Whether it's to motivate themselves or give their opponents a false sense of superiority, many pro athletes love to claim underdog status even when it doesn’t apply. Angela Salem, however, comes by it naturally.
The Ohio native went mostly overlooked in the college recruiting process before landing a scholarship at Francis Marion, a small South Carolina school that was a Division 1 independent at the time. Four strong seasons as a Patriot weren’t enough to pique teams’ interest at the 2010 WPS draft, forcing her to try out for —and make — the Sky Blue FC developmental roster. And even a few years later, when she’d earned regular playing time with both Western New York and Washington in the NWSL, she never felt as if she had it made.
"Every year has been a battle, and I feel like that most of the players in this league have to be tough mentally, because most are not given things," she said. "I feel like that mentality works for me. I feel like I’ve been able to run with it."
Yet, as Salem hits the midway point of her second season with the Boston Breakers, she’s firmly entrenched in the defensive midfield role, helping to lead the club’s return to respectability. While she still plays like she has something to prove, Breakers head coach Matt Beard notes, "Yeah, I think maybe for the first time, she hasn’t."
Salem won Beard’s confidence last year, when she was a rare bright spot in a calamitous season. Acquired for a pair of secondround picks in November 2015, she emerged as one of the coach’s most reliable players and a valued source of professionalism.