Lindsay Agnew has been in self-isolation in Florida since returning from Australia where she played for Sydney FC in the W-League 2020 Grand Final, in an April 2, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian international Lindsay Agnew savours soccer experience Down Under

Lindsay Agnew has had plenty of time to ponder her recent soccer adventure Down Under.

The Canadian international has been in self-isolation in Florida since returning from Australia where she played for Sydney FC in the W-League 2020 Grand Final — behind closed doors March 21 at Melbourne’s AAMI Park in probably the last championship decider before the COVID-19 lockdown of the world sports scene.

Defending title-holder Sydney lost 1-0 to Melbourne City — which finished the season unbeaten — and getting home as the world started to shut down was challenging. But Agnew has no regrets.

It was a chance to play games that matter — and experience another country.

“I loved it,” she said. “We did as much as we could outside of soccer, tried to explore everything Sydney had to offer. It’s a beautiful city, beautiful people, lots of nice beaches and good food.

“I really loved it there. One of my favourite cities for sure.”

Agnew had played alongside current Sydney players Sofia Huerta and Veronica Latsko, both Americans, in Houston with the NWSL Dash and the Australian side needed help after losing two players to English teams.

Sydney was interested and Agnew, after being waived by Houston, left in late January for Australia. With the regular season nearing a close, she started five games including the playoffs.

The W-League, whose season dovetails nicely with the NWSL, attracts top international talent and Agnew says the soccer is high-level.

The final itself was somewhat surreal, with COVID-19 having already shut down almost every other league around the world. International players like Agnew were dealing with flight cancellations as they planned their return home.

“There was definitely a lot of logistical things going on that whole week leading to the game,” she said. “Luckily soccer’s always been kind of my escape from all the drama of the outside world so that was nice to have.”

While Australia had not experienced the virus like other countries at the time of the championship game, there were still plenty of precautions taken other than barring spectators — although some friends and family were allowed in — from the 30,050-capacity stadium

Players didn’t shake hands beforehand, bowing instead. Afterwards, the Melbourne City players picked up their winners’ medals off a table rather than be presented with them. The Sydney players got their medals later on.

“Definitely a weird final in that regard,” said Agnew.

The game itself was more normal.

“Soccer’s just soccer when you get out there. It still felt like a final out on the field, even though there was no one there,” said Agnew.

Sydney fell behind in the 15th minute on a spilled ball by its goalkeeper. Agnew’s team had a shout for a penalty later in the first half but it wasn’t given and Melbourne, a team stocked with internationals, resisted Sydney’s subsequent attacks to cap off its unbeaten season.

“I think we gave them a run for their money,” said Agnew, a former forward who played fullback/wingback for Sydney.

Her parents got to watch the game on YouTube in Canada. In the States, it was on ESPN-plus.

“One of my friends who I played with at university texted me and that said we were the only live sport on the ESPN-plus app that day,” Agnew said.

She was supposed to fly out the Tuesday after the Saturday final. But her flight was cancelled and rescheduled to Monday, which was then cancelled and rescheduled to Sunday.

Agnew’s team flew back to Sydney the night of the game and had an end-of-season gathering once they got back. She had to be at the airport at 8 a.m. the next day.

“A pretty crazy turnaround,” she said.

The Sydney airport was ”crazy,” packed with people looking to leave before borders closed. Arriving in Houston, however, the airport was ”like a ghost town.”

“I’ve never been through immigration so fast in my life,” said Agnew, who slept for 14 hours straight when she finally rolled into bed.

While in Sydney, Agnew lived with Australian Alanna Kennedy and Latsko, sharing a compact rental car with the American striker. They used it to explore nearby beaches like Manly, working out how to drive on the other side of the road along the way.

“It was kind of hilarious when I first got there … The amount of times I hit the windshield wipers when I wanted to hit the indicator,” she said with a laugh.

Agnew was taken 19th overall by the Washington Spirit in the 2017 NWSL college draft a decorated collegiate career at Ohio State. She joined Houston in January 2018, along with a sixth-round draft pick, in a trade that netted Washington the third overall pick in the 2018 draft.

Now a free agent, she plans to attend the North Carolina Courage training camp once the NWSL returns to action.

Just turned 25, Agnew has won 14 caps for Canada, most recently playing against Brazil and New Zealand in a tournament in China in November. Part of last summer’s World Cup roster, she hopes to crack the Olympic team for Tokyo next year.

Agnew was born in Kingston where her father Gary Agnew was coach of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. Now an associate coach with the Utica Comets, the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL farm team, Gary Agnew was previously an assistant coach and interim head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins and head coach of the AHL Syracuse Crunch and OHL London Knights.

Lindsay is staying with her parents in Florida, with her father also idle with the AHL season suspended due to the virus.

“He’s been my training buddy,” said Agnew, whose self-isolation ends Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2020.

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