Priscila Robles Waston sometimes feels like she’s living out of a suitcase in her own home. That’s the life of being married to a professional athlete, she said.
Now as husband Kendall Waston’s contract nears its end with FC Cincinnati, she doesn’t know if she will be packing bags again or staying put. Kendall said he won’t find out if the club will pick up his option for 2021 until after the final game. The Orange and Blue have four games left in the regular season and are four points behind a playoff spot.
Whatever is in store for his career, Priscila and their 6-year-old son Keysaack are ready for the ride.
“In soccer life, you are home using your luggage,” Priscila said. “You have to be prepared for everything in any moment. The only thing I need in my life is Keysaack and my husband and I will be ready to go. When you marry a soccer player, nobody tells you what to expect, but you learn with time.”
Kendall, a 32-year-old center back, captain and Costa Rican national team player, began his professional career in his home country with Deportivo Saprissa in 2006 but spent much of the next eight years on loan with clubs in Costa Rica, Uruguay and Puerto Rico. It was during a two-year loan stint with Pérez Zeledón in southern San José, Costa Rica, when he met Priscila through a mutual friend.
Priscila knew he was serious about her when he traveled two and a half hours to visit in her hometown of Heredia. The couple recently celebrated their ninth anniversary, and since their marriage, Waston has moved from Pérez Zeledón to Saprissa, and eventually signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps in August 2014 to begin what now is a seven-year MLS career.
The 6-foot-5 defender and two-time MLS Best XI selection was traded to FC Cincinnati on Dec. 11, 2018, for up to $825,000 in allocation money and an international slot – making it the most expensive package for a defender in MLS history.
“I loved Vancouver with all my heart, but it was time to go and we knew when we needed to go,” Priscila recalls. “At that moment we had lots of options but everything went so fast with FC Cincinnati. Kendall talked with Jeff (Berding) and we felt it was the right move, and we were really prepared for a new challenge, a new adventure. Our whole life together, every new contract, every new team is a challenge. And you say the same thing every year, it’s a new adventure.”
Kendall negotiated an extension last spring — prior to the dismissal of coach Alan Koch and the arrival of general manager Gerard Nijkamp — to guarantee another year in Cincinnati in 2020.
Since then, FCC has moved on to a third new coach with the hiring of Jaap Stam, who is trying to implement a 4-3-3 with a build-from-the-back, possession-based attack. Kendall was the ideal center back for Koch, who preferred physical players with good size in that position, but he’s had to work to prove he can fit into Stam’s system now.
Stam, who also was a physically dominant center back in his playing career, has been complimentary of Kendall’s leadership skills and how he’s improved, particularly when FCC was playing in the 5-3-2 for the first several games. The Orange and Blue switched to the 4-3-3 following a 4-0 loss to New York City FC on Sept. 26, but Kendall has played in that system only twice since then. He’s missed the last three matches because of a minor groin injury that he says is now healed.
“He’s more confident on the ball (than he was),” Stam said in early September. “You know, he’s trying to do what we’re asking, what I’m asking from him in making decisions and going forward, passing the ball into different areas. That looks good, and it’s always like that when you’re playing as a team in a certain way, and that gives you something that the confidence of players is growing. And that happens with Kendall. … We’re happy in the progress that he’s making and how he’s performed.”
Once the season ends, Kendall expects to sit down with Nijkamp to discuss the future, but for now the focus is on finishing the season strong and making the playoffs. FCC is in 13th place out of 14 teams in the Eastern Conference and needs to be among the top 10 to extend the season.
Stam has had plenty of time now to evaluate starters like Kendall, who he’s now seen through 13 matches and four months of training since the new coach arrived in Cincinnati.
“We will do anything,” Kendall said. “We like it here, but this is a career you never know what’s going to happen.”
Kendall believes he still has life left in his career, but whenever it does come to an end, he looks forward to providing the support for his wife that she has provided for him.
Priscila has put a singing career on hold to follow Kendall’s dreams as a professional soccer player. She has songs on Spotify and YouTube and when the family returns to Costa Rica during the offseasons, she usually performs or sings at special events, such as at an annual concert to benefit Children’s Hospital in Costa Rica. But, for the most part she has at least temporarily sacrificed her career for Kendall.
