For the time in as long as she can remember, Meagan McClelland is getting to watch and learn from the sidelines rather than playing in goal. Rather than be frustrated by not playing, the Kearny native continues to make the most of this opportunity to watch and learn from some of the best in the world as part of the San Diego Wave FC of the NWSL.
Earlier this month, McClelland, who holds virtually every goalkeeping record at Rutgers University, signed a short-term contract with San Diego. While she has yet to appear in a game, McClelland appreciates being able to get a different perspective right now.
“There’s so much you can learn from watching film or being off the field and watching someone else,” McClelland said. “That’s something I didn’t really experience that much in college. Just being able to sit back and learn and go through it again is just an experience you might not want, but in reality is something that will really help you develop as a player and a person.
“I think it’s a step that goalkeepers really appreciate when they’re young to sit back and relax and see what it takes. I’m really grateful for it.”
McClelland was originally signed to a short-term contract by Chicago this winter as an undrafted free agent, but battled injury during training camp and was unable to train for most of her time there.
Shortly after her contract expired, McClelland started training with San Diego, before signing with the Wave.
“I was really excited. It’s really rare that you get to experience a different environment in the NWSL,” said McClelland. I was just really excited to get out and do my best with the time guaranteed to me and see what happens from there.
“I feel like I’m a sponge, I’m just in training and taking it all in, learning everything I can while I’m here.”
During her time in San Diego, McClelland has taken shots from and practiced with Wave FC forward and US Women’s National Team legend Alex Morgan. She also gets to train with Kailen Sheridan, who is the starting goalkeeper for San Diego as well as the Canadian Women’s National Team.
“I’ve really gotten so lucky with the girls I’ve been training with,” McClelland said. “A lot of it is learning every day and understanding that you’re not going to be at the same level of these veterans and these girls who are the best players in the world.”
It’s certainly a new experience for McClelland.
At Kearny, she was considered one of the best young keepers in the country. Despite only playing a little more than a year-and-a-half of high school soccer due US Youth National Team commitments, McClelland posted 20 shutouts and helped lead the Kardinals to two Hudson County titles.
In addition, she was one of the best basketball players the school has produced, scoring 1,348 points in just 91 games.
At Rutgers, McClelland recorded 43 solo shutouts, earned All-Big Ten honors four times and was Big Ten Rookie of the Year in 2018. She helped lead the Scarlet Knights to just their second ever College Cup Final Four in 2021, a run which saw McClelland pull out two wins for Rutgers in penalty kicks.
McClelland left Rutgers second on the NCAA’s career minutes list, but knows now is a time for her to develop from the bench.
“I knew coming in that a change for me would not be getting any game time. I knew I was going to be that third goalkeeper just working hard and working everyday knowing that I’m not going to get any time. Everyone goes through it in their career, you start from the bottom. I know what it’s like to have to grind and get my way to the top. It’s been a great experience and I’ve grown so much learning from these great players.
“One day, even if it’s a couple years from now or in a different league, I’m just working hard everyday knowing that one day, hopefully, I will get my chance on the field.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)