If you think coming back from one ACL tear sounds impossible, imagine coming back from three. For Gotham FC’s Caprice Dydasco, this is not only a hypothetical, but a reality.
Although such an injury could be career ending for some, this has not been the case for 27-year old defender Caprice Dydasco. She is having a standout season for NJ/NY Gotham FC, and the club is currently battling it out for the top of the table. Dydasco joined Gotham FC, formerly Sky Blue FC, through a trade with the Washington Spirit in 2019. Just a year later, she tore her ACL for the third time. After a year-long recovery, Dydasco has come back stronger than ever.
This season, she has been named to the NWSL team of the month for May and June, currently leads the league in assists, and scored her first ever NWSL goal. It is clear to anyone watching the NWSL that Caprice Dydasco has been an integral part of Gotham FC’s incredible forward trajectory.
We sat down with Dydasco to discuss her recent injury, the culture of Gotham FC, and the secrets behind their success on the pitch.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In June 2020 you had your third ACL tear, with a previous one happening in October 2016. What was going through your mind back in June of last year when you felt it happen again?
2020 was kind of a crazy year in general. During that off-season, I was 26, I knew what it took to be good in the league, I knew my body, and I knew what kind of training I needed to do. I felt like I had prepared well going into pre-season. We went into pre-season for a week, and then we were all in quarantine. We did a lot of track runs every day. It was three months of just running. It was so great when I could finally play soccer again with my teammates. Two weeks into pre-season, I felt like I was playing well and was prepared, fit, and my coaches were telling me I looked sharp and great, and that’s when I tore my ACL.
When I tore it, I knew the feeling, I heard the pop, and I knew I was done. I was of course upset when it happened, but then my mind switched. I decided I was not going to give up, and that I was going to be back. People were like, 'Really?' But I knew myself, and I knew I was going to come back, even if I felt crazy telling people that. After my third ACL, just before turning 27, I’m going to come back. It was a crazy experience, but it was about my mindset. During recovery and rehab, I didn’t want to talk about my ACL. I just wanted to work hard. I wanted a refreshing start. They say you peak at a certain age, but I truly believe that now, in my 7th year with the NWSL, I know my body the best, and I feel confident in what I can contribute to the team both on and off the field. Overall, I am enjoying the game and the process, and I feel more comfortable in my body and what I can provide for the team.
You touched on this, but in terms of your recovery journey, what did it take from a mental standpoint to overcome this for a third time? Athletes have always been open about the physical aspect of recovery, but now athletes like Simone Biles have been raising more awareness about the mental component. How can you relate to that in regards to mentally preparing for a return?
Any injury is horrible and can be career ending, but the mental part is the biggest struggle. Your body knows what it needs to do. Your body has been through it all. It’s not about your fitness or your skill, it’s the mental piece that really helps you recover.
During my recovery I had such great support teams behind me: my teammates, my coaches, my physical therapists, my doctors, they really encouraged and helped me to create little goals so I wouldn’t only think about six months from now. It was one month at a time, baby steps, and enjoying the little wins. They know it’s so hard to think about what’s happening six to eight months from now and getting back with a team again, and some days are way harder than others. I definitely had my days when I broke down and didn’t know if I could do it, but it was all about the process and enjoying the little wins.
Mentally I struggled coming back, because my recovery was not the same as the first or second time. My body is older, and I could not push as hard. It was not as smooth. I had some setbacks. A lot of my recovery had to do with my relationship with my PTs and doctors. They were so supportive and helped me handle the whole mental aspect of me being super hard on myself, but also finding a balance of encouragement and enjoying the process. The hardest part in getting past it was mental, even getting back into training and knowing you’re good enough to play on that level again. Mentally you’re being tested every day and you need to be in tune with your body. The mental component is a huge, important piece to recovery.
Anyone watching you now would not have even known you went through that! You’re having an incredible season. You were named to the NWSL team of the month for May and June, you lead the league in assists, and even had a “shross” goal (your first in the league)! Could you talk a little bit about the season you’re having and what’s been going well?
I was so eager just to get back with the team and train. I talked to my PT and coach during pre-season and said, I just want to enjoy the process and slowly get back into things. And hopefully by mid-season I would be fully back to 90 minutes again. But every athlete, once you start playing, you want to do a full 90! I was reminded that I was slowly going to progress into full training and games, and work my way back. But I felt ready! I was definitely a little pest with my coach, and she had to put a leash on me, but I just got eager. I give a lot of credit to my PTs, doctors, and coaches giving me the confidence that I am able to contribute to the team. My teammates have also supported me through this process. I just knew that I couldn’t go into pre-season scared. I wanted to support my team and be the best version of myself in training.