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He said he doesn’t want her to give up on her dreams, though. They both have an understanding that Kendall’s career can last only so long before his body won’t allow him to play at the same high level he once did. Priscila is six years younger than Kendall.
For now, she’s content being a stay-at-home mom and playing a role as the wife of the team captain. That can be a job in itself sometimes because she feels responsible for helping the other players’ wives and girlfriends settle into their new homes. She’s gotten comfortable in her own neighborhood and is happy to provide advice on where to get nails done or new bakeries to try or whatever they need.
“Back home, I have singing career, and it’s been good but now it’s on pause,” Priscila said. “You just put it aside and at some point, I will continue. He tells me, ‘Don’t put anything in the garbage. Your dreams matter.’ A lot is on hold, not just taken away from me. Everything I do now will make me happy in the future. All I want is to see my husband winning and come back happy. Ten years ago, I realized this was my dream too. We live in a bubble of dreams coming from soccer.”
The past two years with FCC have brought plenty of challenges, though, both in their personal lives and on the pitch for Kendall.
When Kendall was gone for his first preseason with the Orange and Blue last February, Keysaack had an unusual health scare back home in Costa Rica before he and Priscila moved to Cincinnati. He woke up one day unable to move his legs. The next month was filled with hospital stays, scans, tests and visits with neurologists, orthopedics and other doctors.
Keysaack arrived in Cincinnati using a wheelchair and still unsure what was causing the paralysis, but while at the local Children’s Hospital, he began showing improvement and just a few days before the home opener March 13, 2019, he finally could walk. Kendall scored the first MLS goal at Nippert Stadium, celebrated the way Keysaack suggested, and FCC beat Portland 3-0.
That ended up being one of the few highlights on the pitch. FCC finished 6-22-6 last year and now is struggling through a 4-11-4 season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Priscila has been there through it all supporting the best way she knows how – providing feedback on how he plays, cheering him on through good times and talking through difficult times. They watch other MLS matches together in their free time and she makes coffee to stay up late reviewing his games on film after he returns home wanting to learn from his mistakes.
“She provides no mercy, but she does it in the best way I can improve,” he said. “I’m the kind of person I don’t like people telling me a lot of stuff, but she supports me in good and bad moments. She knows when to talk to me and how to talk to me as well.”
It’s something she laughs about, knowing how hard she can be on him.
“I will tell him with no soft words what’s going on,” Priscila said. “If he goes and does something wrong, I’m the first to tell him to watch again what he did. Sometimes he will come home and say, ‘Alright, spill it out and tell me.’ I will tell him. I know all the people are going to criticize him really roughly and hard, but I have to do it with love: I want the best for you and me too.
“I have this pain in my mind all the time. Every time the team hires players, they hire the family too because we are their training for mental and emotional support at home. If at home isn’t good, they will feel it on the field. But you send them to training and for the game prepared mentally good, everything will go smoothly. Even if they lose they know they can go home and feel comfortable if going they’re going to cry or laugh or watch the game again even at 1 in the morning. I feel part of the team.”
Priscila sees and hears criticism from fans commenting on Kendall’s performance or saying negative things when the defense makes mistakes. Last year when FCC surrendered a league-worst 75 goals, it was especially tough.
Kendall also has played some really great games, but fans seem to forget those and remember longer the mistakes, Priscila said.
“For us, this is not a game,” Priscila said. “It’s life. Every game is a step up. His contract is every game, my kid’s money for school is in the game. It’s not just a game for us, it’s a responsibility. For us, it’s really hard because we have double responsibility because Kendall as a captain has to handle a lot of cultures and people, even feelings of the players and struggle with his own feelings too. Something is always on his mind.
“Last year was the worst year in his career, but even that was such a learning time for us. You learn how you can be better, how we as a family can help him get better. If something happened, nobody can have the doubt he did everything in his hands to do all things good and try to make them right. As a family we are always going to have his back, whatever happens.”