Christine Nairn was 5 years old when she started going to the Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County.
She would sit on the hill that overlooks the SoccerPlex's Championship Stadium and watch intently as her two older brothers played. The same thought would continually cross her mind.
"I remember thinking how much I wanted to be on that field one day," Nairn said, "because that's where all the good players played."
Nairn eventually played many games on that field, from Maryland State Cup championships with her Freestate Soccer Alliance club team to the Olympic Development Program with the Washington Freedom.
On Saturday, the former Archbishop Spalding and Penn State star returns to the SoccerPlex as a professional player. A starting midfielder and offensive catalyst for the Seattle Reign in the first-year National Women's Soccer League, Nairn will play against the Washington Spirit in front of family and friends.
"It's awesome because it's our final away game, and it just shows how everything can come full circle," Nairn said. "I grew up playing at the SoccerPlex, so that place is like a home away from home to me. To finish my first season as a professional athlete there in front of my home crowd is icing on the cake."
Selected with the seventh pick in the first round of the league's inaugural draft, Nairn leads the Reign (5-12-3) in assists (five) and is tied for second in goals (three). For the 22-year-old, it has been a first season full of valuable lessons as she has shifted from college to the professional level.
"The pace is much faster and the game is a lot more physical," Nairn said. "So you've got to be strong, you've got to think fast and play fast and you have to be completely fit in order to compete at this level."
A pool player for the United States women's national team who earned two caps in 2009, Nairn finished her four-year career at Archbishop Spalding as the program's all-time leading scorer with 70 goals and 34 assists.
Nairn scored 34 goals and added 41 assists in four years at Penn State, including 17 goals and 12 assists as a senior last fall.
A finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the top player in the country, she scored a golden goal in the 2012 College Cup semifinals — a 2-1 win over Florida State — to send the Nittany Lions to the NCAA championship game for the first time in school history.
Seattle coach Laura Harvey has been impressed with Nairn's steady progress and ability to read the game.
"Christine can see passes that no one else can," she said. "She's very skillful and technical, and it doesn't matter where she is on the field, she always looks like she has time on the ball."
Nairn's biggest soccer dream would be representing the U.S. in the 2015 World Cup, which will take place in Canada. At 18, before she arrived at Penn State, Nairn made two appearances for the U.S. senior team and scored the winning goal in a 1-0 win over Canada in a friendly on July 22, 2009.
While new U.S. coach Tom Sermanni, who took over at the start of this year, hasn't had Nairn train with the team, he said she is certainly on the radar.
"I think Christine has good football ability and qualities that are good enough to play at the international level," Sermanni said. "How that translates into being able to give her an opportunity — similarly to several other players who have also done well — is something that is still under consideration at the moment. So she is certainly someone who has done well enough to catch my eye and impress."
Although she doesn't know what will happen in the future, Nairn plans to continue to work hard for her ultimate goal.
"You just always have to be ready," she said. "I've grown up playing on [youth] national teams, so hopefully I can make the transition to the senior team. I look forward to the chance of representing myself, Penn State, as well as the Seattle Reign, if I'm fortunate enough to get called in."
Washington Spirit vs. Seattle Reign
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Maryland SoccerPlex
More information: NWSLsoccer.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun