Losing is not an option for Savannah McCaskill

Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
McCaskill is the ultimate competitor. And she does not want to retire without achieving her goals.

Savannah McCaskill used to rush through her tests when she was young because she thought that by finishing before her classmates, she would beat them. However, by doing so, she incorrectly answered many questions, to her mother’s displeasure. 

Now less foolishly, the desire to win is still prominent in McCaskill’s professional life as a soccer player. And she has done much of it. 

McCaskill, 26, attended the University of South Carolina, where her team won 20 of the 24 games they played and reached the College Cup in her senior year, 2017. Later, in 2019, she was part of a Chicago Red Stars team that finished second in the NWSL. 

Now. as a part of Angel City, she has been winning less. Last season, the club finished eighth in the NWSL, four points out of the playoffs. This year has started similarly, as Angel City is in seventh place with a mediocre 1-2-1 record. 

Despite the average start, McCaskill does not take losing softly. She even called herself a “sore loser” because of her desire to win; competitiveness is a part of her foundation.

“I don’t want to go out and accept anything less than winning or accept anything less than a great performance,” McCaskill said. “And I think it’s really disappointing for myself and for the team whenever we don’t put in a great performance, and we don’t get the result.”

Much of McCaskill’s desire to win stems from her goals. She does not want to finish playing soccer before she achieves them. Currently, she wants to win an NWSL championship.

“I want to win a championship. I don’t want to retire without putting in a good fight for a championship and win hardware,” McCaskill said. “And I think that’s what makes me so, like, desire to keep getting better is that competitiveness to win.”

But performances like Angel City’s this year are not championship caliber. They have struggled to execute their tactics consistently over a full 90 minutes and are not achieving their desired results. But McCaskill is working to change that. And it starts with her leadership. 

During games, McCaskill is constantly communicating with teammates and debating tactics with head coach Freya Coombe. When McCaskill notices a potential change, she breaks it down with Coombe. Other times, Coombe tells McCaskill a chance, and she relays it to her teammates. 

McCaskill does not always discuss what she notices with Coombe, though. Without many breaks in a game, she regularly critiques her teammates and herself to better their performance. 

Against Racing Louisville earlier this season, McCaskill noticed that her team was not handling the ball well, and she pressed the issue. Angel City trailed 2-0 in that game, but they rallied in the second half to tie the game after making this adjustment. Their tying goal came from McCaskill, who scored as she fell away from the goal 87 minutes into the game. 

“It was within our control to take that game by the reins and really get a point out of it,” McCaskill said. 

Moments like these are regular for McCaskill as she has been the hub of communication in her two seasons with Angel City. But she was not always as productive of a leader. 

Early in her career, McCaskill used to be short-tempered and blunt with her teammates. She received that criticism from her teammates, but as she developed, her leadership skills grew rapidly.

When playing for the Red Stars, McCaskill learned from midfielder Julie Ertz and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. She saw how they demanded quality performances from their teammates and learned how to do so herself. Now, she expects the same from her teammates but has learned how to communicate her messages in a more effective way. 

“It really comes down to learning your personalities on the team,” McCaskill said. “How I can communicate with one person might not be perceived well with another person. Having those relationships off the field, and getting to know people, and how they take on criticism, what motivates them. And how I can get the best out of them is really how I’ve developed into how to communicate with people.”

McCaskill hopes to get Angel City back on track through her mature leadership but also via her on-the-field talent. Coombe acknowledged that her club’s attack runs through McCaskill, and other teams know that.

“Every time I get the ball, I want to try and help us score goals, and I want to make our attack creative, fun, efficient, and ruthless,” McCaskill said. 

To do so, McCaskill wants to make their attack multi-dimensional. She wants her team to score from different parts of the field, varying their point of attack.

Angel City has struggled to score goals this season. They build up attacks and create scoring chances in the final third but have yet to capitalize on most of these opportunities. Most recently, Angel City attempted 16 shots against the San Diego Wave, but only two were on goal, leading to a shutout, 2-0, loss.

“I think the piece that we’re really continuously working on is the ruthless piece… We create chances, we create a lot of sustained pressure, we create good opportunities in and around the box, but we haven’t put all of them into the back of the net… If we can put the ball in the back of the net in those moments and be ruthless about it, I think that it really take our attack to the next level and start winning us games,” McCaskill said.

McCaskill will attempt to continue facilitating Angel City’s offense as they look to become more ruthless. She leads the NWSL in final third-entry passes with 32 and has one goal and an assist over the first four games. 

Angel City’s next match is against the Portland Thorns, where the club can look to be more ruthless and get back on track with a win.