian Americans are, the one person,” she said as she recalled speaking on the panel. “So you represent the whole community on your team. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

It’s a responsibility that she accepts willingly. There were no Asian American soccer players for Dydasco to look up to when she was a young player. Now, she’s the source of inspiration for young Asian American girls. After the panel, people with journies similar to Dydasco’s reached out to her on social media.

“I think that part of my responsibility being an athlete is not only winning games but doing everything I can while I’m on this platform to share my story.”

Dydasco says her club and teammates have been very supportive of her efforts to educate NWSL fans on Asian American cultures. Gotham has celebrated AAPI Heritage Month for the past two years. That month, the team listens to an AAPI playlist during warmups. The club shares lists of influential Asian Americans from different industries.

In May of 2021, the team took a trip to New York City’s Chinatown to support local businesses. Dydasco could not attend but whenever she asks her teammates about it they say, “That was the best thing ever.”

The defender added that her teammates are “really good in asking questions,” even if they’re worried the questions might be silly. She believes the only way people will learn is if they ask questions in a respectful way. The difficult conversations are important.

She also hopes to see more AAPI representation as the league continues to grow.

“I would love to see more representation within our league. Whether it’s players, whether it’s our team doctors, coaches, front office, I would just like to see more opportunity within the club,” she said.

Looking for improvements on and off the pitch

Dydasco’s stellar performances at Gotham have caught the eye of several NWSL fans, many of whom believe she should be called up to the USWNT. Like most players in the league, the national team is always in the back of her mind. But for now, she’s focused on improving her NWSL performances.

“If you keep playing well, it’s hard to ignore you. I think that’s just gonna be my thing: be more effective in games, be more consistent and make them make the hard decision,” she said.

The defender also plans to continue using her platform to help grow women’s sports and specifically women’s soccer. The NWSL has come a long way since her rookie season, but she knows there’s more work to be done. She believes players will be able to “slowly chip away” at problems now that they have a players’ union.

“I think it’s huge that we’ve become a union and we have some protection for the players in all aspects. I think having a union we’ll have a voice, and I think that’s been missing throughout the past ten years,” Dydasco said.

She encourages more supporters to attend NWSL games.

“I think that’s the easiest and best thing that we can ask of anyone listening or reading is just to come out to games and support your local teams.”

AsAmNews is incorporated in the state of California as Asian American Media, Inc, a non-profit with 501c3 status. Check out our Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story, or making a tax-deductible financial contribution. We are committed to the highest ethical standards in journalism. Please report any typos or errors to info at AsAmNews dot com.


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