Kai still has it

Natasha Kai was a popular target for autographs after the 2015 UH alumnae game on Sunday.
Natasha Kai was a popular target for autographs after the 2015 UH alumnae game on Sunday.

Natasha Kai isn’t prepared to call it a career.

The former Olympic gold medalist and greatest player in Hawaii women’s soccer history has dealt with some severe injuries in recent years and hasn’t been visible on the national stage. But if her outing Sunday with the University of Hawaii soccer alumnae is any indication, she’s close to getting back out there.

“We’ll see,” said Kai, 32. “I’ll keep my options open. Anything can happen. I’ve been out for a few years. Unfortunately I lost my dad. He always wanted me to play and he was my biggest fan, biggest supporter. I got an angel on my back, so we’ll see what happens.”

She drew a penalty kick in a 2-2 draw with the current Rainbow Wahine. The alumnae lost 3-1 on penalty kicks (Kai did not attempt one). There was a brief injury scare when she collided with UH keeper Erica Young and stayed down for a few moments. But she walked off the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium field herself and was back a handful of minutes later.

The three-time WAC Player of the Year and top scorer in UH history (it’s not even close) fielded a number of autograph and picture requests from young girls down on the field.

“She was completely instrumental in setting up lots of things and providing lots of chaos,” UH coach Michele Nagamine said Sunday. “She was so fast and so dangerous. And I think that’s a big reason why the crowd was so big tonight. A lot of these kids are here to see her. To see have Tasha as a good friend and part of our family, we’re so fortunate to have her in the ohana.”

Most recently, she was taken in a draft for the National Women’s Soccer League in 2013. But she never actually played after suffering another setback.

“I actually just ruptured my patella about a couple years ago, so you know, it’s one of the worst knee injuries you can suffer,” Kai said. “So, past year and a half I’ve been putting in work, five hours a day in the gym, five or six hours a day in the field. Seven days a week. I’ve been busting my butt to get to where I’m at right now. I think I’m in a better place and in better shape physically and mentally, emotionally than I was a year ago. As long as I’m headed in the right direction, having all these kids here looking up to somebody, seeing a local girl make it big, it opens doors and it’s a good opportunity for the next generation in Hawaii.”

Kai won gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. She had the game-winning goal in overtime against Canada in the quarterfinals.

Since then, she’s had stints with Sky Blue FC and the Philadelphia Independence, but no recent work with the U.S. Women’s National Team.

It would’ve been understandable if she said it was difficult to see them do so well in winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. But she took a different approach.

“Yeah I mean, I think it was great,” Kai said. “It was good for them, it was good for women’s soccer in America as a whole. I think it kind of pushed (pro leagues). We’ll see if we have more investors who will invest money and time. You know, just give women the same opportunities they give males. … I’m going to be biased, women are more passionate about the game and they’ll give you 90 minutes of hard-fought soccer rather than diving and rolling around in circles on the ground. But as a whole, I think the U.S. winning pushed women’s soccer in the right direction.”

Who knows? Maybe Kai will still be a part of it.

Current and former UH soccer players gathered after the alumnae game.
Current and former UH soccer players gathered after the alumnae game.