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COURTESY: SEATTLE REIGN - Danielle Foxhoven (right) points to fans with then-Seattle teammates Keelin Winters (left) and Beverly Yanez.When the Portland Thorns faced bitter rival Seattle Reign in Seattle last weekend, Danielle Foxhoven was there. She just wasn’t on the field or on the bench.

The former University of Portland star, who has played forward for both teams, was watching as a fan.

A couple weeks ago, Foxhoven came to a decision: She is done with professional soccer for good.

For the 26-year-old, still in the prime of her ability to make an impact on the field, the realization didn’t come easy. She initially left the Reign in the offseason and traveled abroad while figuring out her next move. She surprised fans by showing up on the Reign’s preseason roster and playing in a tournament hosted by the Thorns in March.

An offer from the Reign was on the table, and so was an offer to play in Norway. Foxhoven turned both down.

“It’s been a hard journey, I will say that. I feel at peace with it now, though,” she says.

• • •

For a long time, soccer was her constant focus.

She left the Portland Pilots ranked fourth on their all-time scoring list. She graduated early to start her pro career, which took her as far as Russia but took root in Portland with the Thorns and later in Seattle with the Reign.

When you build your life around soccer, that doesn’t disappear just because you retire. Many of Foxhoven’s best friends still play for the Reign. And her post-college work experience largely involves not just playing professionally, but coaching. While she is ready to move on to her next phase of life, shedding the identity of a soccer player isn’t a snap.

“The last six months of my life I have been asking that question: What else am I good at? What else do I want to pursue like I’ve pursued this my entire life?” she says. “It’s a huge definition of who I am, and that’s a really confusing question to have to ask yourself again.”

Foxhoven was in Portland last week, applying for office jobs. Her UP degree is in business marketing, and she hopes to stay in the Pacific Northwest.

Whether Portland will be part of her next chapter remains to be seen, but the Rose City has had a special place throughout her life. It was where her love of playing soccer blossomed with the Pilots and their spirited game-day atmosphere.

Portland also is where she rekindled her love of the game, after nearly losing it in Russia.

• • •

It was 2012, and Foxhoven had been drafted to play for the Philadelphia Independence in the Women’s Professional Soccer league. Two weeks before she was to report, the league folded.

Clubs in Europe were flooded with experienced WPS players and she, an unknown recent college grad, was having trouble finding a landing spot. An offer came from FC Energy in Voronezh, Russia.

She was up for the adventure and determined to get professional experience to advance her career.

“My parents were like, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be lonely,’” she recalls. “I wanted to do it.”

Culture shock doesn’t quite cover how it went. A several-hours drive from Moscow, FC Energy had players share uninviting living quarters with walls of concrete. She had no phone or internet access. Her coach didn’t speak English and yelled in frustration.

Portland, it was not.

When her contract ended, she left for home. The new National Women’s Soccer League was waiting in the wings. The Thorns, one of eight founding teams, signed her as a discovery player.

“It revived my love for soccer,” she says. “I would joke that I went from the very worst in the world to the very best in the world. It was a really amazing jump, and it made me appreciate what I had.”

• • •

COURTESY: SEATTLE REIGN - A health issue contributed to Danielle Foxhovens decision to retire from pro soccer at age 26.For Foxhoven and the many players like her competing in the NWSL, achieving a dream has come with big sacrifices.

The NWSL salary cap is $278,000 this season for every team’s 20-player roster. Minimum salaries are as low as $7,200. Players make it work because they love the game, but it’s not difficult to see why hanging up the soccer cleats for a desk job can be an appealing choice.

“Soccer was no longer giving me the things I was giving it,” Foxhoven says. “I felt my career plateaued, and it wasn’t giving back to me anymore.”

That’s the cruel part, perhaps. For every Alex Morgan, who will never worry about playing time or compensation, a bunch of players competing with or against her are experiencing very different careers.

For Foxhoven, it wasn’t just the money and lack of job security. It wasn’t just that she wanted more playing time.

She returned from Russia 20 pounds lighter than normal and burdened by the stress of a difficult experience. That was when Crohn’s disease started causing her problems, including fatigue and severe abdominal pain. It took doctor after doctor to figure it out, and even longer to find treatment that started to help.

During times with the Thorns and Reign when national players were on international duty and she could step in, flare-ups of the Crohn’s would prevent her from making her mark. Managing the disease and trying to perform as a top-flight athlete became too overwhelming to balance.

“It has been such a battle for me,” she says. “I think it was my Achilles tendon in the end. I’m not using it as an excuse. I know I tried my very best to maintain my health and push through it, but there was a physical limitation that I couldn’t get past in the end.”

Maybe if the pay in women’s soccer was better and maybe if there were better club options, things would be different. Maybe she could keep trying to push through. But from the NWSL, Foxhoven joins a growing list of players in their primes who have decided to retire because it’s just too hard and too costly to keep going.

• • •

Six months ago, as Foxhoven considered leaving soccer behind, she wondered if she would need a clean break. Attending a Reign game, like the 1-1 draw last week against the Thorns, simply would have been too hard. Unlike the Thorns, who have seen huge roster turnover since she left before the 2014 season, the Reign squad is still filled with best friends.

But now, visiting her friends in Seattle and watching them play makes her happy. She knows she is at peace with her decision.

She shares an apartment in Seattle with her brother and a roommate. Her parents are in Colorado.

If her job interviews in Portland go well, she may come back. But, Cascadia rivalry aside, she’ll still have to root for the Reign.

“Portland the city will always have my heart,” she says with a laugh, “but Seattle the team will also have my heart.”

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