Alex Chidiac has arguably become Australia‘s gamechanger in chief.

If the team is looking sluggish, or in need of an energy burst off the bench, Chidiac is injected and is instantly electric.

The beauty of being able to call on Chidiac is that she isn’t just providing energy — although she absolutely does deliver it in spades. Her run and harrying are complemented by smarts and technique. She will put in the through ball, press from the front and annoy tired defences, take the shot, break the lines, and follow through.

She’s become so good at this gamechanging role that Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson seems wedded to utilising her exclusively as an impact sub; she’s almost a victim of being too good at her job.

Everyone who watches Chidiac in a Matildas shirt can see the undeniable value she offers as an option off the bench. But the player herself never thought she could execute this kind of role.

“I never thought that I would be able to be one of those players that had an impact coming off of the bench,” Chidiac told ESPN’s The Far Post podcast.

“I think, typically, when you looked at it, people that were coming off from the bench, they have a really big presence. They’re super fast, they changed the game instantly. And I never really saw myself as that kind of player.

“But slowly within the Matildas setup, I kind of figured out pretty quickly, I was going to have to give everything in the time that I got and treat it like, mentally in my head, I’m starting a game. I have to really go in there and fight and do what I can in that time and slowly I got given more minutes, and then it kind of led to the 45 minutes against Jamaica.

“So, I think it helped me kind of get that realisation of ‘No, I actually can do this.'”

– Subscribe to ESPN’s Women’s Football Podcast: The Far Post

Chidiac’s honesty is refreshing and isn’t just limited to her use as a substitute. Her assessment of her status within the Matildas set up and what she needs to do to ensure she is consistently selected for the national team is similarly candid.

“If my role is going to be coming off the bench and being able to make an impact, then I just need to make that role my own and make sure that, when [Gustavsson’s] looking at the bench, I’m the first one that he wants to put on,” she said.

“Obviously, I’m still going to be in the background pushing for a starting spot. But I also am very conscious of whatever’s best for the team. I want to be in the team, I want to go to the World Cup. So if that’s what my role is going to be, then I will play that the best I can.”

Wanting to go to the World Cup isn’t a new or particularly surprising aspiration but in the context of Chidiac’s career it makes a lot of sense that she is taking a “whatever it takes” approach to making the final 23.

Chidiac missed out on selection for the 2019 Women’s World Cup after featuring in squads in the lead up to the tournament. It’s unsurprising that the omission is driving the midfielder forward four years later.

Part of that drive for the World Cup squad has seen Chidiac return to Louisville, Kentucky, for her second season with Racing Louisville in the NWSL. For the last two years the Adelaide-born midfielder has split her time between Melbourne Victory in the A-League Women and Racing.

While 15,620 kilometers separate Melbourne and Louisville, the two cities have provided two key but vastly different experiences for Chidiac and her football.

“I think the enjoyment, definitely, like massively heavy focus of that was with Victory, I was back home, I was with my partner, I was with my cat, with some of my best friends in the team as well. And throughout the league, I’ve got a lot of great friends too. So there was an enjoyment factor to be able to be back home, and that was kind of my little reward, and then the pushing myself out of my comfort zone definitely has come from being in America,” Chidiac explained.

“It’s definitely not my style of play. I’m still trying to get used to it, it’s maybe not where I’m playing my best and regarded as one of the best players in the league, but I’m able to work on things and try and balance that out as much as I can. And fortunately enough, I’ve met some really incredible people here too that make every day fun.”

For Melbourne Victory, Chidiac was afforded 90-minute games consistently. She was allowed to play in the midfield — where she “has the most fun” — and was allowed to restart in a way.

Her high-profile move to Atletico Madrid in 2018 was derailed by injuries and a lack of game time once fit. Her move to Japan’s WE League and JEF United also saw a lack of game time, being used out of position, and COVID-19 creating a perfect mix of poor conditions for her football.

At Racing, and in the NWSL more widely, Chidiac is being challenged and learning to live in the space beyond her comfort zone.

“In terms of adjusting to this kind of league in general. I mean, I’m still adjusting. Like, I think all of us internationals that come to the league, it’s a league like no other, it’s so hectic,” she said.

“There’s a lot of transition, it’s back and forth. It’s exciting if you’re in the crowd, and if you’re playing, it’s exhausting.

“So I’m still trying to kind of get up to speed with that a little bit and just super high transition, very physical style of play, but it’s helping me play quicker and learn different things from the players that you play against here. So it’s positive all up, just takes a bit to get used to.”

The different style of play has been made doubly uncomfortable with Chidiac being used out of position. But it’s precisely these factors that have made Racing the kind of place Chidiac wants to spend her time in the lead up to the Women’s World Cup.

“It’s hard because I think I also knew that there was going to be a little bit of a slight risk coming back in terms of game time. We’ve got a very, very competitive squad, a lot of internationals,” Chidiac said.

“I’m also playing out of position here on the right wing, which is kind of good because with the national team, that’s where I’ve been playing as well. So I do get a bit more of that exposure in practice. But yeah, it’s quite uncomfortable, at the moment trying to adjust to that.

“But I can push myself in different ways here.

“And we’ve got incredible facilities as well. So if I’m not playing, I’m able to get what I need in order to prepare the best I can. So it is high stakes, obviously, all of us are thinking about a World Cup. But you kind of can’t look too far in advance because you never know what’s going to happen as well. So yeah, a lot of things to think about.”

Chidiac will have the April window and another three months in the NWSL to continue adjusting and learning to make herself unignorable for Matildas, and hopefully give Gustavsson a lot of things to think about, too.

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The Matildas gamechanger changing her game in the NWSL