It’s not often a first-year player joins an organization and immediately slots into the starting lineup, but not every rookie is Sam Staab. Drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NWSL Draft, Staab has been a stalwart in the side since she arrived in the nation’s capital two years ago.
“I think I got lucky being drafted to a team that was reinventing their backline at the time,” Staab said. “I came in and made a name for myself with the coaches initially and have kept with that ever since.”
Since her regular-season debut with the Spirit on April 13, 2019, a game in which Staab also picked up her first professional goal, the former Clemson standout has logged the most minutes of any outfield player; the 24-year-old has racked up 3,700 minutes with Washington in all competitions.
Despite being one of the more familiar faces in D.C., Staab is still learning from the more experienced players on the team.
“With our recent acquisitions, I do feel like a young player still learning the ropes,” Staab said. “I’m fairly experienced within our team, but in the grand scheme, I’m still learning a lot about the game and league every day.”
After not having much of a respite since entering the league — a loan spell with the Western Sydney Wanderers of the W-League followed her rookie campaign — injuries caught up with Staab at the beginning of 2021. A hip ailment limited Staab’s involvement in the Challenge Cup. While working her way back to full strength, Staab focused on recovery and perfecting how to navigate the rigors of playing in the NWSL.
“I’ve learned a lot about recovery in my first couple years already just because you wouldn’t be able to thrive given the harsh demand of the league without proper recovery and rest,” she said. “I think the injury just changed my perspective on little additional things my body needs daily in order to be my best.”
Whether it’s scoring goals — Staab has netted four times for the Spirit — or protecting the backline as the team’s go-to center-back, the former first-round pick has developed into one of the league’s most talented defenders. And while her success has been well-documented, just don’t call her a vet.
“I wouldn’t say I feel like a veteran player,” Staab said. “I definitely feel like there’s a lot more for me to learn. I’m not a rookie anymore, so I definitely have a bit more responsibility on the team now, but I wouldn’t consider myself a vet by any means.”