Player and broadcaster? Inside NWSL defender Sarah Gorden’s developing broadcast career

Quick Hits
  • NWSL defender Sarah Gorden has had success on the field in her career, but she’s also having success on the sidelines as a reporter and analyst
  • On Sunday, Gorden will be on the sidelines for ESPN2’s broadcast of the USL Championship Final

When Sarah Gorden first reached out to Lifetime in 2017 about contributing to their NWSL broadcasts, executives and producers were immediately struck by her innate sense as a sideline reporter. 

At the time, Gorden was a burgeoning star in the NWSL as a defender for the Chicago Red Stars. Some reporters are either journalists without professional soccer experience or ex-players without skill on-camera, but Gorden had both an on-field resume and broadcasting talent.  She contributed to NWSL coverage alongside other media jobs, making connections in the industry while focusing primarily on soccer.

She has successfully continued to pursue both careers since then. In 2021, Gorden was nominated for the NWSL’s Defender of the Year award and this weekend, she’ll serve as the sideline analyst for ESPN2’s broadcast of the USL Championship Final on Sunday.

Same field, different roles

Gorden’s journey through American soccer and into the field of broadcasting began in Chicago. She’s a native of the city’s northern suburbs and attended DePaul University, where she studied journalism and began working with the Big East conference on sports coverage. All the while, Gorden stood out on the pitch and was drafted by the Red Stars in 2016.

“Being able to represent the city I grew up in was special,” Gorden told Backheeled in an interview last week. “I definitely wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

By 2019, Gorden had broken out as one of the best defenders in the game and received her first call-up to a United States women’s national team camp. Another followed in 2020. The defender cites those camps as an eye-opening experience. “It made me look at myself and know that it’s going to take a whole new level to get these opportunities consistently,” she said.

For all of the success early in her career, Gorden has also overcome challenges and learned how to balance her life, interests, and talents. During her time at DePaul, Gorden became a mother before returning to an all-conference level. “It’s hard, it’s definitely hard,” Gorden admits. “It’s part of life and part of being a professional athlete. I have a unique story in this league since I had my son in college. When you’re young and you’re stubborn, you think ‘this is a no-brainer!’ balancing a son and professional soccer.”

Before the 2022 season, Gorden was traded to Angel City FC, the NWSL’s star-studded expansion team in Los Angeles. However, she injured her ACL in March and missed playing this season. She used the time to reflect and grow. Gorden realized that, at her stage of life, “you don’t just run on pure motivation anymore. The mental game in sports has become cliché in a lot of ways, but it truly has this huge effect on performances, your personal life, on careers like broadcasting.”

Improving the USL’s broadcasts

Broadcasting is chief amongst Gorden’s non-playing pursuits. She worked as a sideline reporter for Big East games early in her Red Stars stint and contributed as an analyst during the most recent Women’s World Cup. But now Gorden finds herself much more comfortable on the field rather than commentating up in the booth as a match analyst. 

“To be completely honest, I was an analyst about two times, and it was really hard,” she concedes. “I like being on the sideline because, being a player, I can relate in a way other people can’t. I love the energy of being on the field. It’s why I play soccer.”

This weekend, Gorden will serve as the field level analyst for the USL Championship Final on ESPN2. She did the same last season, covering a final that came just a week after the Red Stars lost in the NWSL title game. She laughs about “knowing what’s going through half the player’s minds in those last 10 minutes when you’re losing the game.” It’s that insight which sets Gorden apart from so many of her broadcasting peers.

Most USL matches are called remotely or tinged with local bias. There’s plenty of variance between the league’s lead team of Mike Watts and Devin Kerr – Gorden’s partners for the final – and the lowest-end local crews. Few broadcasts enjoy high-quality on-field analysis, so Gorden ups the ante for big games with her experience and insight.

“When you’re playing a game and talking to a loved one about what happened, they’ll say something, where you’ve seen the game completely differently,” she said, explaining the value of adding a player’s perspective to a broadcast. “Like, what are you talking about? That’s not what happened! When you see the actual game on the field, you can explain it to someone in the stands.”

Even with a bright media career in her future, Gorden’s immediate focus is on a return to the field. She hopes to follow up on an NWSL Defender of the Year nomination in 2021 with an equally strong 2023 season. Nevertheless, a career in broadcasting beckons when her playing days are over. 

“I’m a dynamic person. I like broadcasting…I have so many moving parts going on,” she says. “At the end of the day, I just want to be doing something that makes me happy.”