When people talk about Sky Blue FC rookie forward McKenzie Meehan, they often focus on her comeback from an off-field injury that sidelined her for her entire junior season at Boston College. While Meehan’s recovery and return from that injury are impressive and integral parts of her story, to limit her journey to just that moment in time would be an injustice. As the record-setting striker has proven, she’s so much more than just her comeback story.
The love of scoring goals
McKenzie Meehan grew up in Glocester, Rhode Island, the daughter of John and Mary Lou Meehan and twin sister to Madison. When she and her sister were five or six, their parents enlisted them in a number of sports to help harness their energy and channel their natural inclination towards sports.
“I think we just started playing because we had some older cousins who played and we just loved running around and doing sports, so my parents signed us up for a bunch of different sports like basketball, softball, soccer, track,” Meehan said.
Although Meehan continued to juggle multiple sports as she grew up, she didn’t decide to focus on soccer until seventh or eighth grade, when an increased travel schedule for club soccer made her choose between it, basketball and track. It came down to soccer or basketball with soccer eventually winning out, as the forward enjoyed it the most.
“My mom said I always just wanted to score goals,” she said. “I would always run around and just try to score as many goals as I could.”
That love of scoring developed into a talent for scoring. Meehan helped lead her high school, LaSalle Academy, to an undefeated record (76-0-7) and four consecutive state titles in her four years with the squad. She was a three-time All-State first team and NSCAA High School All-Region first team selection (2009-2011), two-time NSCAA All-American (2010-2011) and a two-time Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year (2010-2011). In her senior year, she led the nation in goals scored with 80—including a ridiculous 16 hat tricks over 22 games—while also racking up 14 assists. (Her sister led the nation in assists the same year with 44). She finished out her high school career with 181 goals and 28 assists.
When she wasn’t taking the field for LaSalle, she was taking it for various Elite Club National League (ECNL), Olympic Development Program (ODP), and club teams, earning her even more accolades and success on the field. Her club team, Scorpions SC, won the Massachusetts State Cup Championship three years Meehan played for them, and she was named the tournament MVP in 2009 and 2011. She also helped lead them to four consecutive Region I titles and to the National Finals in 2010 and 2012, during which she won the Golden Boot in 2012.
Despite her goal-scoring prowess, Meehan says she was somewhat of a late bloomer in regards to the youth national teams, only receiving her first call-up to the U-18 camp following her stellar senior year campaign.
“I actually missed my high school graduation to go to my first camp ever, so I think that's probably late for some of the people who were on the national team since they were 14 or 15.”
From Rhode Island to Beantown
Although it inexplicably took Meehan a while to fully register on U.S. Soccer’s radar, it didn’t take her long to garner interest from colleges, especially in New England. Ahead of her junior year in high school, Meehan committed to Boston College.
“I made that decision going into my junior year of high school, I think right around September. I think there were a lot of different reasons, but the main reason was that it was a great balance of academics and athletics. I didn't want to sacrifice either one really, so BC gave me a great opportunity academically, which is probably even more important. Then I could also be a part of a historically great program.”
Meehan, along with her twin sister, reported for duty in 2012, and she appeared in all 20 matches her freshman season, starting in six. She scored her first collegiate goal in the season opener and followed that up just days later with a brace, including the game winner, against Connecticut. At the end of the season, she was third on the team in scoring (9 goals) and was named to the All-ACC Freshman team.
She followed up an impressive rookie season with an even more impressive sophomore season, leading the team and ACC in goals and game-winning goals (20 and 9, respectively), setting a program single-season scoring record in the process. Her performance helped Boston College advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, where they eventually fell to runner-up Florida State.
The season was Meehan’s best collegiately, and it, along with her previous performances in camp with the U-20 national team, earned her a spot on the team’s roster for the CONCACAF Championship, the U.S.’s qualifier for the 2014 U-20 World Cup. Not only did Meehan help the U.S. shut out every single one of its opponents to win the tournament, she also scored six goals (including two game-winners, one of which was in a hat trick against Guatemala) to win co-Golden Boot honors. Unsurprisingly, she was named to the team’s U-20 World Cup squad, but that’s when disaster struck.
