About 20 minutes after Cheyna Matthews completed her first bit of game time in more than a year, the Racing Louisville FC forward still sounded a bit winded.
That’s no knock on Matthews’ conditioning — you’ve got to be in supreme shape to play at all just months after giving birth — but rather quantified the moment for the 27-year-old.
Matthews, who had baby No. 2 in December, was spending her first nights away from that child as Racing traveled to play Portland Thorns FC. It just so happened this would be the trip in which she came on as an 84th-minute substitute, marking her first NWSL appearance since 2019 and first time in any game since February of 2020.
“I didn’t think it would take me as long as it did to just breathe,” Matthews said afterward. “It’s emotional.”
Matthews got on the pitch right in time for a two-week international break to the NWSL season. She’s expected to be the only Racing player to represent a country, receiving a call up from Jamaica, which plays Nigeria at 5:30 p.m. Thursday before meeting the U.S. Women’s National Team at 10 p.m. June 13. Both games are at Houston’s BBVA Stadium and will air on FS1.
Beyond anticipated recuperation time following her pregnancy, Matthews dealt with a minor hip injury upon her return to training with Racing, which selected her playing rights last fall off the NWSL’s re-entry wire.
“It was so important for me,” she said of getting on the field. “I was supposed to play in the last Challenge Cup game, and I had an injury like the day before that game. So just mentally getting my mind set on the next opportunity was really hard.
“This past week I was in full practice — no setbacks — and kind of worked my way up. I feel good now, so it was really important for me to get a feel for it before I got on an international stage again. Hopefully I just keep building.”
A native of Massachusetts, Matthews represents her mother’s home country internationally. Her parents were at Providence Park for Saturday night’s game while, back home, husband Jordan and Matthews’ in-laws looked after the children.
“We have strict bedtimes, and this game’s obviously very late,” she said.
That means the kids were asleep — “or at least they should be,” Matthews said with a smile — while Mom returned to the pitch.
Moving forward, Matthews will look to further mix into coach Christy Holly’s rotation of forwards when the club next plays host to the Houston Dash on June 20. Within the attack, Racing will also pick up English forward Ebony Salmon, who recently arrived to Louisville following her signing, while defender Gemma Bonner made her first trip to Portland.
Between now and Louisville’s next game, Matthews should get the chance to continue building a foundation for the rest of the season.
“Obviously we have a good break here with the team,” Matthews said. “It’s nice with me having the injury setback and not being able to get minutes underneath me early on like I expected, to be able to get those with my country is a unique opportunity against the world’s best.
“I should get some minutes to help build on fitness, so when I get back in the team I should be in better shape for sure.”