SAN DIEGO — M.A. Vignola is almost always smiling at Angel City training. Whether she is warming up or completing intense drills, she does so with joy. And if music is playing, Vignola is probably dancing near the speaker. She adds excitement to training sessions, uplifting her teammates’ spirits.
Vignola has brought such enthusiasm to the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) and is showing it in her second training camp between friendlies against Colombia on Oct. 26 and Oct. 29. Vignola regularly dances to music between drills and almost always has multiple teammates around her.
“She’s [Vignola’s] locked in all the time around the hotel,” said USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore. “And she’s funny. She integrates all of her teammates. She’s always got three or four people around her telling jokes and things like that.”
Despite seemingly fitting in smoothly, Vignola wants more time in camps before asking for control of the speaker, as she does frequently for Angel City. But whether or not she is changing the music, she is not changing her personality.
“They definitely see me out on the field kind of dancing around doing my thing,” Vignola said. “Being myself and bringing that energy out into the field helps calm people down and see ‘it’s okay to be yourself.’ And that’s big. A big thing for me is to allow people to show their energy in whatever sport they bring. So I’m still letting it come out what it needs to come out.”
As Vignola inserts her passion into the USWNT’s environment, she is still learning the ropes. Fellow defenders Crystal Dunn and Emily Fox are among the players who have helped her adjust to the environment. Vignola is trying to take each step slowly while learning from her teammates.
“I’ve been trying to take it one step at a time, “Vignola said. “Learning from defenders like Emily Fox and Crystal Dunn has been amazing; just watching them in the environment. One of the biggest things for me is just coming in and being myself. And that’s helped a lot, and just building confidence on and off the field has been a big part for me. So it’s been exciting. It’s been a good, good journey so far.”
Fox said Vignola has not needed much help transitioning to the USWNT environment despite Vignola crediting her for making it easier. The two have known each other for a “really long time” and are both 25 years old. However, Fox received her first USWNT call-up in 2018, five years before Vignola did; Vignola earned her first call-up in Sept.
“I’ve known her for a really long time, so I was super excited for her [Vignola] to get the call-up,” Fox said. “I think in the NWSL, she did amazing defending and then also getting goals. Her in camp, she’s a great person, really funny, goofy, [and] positive. And last camp, when she got minutes, she did really well.”
Aside from Fox and Dunn, Vignola sought advice from her Angel City teammates to aid her in camp. She spoke with forward Sydney Leroux, who played for the USWNT in the 2015 World Cup and in many other competitions, as well as defender Sarah Gorden.
“I definitely pulled Sarah [Gorden] aside. I definitely pulled Sydney Leroux aside, and I was just like, ‘what do I do?’ Vignola said. “The biggest advice that they gave me was just play how you play. Don’t try to do anything different. Don’t try to do different things. Unless you’re just trying to improve, just be yourself and play out there and play the game.”
Vignola wants to earn playing time by taking their suggestions. Kilgore said players who are new to the team must learn how to contribute to the environment first before matches. And when given the chance, she hopes they excel. Vignola has done well in the former with her infectious personality and solid play.
“Anytime somebody is coming new into the environment, the first job is to understand what the environment is and then find their way to contribute in it,” Kilgore said. “Our job is to help them do that. She’s [Vignola] taking really good steps on that, but you have to earn the playing time here. And then when you get your moments, you have to do a really good job. And the key is just to stay ready and continue to focus on each individual player’s process within the context of the team. And she’s doing a good job with that.”
Vignola has attempted to show grit and play with intensity to contribute to the environment as Kilgore hopes; she tries to win every mini-match or drill she participates in. Angel City’s training environment, led by interim head coach Becki Tweed, is competitive, and Vignola has brought the ambition needed to thrive there with her to the USWNT.
“Being cool, calm, and confident are the biggest things for me,” Vignola said. “I see myself as a very competitive and gritty player. So in the small-sided games and bigger eight-v-eight games, just showing that intensity. I love to train. I love playing and being free. So having that mentality that I want to win kind of helps bring everyone else along, too. And it’s kind of helped me settle into this environment. Everyone’s competent here, so you got to pump out some way.”
In matches, Vignola can join the attack as a full-back; she scored three goals and picked up one assist for Angel City in 2023. Defender Naomi Girma has seen such skill when playing against Vignola as a member of the Wave; Vignola scored a match-winning goal 88 minutes into their match on June 17 after sprinting halfway down the field. Girma is glad Vignola is her teammate on the USWNT rather than an opponent like she is at the club level.
“She’s [Vignola’s] great,” Girma said. “I’ve always thought she was a great player when we played against them. So now it’s obviously better to be on her team. She’s funny [and] good to know off the field. And then on the field, she’s so dynamic, so athletic, and she is a great addition to the team.”
Vignola is just four years into her professional career and completed her first full NWSL season in Oct. (she appeared in two matches in 2022). She hopes to improve her vision to ensure her enthusiasm does not cause her to make mistakes on the field.
“The biggest thing for me is working on my vision,” Vignola said.” Sometimes, I get a little too excited; I just want to go full force out there. I’m a very attacking-minded player. So, just being able to see what’s in front of me and working with the girls up front and moving off the ball and just seeing the field in a different way is definitely something I’m working on here.”
Vignola will work on such developments with unwavering exuberance. She entered the USWNT’s environment without changing her personality or playstyle and is using it to make a difference. Maybe soon, she will take control of the music at training to make yet another mark on the USWNT.