“I was at home in Rhode Island and it was a Friday summer day, and I went upstairs to my bedroom and I had been packing for the youth World Cup,” Meehan recalled. “There's a thin mirror in my bedroom and my back was turned to it and somehow it just fell and nicked the back of my Achilles.”
That “nick” did substantial injury to Meehan’s Achilles tendon, sidelining her for both the U-20 World Cup and her junior season at Boston College. Although she was disappointed to miss out on her season with the Eagles, missing the U-20 World Cup was a much larger blow for her.
“As much as I wanted to play that year for my college team, you can redshirt, so you do have the option to get the year back in a way. Obviously there's a U-20 World Cup every two years, but you're not age eligible, so I wasn't going to be able to get that opportunity back. “
Meehan did redshirt, making her return to the field for BC in 2015. Her Achilles injury may have set her back a year with the Eagles, but it didn’t slow her down much. She scored a brace in a 2-1 season opener win, her first official game back with the team, paving the way for a 17-goal, four-assist season. In her last year at BC, she led the team in goals (12), points (26), shots (88) and shots on goal (45) and was an All-ACC First Team selection. Her 58 total goals and 124 points were both program records as well, putting Meehan’s name in the Boston College records book in three different places over her collegiate career.
“On the whole, for the four or five years that I was there, I couldn't ask for a better experience, so that in itself was great. I'm just proud to have gone to Boston College and graduated from there. I think I'll always look back on my time there and be very happy with my decision to go there.”
Blue skies ahead
While Meehan was playing at Boston College, the NWSL was founded and began to thrive. The success and promise of the young league put the possibility of turning pro after graduation into the back of Meehan’s mind, but it wasn’t until her senior season that Meehan really considered pursuing a professional career.
“I don't think I made a definitive decision until the fall [of my senior year] when our season was going on, and I couldn't see myself finishing my career at that point. I felt like I had more I could improve as a player and could continue to play, so that was something that I wanted to do.”
Despite suffering a broken ankle with only one game left in her senior season—an injury that might have completely diminished the draft stock of a lesser player—Meehan declared for the 2017 NWSL College Draft. Many people around the league predicted Boston Breakers head coach Matt Beard might use one of six draft picks to select Meehan. After all, she was a Boston College product and had played with the Breakers College Academy Team in the summer of 2014. Instead, Sky Blue FC head coach Christy Holly snagged her with his final pick of the draft, attracted by her ability to find the back of the net.
Although the recovery time for her ankle injury was much less than for her Achilles, Meehan was unable to play during the offseason, so she entered preseason camp not back up to full strength or match fitness. She worked with the team’s doctors and training staff to work her way back up to full training, taking the time ensure she didn’t re-injure herself. For Meehan, she said that was the hardest part so far of her rookie season.
“The first time I was really cleared to play at all was once I first got here for preseason training, so I think just having that patience throughout preseason to slowly build up and gradually build into it was important,” she admitted. “At certain points it was frustrating because I felt like I could do more or wanted to do more, but I just had to trust our coaching staff and the doctors.”
Meehan made her debut for Sky Blue in the team’s home opener on April 30, when she entered the match in the 80th minute against FC Kansas City. Although she only played 10 minutes in her first professional match, she did register a shot on goal and was on the field when Raquel Rodriguez scored the game-winning goal.
Meehan has now made 12 appearances for Sky Blue totaling 472 minutes for the New Jersey-based club. She has one assist for the season but no goals, although Christy Holly knows that they’re in her.
“She’s definitely got goals in her. She has a very good instinct as a finisher,” Holly said following last Friday’s match against the Washington Spirit, in which Meehan played all 90 minutes in Sam Kerr’s absence. “McKenzie is a player that's gone through a real lot of growth, and I like what she's got. I think McKenzie is very efficient in the final third, and her production is good. Whether that's a goal or whether that's an assist or a shot on target, her production is quite efficient, and that's what I do like about McKenzie.
“And her level of humility to grow and learn is only something's that's going to see her continue to peak within the NWSL.”
As for Meehan, she’s not worrying about not yet scoring her first professional goal. Like Holly, she knows that goal will come. Instead, she’s just enjoying the moment, savoring every bit of her professional career.
“It's such a privilege and an honor to be out there playing with some of the greatest players in the world,” she said. “I'm just proud to represent my family and my college and to just be the best that I can ever time that I'm out on the field.”