Toni Pressley was looking forward to a comeback season with the Orlando Pride after overcoming breast cancer.
But then life threw the veteran defender another curve with the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it had on the Pride, who had to withdraw from this summer’s Challenge Cup tournament because of positive tests.
“You go through things through soccer, and it can kind of be an up and down roller coaster, like you’re starting, you’re not starting, you perform well, you might have a bad game here and there, you have injuries and whatnot,” Pressley said. “But I think, in general, we’re all a lot stronger than we think we are and we can overcome almost anything. I’ve certainly learned that with going through having breast cancer, that I don’t think we’re given anything we can’t handle.”
Pressley has been a mainstay around the National Women’s Soccer League, and with the Pride since 2016. Last year, just as she was settling back into the starting lineup after a season-opening injury, she noticed she was tired and achy a lot. There was also a small lump in her right breast.
At first, it didn’t make sense. Breast cancer didn’t run in her family. She was only 29. She was an athlete. A vegan. But her fear mounted quickly.
“I kind of knew it would be a possibility just because of all the doctor’s appointments that I had been going to leading up to that moment. By that time, I had a mammogram, I had a biopsy, I had an MRI. So I kind of put it in my mind, ‘OK, going through all these different appointments and this process, this could be a real possibility that you could have breast cancer.’”
The day after she was told, she played in a game.
Pressley ultimately chose to have a double mastectomy. She triumphantly returned for the Pride’s final game in October last season, entering as a sub in the final moments.
Finally healthy, she was looking forward to this season. Then it all came to an abrupt stop in March, just as teams had opened training camps, because of the coronavirus.
The NWSL put together a plan to bring all the teams to a bubble in Utah for the Challenge Cup, becoming the first professional team sports league in the U.S. to play amid the pandemic. But a week before the tournament began, the Pride was hit by a number of positive COVID-19 tests and they were forced to withdraw.
Pressley said it was difficult to watch from afar as the rest of the league celebrated a successful tournament.
“It was really tough, just with how last season went and the challenges and hurdles that I went through personally. And then to go off into the offseason and work really hard and then to come back, and to have that happen to us as a collective, to not be able to go to the Challenge Cup,” she said. “It was really disappointing because we all worked really hard to display all of our hard work, through our performance, in this tournament, And to have that taken away, it was really disappointing.”
Once the Challenge Cup concluded, teams went back to their local markets for a fall series of matches against regional foes. The Pride wraps up its four-game series Saturday against the North Carolina Courage, a game which will be nationally televised on CBS.
The Pride (0-2-1) are coming off a 2-1 loss to the Houston Dash last weekend. Pressley came in at the half, providing veteran help on defense for goalkeeper Brittany Wilson, who was making her NWSL debut.
“Toni is composed,” Pride coach Marc Skinner said. “That comes from understanding who she is as a person and understanding her game.”
With the fall series nearing an end, Pressley is already looking toward next season.
“Last season, I felt really confident and obviously, having cancer was a major setback, but I don’t really feel like I’m still hindered by that. I feel like I did before. I feel normal. I feel, you know, healthy. I feel fit,” she said. “So I’m just really looking forward to showing that in these final games and then hopefully next season as well.”
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports