- - Friday, April 14, 2017

Shelina Zadorsky was a “very spirited child.” That’s how her mother described her, at least.

Growing up in the Ontario city of London, squared halfway between Toronto and Detroit, Zadorsky radiated energy. Nurturing a fondness for the outdoors, she quickly gravitated toward soccer. By 7 years old, she was holding her own and then some on an all-boys team.

“It didn’t faze me, and I fit right in because I had short hair,” Zadorsky recalled. “I was pretty active, and I loved to be running around. I didn’t care if I was muddy — I just wanted to win and be first and have that ball at my feet.”

Now 24 years old, Zadorsky has seen her wanderlust and passion for the sport take her around the globe. In 2008, the defender represented Canada at the Under-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand. Four years later, she traveled to Japan for the U-20 edition.

Zadorsky earned her first appearance for the full national team in January 2013. After concluding her senior season at the University of Michigan that fall, she ventured to Australia to sign her first professional contract and, as she put it, “grow up a little too.” A stint in the technically proficient Swedish league followed a year later.

It was 14 months ago that Zadorsky returned to North America, signing with the Washington Spirit of the NWSL. Offering a steady defensive presence and calming influence on the ball, she seized a starting spot at center back from day one.

Although Zadorsky only played 13 of 22 matches as Washington advanced to the NWSL Championship, her absences came with good reason. Establishing herself as a national team regular with Canada, she booked a ticket to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and walked away with a bronze medal.

After the juggling act of 2016, Zadorsky is looking forward to a more focused second season as the Spirit open the NWSL campaign against the North Carolina Courage on Saturday at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds.

“Last year was tough coming in and out a lot, though I’m obviously grateful for all of that,” Zadorsky said. “I’m really looking forward to putting all of my focus into the Spirit and really taking this team back to a championship.”

After a breakout debut season in Washington, Zadorsky will be leaned on more heavily in 2017. Longtime captain Ali Krieger and 2015 NWSL MVP Crystal Dunn — both U.S. national team standouts — have left the club. Key contributors Megan Oyster, Christine Nairn, Estefania Banini and Diana Matheson are gone as well.

Midfield stalwarts Tori Huster and Joanna Lohman do remain, and offseason acquisition Kristie Mewis is expected to serve as an offensive catalyst. But in wearing the captain’s armband this preseason, Zadorsky has taken on an increased role for a club with a notable vacancy in the “face of the franchise” department.

“She’s one of those natural leaders who just has it,” Spirit coach Jim Gabarra said. “It’s not something she has to really work at, even though she’ll tell you she’s got to work at it. Right from the first day of our offseason she was asking about things you can do off the field and leadership-wise, wanting to make sure we were in good communication.”

Lohman added: “She’s pretty intricate as a center back for our defense. That’s not to mean she’s any more important than any player, but I think she’s going to have a significant impact this season.”

This campaign marks the first time Zadorsky has found herself preparing for a second year with the same professional club. While her experiences overseas helped Zadorsky polish her game on the field and mature as a person off it, she feels at home with Washington.

For a player perpetually on the move and a club in the depths of reinvention, that continuity is a welcome development.

“I’m definitely happy to be here and have that stability,” Zadorsky said. “This is my second year, I’m living in the same area, working day in and day out with some of the same people. I think that’s really awesome to have that consistency.

“To play here for a club that is really supporting you and wanting you to succeed, you can really feel that. It’s just growing into a family for me.”

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