Norfolk Firefighter Returns to Pro SoccerSep 28, 2020 11:23AM ● By Grace Allen
Norfolk firefighter Kate Howarth can add a new line to her resume: Professional Soccer Player, Part II.
The 29-year-old Howarth is currently in Florida playing for the Orlando Pride, a professional women’s soccer team. She’ll be there at least through October as a short-term contract player while the Pride participates in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Fall Series. Due to the pandemic, professional soccer, like other pro sports, has had to shorten its season, which normally runs from spring through the fall.
Kate Howarth and Deputy Fire Chief Peter Petruchik. Courtesy photo.
Howarth is adept at juggling soccer with firefighting. For the last eight years, she’s played on the New England Mutiny, a semi-pro soccer club. Playing for the Pride, however, is a whole new ballgame. Howarth should know. This is her second go-round with pro soccer.
After an illustrious soccer career at the University of Miami, Howarth had a stint with the Boston Breakers in 2013. When she was let go, she rejoined the Mutiny (she had played with them during the summer before her senior year of college). The Mutiny now plays in the United Women’sSoccer League (UWS), which was formed in 2016. Prior to the UWS, the club belonged to the Women’s Premiere Soccer League Elite.
A forward, Howarth was named the UWS Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 and has been a first-team all-star three times. She is the all-time leading scorer for both the UWS and the Mutiny. She knew she had a shot at returning to pro soccer despite a seven-year absence, and earlier this year was invited to preseason camp with the Pride.
It’s a good thing Howarth, Norfolk Fire Department’s EMS Director, has an understanding boss. Erron Kinney, the town’s fire chief, played in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans prior to becoming a firefighter. Time away from work to pursue a professional sports opportunity was not a problem, and she says the department has been supportive.
Howarth says firefighting and team sports are similar, and training on the soccer field translates to what she has chosen for a career. Both depend on leadership and teamwork, and preparation is key.
“With soccer, you always have to be ready because you never know what you’re going to get in a game,” she said. “And with firefighting on any given day you can be put in tough situations and you have to be ready for them. It’s important with both to make sure you’re the best you can be.”
In addition to firefighting and semi-pro soccer, Howarth has found time to coach. She’s been the head coach of the Canton High School girls soccer program for the last seven years, but resigned from that role when the opportunity came up to play with the Pride.
At 29, Howarth is likely at the peak of her athleticism, but playing pro soccer at any age puts her in lofty company. Consider that only 2.4% of girls playing high school soccer go on to play Division 1 soccer. The odds of making a pro team as a woman are even lower.
Although the sport has taken a toll on her body, Howarth acknowledges her age has worked to her advantage.
“I think I’m a much different player now as a 29-year-old than I was at 22, because I have been playing all along and coaching, and I think that makes a big difference,” she said.
At the time of this writing, the Orlando Pride had yet to play its first game but was scheduled to face the North Carolina Courage and the Houston Dash in the NWSL Fall Series. Howarth expects to come off the bench in her return to pro soccer.
As for the future, Howarth won’t commit. The pandemic has thrown plans into disarray, making coaching decisions and roster spots anyone’s guess. Women’s soccer, however, is likely to survive just fine, believes Howarth, despite the setbacks this year.
“Women’s soccer in the U.S. has come a long way since I was in college,” she said. “Getting back into the league now after seven years and seeing how much it has changed, it’s definitely very impressive. There are really good, smart people in place. I do think that things are just going to continue to go up for the sport.”