I was able to step right into it during this year's Challenge Cup. From there, I took things into my own hands. It was my first challenge of the season and I wanted to prove I could be a consistent starter on this team. I focused on being consistent performance-wise, more involved in attack, and a solid defender. I took the pressure off myself of wanting to be the best, or be called into national camp. I let all of those goals go and just wanted to enjoy the process and be the best teammate I can. That has worked for me instead of setting crazy expectations that are out of my control. That has been my mindset this season, along with staying healthy.
— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) June 21, 2021
Ever since Freya Coombe has come on as head coach, the team formerly known as Sky Blue FC has done a complete 180 and is currently 2nd in the standings and best in the league defensively. Could you talk a little bit about Freya’s coaching style and how she helps you and other players develop their game both individually and as a team?
Last year was Freya’s first full season with the team, and it was the Challenge Cup, so it was a condensed year. I think the team really learned from her about a playing style and identity. With me being gone, I had to study the training and watch the Challenge Cup games. I think she’s imprinted a really good playing style that fits our players best. I love the possession oriented playing style, being dangerous in attack, but also being able to build out of the back. We take a lot of pride in getting shut outs and being solid as a defensive team. She’s really taken the past two years to just create an identity for our team. This year, I had to jump into things and learn really fast since I missed the last season. It was also an advantage for me to watch the training every day and watch their games so I could learn about the game they were playing, just as a spectator last year. I think the team has really grown since she’s taken over as head coach. And I think we haven’t even tapped into half our potential of what we could be. She’s great, she continues to push us, and the more we go into the season, the more I think we have so much more potential. We could be more dangerous, scoring more goals. It’s exciting to be part of the club at this time.
Anyone who follows Gotham FC or the players on social media can see this is a very special group of players. What in your opinion makes this team so special? What is the team chemistry like off the field and how does that contribute to being on the field?
This has been the best team that I’ve ever had in my pro career. Everyone just gets along off the field, truly cares about each other, and wants the best for each other. I think that really carries into our games and training. We hold each other to a very high standard. We are supportive of each other. We challenge each other at training, and we are each other's biggest fan. Everyone knows their role. Even if they’re starting or not starting, the people on the bench are just as important. I can hear them the whole game cheering, and that’s what makes us better. Everyone is so bought into each other. It’s crazy, because everyone says they don’t want to leave this team because it’s so tight knit and it’s such a special group. We all feel it, it’s amazing.
Gotham FC is known around the league this year as having the best defense. A noticeable addition to the team this year has been Allie Long who has been playing as a defensive midfielder, who you had an assist with at the last home game. What do you think her addition to the team has done for the team’s defense and for the team in general?
When we first heard she was coming we all said, ‘Oh my gosh, another center mid? We have so many!’ But as soon as she got here she jumped right into our team and fit in so well. She’s so goofy just like all of us, and she’s super nice. She brings the level up in training and is such a great addition. She was the missing piece we needed to solidify the team. I love playing with her. Her composure and always being available for me on the field - I always know that she’s going to be there. She is the tempo of the team. She’s so great, I love her on and off the field and it’s been a pleasure playing with her.
— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) July 25, 2021
If you could bring one player to Gotham FC right now, from any league, who would it be?
Abby Dahlkemper. She’s my best friend and we have this dream of playing together again. We’ve been best friends since college and the youth national team. Why haven’t we played on the same pro team yet?! That’s our dream still.
Just a few days ago, it was announced that former player Yael Averbuch West would be joining Gotham as interim GM. How is the team feeling about her coming on, and what does it mean to have a former player leading the club?
When we were told she was going to be our interim GM, I think everyone was super ecstatic and excited to have a previous player and someone who knows how it is to be a player in the NWSL. She knows how hard it is and what goes into it. I appreciate her and what she’s done for this league so far, especially the steps she’s been through . She was in the league for so many years, and then the NWSLPA president. She knows what it takes to be at this level. I think she is going to be a great addition to our team. I spoke with her yesterday, and she wants to make this one of the best clubs in the world and attract great players. I’m on board for whatever she says, and I know she’ll make this club something great.
There’s been some chatter on social media about your stand-out season, and many people want to see you get a USWNT call up! I know you played for the national team at the youth levels, too. Is that something still on your radar?
I think my first few years playing pro, it felt like that’s all I was concentrating on. I thought, ok get called into camp because that’s when you make it. That’s the highest level. After my injuries and my years throughout being pro, I kind of stopped thinking about that and wanted to work on the best version of myself. This past year, I’ve been thinking that as long as I am doing the best I can, people will see. As long as I am performing consistently, let my performance do the talking, and everything else will be taken care of. Obviously, I would love to get a call up and an opportunity to see how it is and experience that. I see things on Twitter, but I try to block everything out and just continue doing what I’m doing right now, being in the moment, and making Gotham and my teammates the first priority right now.
Back to Gotham. How did you feel back in 2019 when you came over in the trade from the Washington Spirit?
It was very interesting. I was with the Spirit for four years. I was happy there and I thought I was going to be a player who would be at the same club for years. Denise Reddy was my assistant coach in DC before she became the head coach here in New Jersey. We did not talk at all, but the morning of the draft that year, I get a call from our then-GM saying, ‘I know it’s early!’ Because it was 4am in Hawaii. He said, ‘I want to let you know you just got traded. Denise is going to call you soon.’ I was so shook because I had no idea what he was saying. I was sleeping pretty much still, and I was like, ‘Wait what?’ He hung up, and then Denise Reddy called me and was saying that she was so stoked and was going to call me right after the draft. I was still so shook, I couldn’t even get words out. I instantly started crying because I was thinking, what happened? Is this real life? I really did like my teammates in DC and I love the city. For me, I’m a very loyal person. I never switched clubs during youth or during college, I was all in at UCLA. Moving teams was weird to me and I did not understand what went into the process. It took me a week for it all to sink in, and I called Denise ready to talk. She told me that she really wanted me and that they put up a great offer that she couldn’t turn down, and she had wanted to talk to me about it but there wasn’t enough time. It was great that my coach really wanted me, but I didn’t understand. The silver lining was it turned out to be great. I love it here in New Jersey, I love my teammates, and like you said, it’s been a 180 since I’ve been here. It’s kind of cool to see this team turn around and really pick up things, and now we’re second in the league!
You joined the club around the time when that turnaround really started. What are your thoughts on playing full time at Red Bull? Having those Red Bull facilities to train in? What was that transition like?
When I first got here, I couldn’t believe there was no locker room or that they trained at a college field. It was crazy, but now knowing that we have a grass field every day, we have lockers, we get to call Red Bull Arena our home, it’s just a dream. I’m so grateful to be at the club and have these facilities and this opportunity, even looking at other teams still playing at baseball fields. It’s just amazing what this club has done in the past three years since I’ve been here, and I think this is only a starting place. Our owners now have big ambitions to fill the arena, bring more fans, and give us a more professional environment. It’s amazing to see how eager they are for that. It’s really great that they want to be known as the best club in the world, not just the league. I think it’s going in the right direction and they have high expectations that hopefully we can reach. The team has bought into whatever we can do as a club to reach that.
Speaking of New Jersey, what has been your favorite part about living here?
Originally, when the Spirit came to New Jersey from DC, we only saw the hotel and Rutgers, so I didn’t know what was here! But as soon as I came to New Jersey, I was able to find my little cafes I love to go to, and I love being really close to New York City. I’ll drive in for the morning, get a coffee, and go shopping. I think it’s so cool! I hadn’t been to the east coast as much before my pro career, and so exploring the city on off days is my favorite thing to do.
One thing Gotham always gets praise for is having such a women-centric club with a woman as GM, coach, and even Tammy Murphy as a part-owner. In a league where many of the coaches and front office leaders are men, does that make a difference at the club at all?
I think it’s really great what our club is heading towards. It sends a powerful message not just in our league, but to sports and businesses in general. I think it’s great to see women in power here. Hopefully we can be educating and helping mentor other coaches who want to do something like this. I think there’s nothing wrong with male coaches if they are the best suited for a certain position, but the league should have more female assistant coaches to get mentored so they get that experience. It is so hard for female coaches to get thrown into a head coaching job without the experience in this league or at this level. I think coaches and clubs need to start mentoring and giving opportunities to women as assistant coaches so they are able to learn so they are ready for the opportunity when the time comes.
What do you think: top of the table and getting the shield? Making the playoffs? Winning the whole thing? What’s your prediction?
Now that we put our name out, and we are second in the league, we need to make the playoffs and keep getting better. The league is so tight that any team on any day can beat each other. That’s what makes the NWSL the top league in the world. We just have to take it day by day and keep getting better. The more we play, the more other teams get to know our style and know what we want to do. Now that we’re second, people are coming after us. They are always going to play their best against us. That’s the only catch to being toward the top of the table, but I think we are ready for this challenge. We know that this is a very competitive league so everything is going to be hard, but I think we have to keep being consistent and hungry to get better. I truly believe that we have not yet reached our full potential.
Watch Caprice Dydasco and Gotham FC
You can catch Caprice Dydasco and the rest of NJ/NY Gotham FC at their next home game at Red Bull Arena in Harrison on August 7th at 7pm ET. The game will also be streaming on Paramount +.