Though 2023 was an eventful year in women's soccer, it was a quiet one for Tierna Davidson -- but one should chalk that down to circumstance since it was far from insignificant. Though the timeline did not quite match up for her to land a spot on the U.S. women's national team roster for the Women's World Cup, Davidson marked her comeback from an ACL tear that kept her out for most of 2022 and re-emerged as one of the NWSL's most talented center backs. Her strong recovery meant that come the offseason, she would be one of the most skilled free agents on the market, offering teams the chance to upgrade in defense.

Free agency, Davidson says, also provided her with an opportunity: to take the next step in her own personal development.

"At this level, it's really about the one percent every day," Davidson told CBS Sports. "I think I'm at a very important turning point and I wanted to challenge myself to be uncomfortable, to be in a new environment with new people in hopes of having more growth."

It's why the 25-year-old opted for a change of setting in the new year, joining reigning NWSL champions NJ/NY Gotham FC after spending the first five seasons of her career with the Chicago Red Stars. The club announced the deal on Tuesday after Davidson explored her options, taking full advantage of the free agency experience that is fairly new to the league's players.

First, though, the situation provided her with a true opportunity to reflect and ultimately call time on her spell with the Red Stars, who are now embarking on the first year of a rebuild under new ownership and head coach Lorne Donaldson.

"I came to the end of the season and I was thinking, obviously, about free agency and I almost came to the conclusion that I had given everything that I had to Chicago," Davidson said. "This past five years have been filled with a lot of highs and a lot of lows and I think I gave -- emotionally, physically, mentally -- absolutely everything that I had to Chicago and I was almost thinking to myself, 'I don't know how to reinvent myself again to give something different or something more.'"

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Spending the entirety of her professional career with one club, though, meant Davidson had the chance to learn about other teams -- and herself -- for the first time in nearly a decade. She likened the free agency journey to the college recruitment process, something she experienced before her freshman year at Stanford University in 2016, so she entered negotiations with a checklist for herself as much as she did for the teams she eventually spoke to.

"[I was] trying to stay as open as possible and to listen to everybody because I wanted the opportunity to gather as much information as I could and to know that there wasn't a rush, to tell myself, 'Take your time, have the conversations with anyone you want to have conversations with, allow people to give you their information so you can make an informed decision,'" she said. "I think it was important for me to understand [that] these are the coaches that I felt like I connected with and here's why I feel like I did, and here are the ones I didn't feel like I connected with and why was that. … What kind of people do I connect with, or coaches or whomever? Where does my personality belong? I think that was really eye-opening for me."

Davidson said she prioritized both the on-field and cultural fit at possible landing spots, and studiously entertained that information from prospective teams.

"One of the things for me that I always loved -- and so I'm not surprised was helpful to me -- was hearing about people's plans and how they put together their plans and the level of preparation that goes in," she said. "I think I'm a very logical, step-by-step oriented person so that, I think, was very attractive to me in this process, finding the people that were helping along in that way."

Davidson's choice to join Gotham marks a notable vote of confidence for Juan Carlos Amoros, the reigning coach of the year who guided the team to their first NWSL championship during his first season in charge. She, alongside national team colleague and fellow new Gotham signing Crystal Dunn, is one of the first outsiders to sign up for the club's ambitious project to upgrade post-championship, but had compliments for Gotham's style of play after playing against them in 2023.

"It was very difficult to defend them in the sense that they like to send numbers, they like to attack in waves and to give sustained pressure to opponents and make it very difficult, especially as a back line to continue to keep the ball out of your 18," Davidson said. "That's something that's very exciting as a defender. If you get to be on the benefitting side of that, then that means you also don't have to do that much work and your team is continuing sustained attack, but I think that is something that is very difficult about Gotham is that they like to commit the numbers and they like to continue to be in the attacking half. If things aren't going their way, they're also very gritty and able to be condensed and work in a block and make it very difficult for other teams to attack as well."

The 2019 World Cup winner is just as complimentary, if not more, of Gotham's culture. From her experiences playing against Amoros' side to her conversations with the coaching and front office staff, Davidson was sold that the club would be the right fit for her.

"I think something that was immediately apparent is the degree to which the team seemed to buy into the plan, which I think is one of the most important things for team success," she said. "Whether it's a plan you wholeheartedly think is going to work or don't, you're bought into it and you're going to do your job and everyone's going to fulfill their role and so then it, more times than not, ends up working. And so I think that they did a very good job of that, presumably, explaining very well what they wanted to do so that players could feel like they were confident in what they were doing."

It's an approach that suits Davidson well. The ambitious center back is eager to improve after a strong start to her career, especially at an important period for the national team. The USWNT is at the start of a rebuild after a disappointing World Cup, with players hoping to impress before Emma Hayes begins her spell as the head coach in May and roster slots for July's Olympic Games on the line. Roster sizes are smaller for the Olympics than they are for the World Cup, and the USWNT's center back pool is impressive -- 2022 NWSL rookie of the year Naomi Girma is arguably locked in, but Davidson is competing for a spot alongside 2023 World Cup participant Alana Cook and veteran Abby Dahlkemper, who was in the lineup the day the USWNT won the 2019 World Cup.

Davidson said she's "excited" by the prospect of working for the detail-oriented Amoros, and believes his strategy will be crucial in assisting her career progression.

"Something I really value is someone who won't let the standard slip and whether it's passing it to the correct foot or putting a ball in with the correct pace or the proper footwork when you're defending, it's things like that," she said. "It's not even big-picture items, but it's just someone who's going to be out there nipping at your heels, continuing to push and not letting you slip. … I think that's how, at this level, we continue to get better, because we all know the game of soccer. We all know the broad strokes, but it's really fine-tuning those things and getting the reps right nine out of 10 times, not seven out of 10 times, and I think their coaching staff is really focused on the detail and really focused on making sure things look right and feel right and we're playing the game properly."

Above all, Davidson argues that meticulous search for perfection provides the most meaningful opportunity of all: to play with joy.

"I think something that put it over the top with me for Gotham was infusing the passion that they had for the game," she said. "I think I've been wanting to find that in myself again. I think there's been a lot that has gone on in the last few years for me and to find that the raw joy and passion and the reason that I play this game, I definitely feel that from the Gotham staff, which I'm really excited about."