I really appreciate the comments I’ve received about this blog, so please, keep them coming! If there are things you want to know, I’ll do my best to answer. It’s true that W.P.S. may not get the media coverage of most professional sports, and the scraps that fans do get often give little insight into the day-to-day goings on with the team and players. My experience may not necessarily be typical (I live at home and have been known to have a somewhat unique approach to fútbol), I’ve tried to outline what my life is really like — not the intricacies and extraneous tidbits, but the real bread and butter, for lack of a better term, of my experience during the season.
I’ve heard various comments about how W.P.S. players don’t live the glamorous lifestyle of most male professional athletes. This actually never occurred to me until it was brought to my attention, because I am living my dream … and more. If you had asked me 10 years ago to describe my ideal life, I couldn’t have painted a picture more perfect than the one I live right now. Yes, maybe I do roll up to practice in my green, 2001 Honda Civic with 120.000-plus miles; maybe I do pay out of my own pocket for my weekly massage; maybe I do pack my own chocolate milk and sandwich as a recovery snack for after training, but I could not be happier doing what I do, and the fact that I can earn money doing it seems so unbelievable, it often makes me laugh.
Throughout the league, there is a strong feeling that we’re all in this together and we want the league to succeed. I think it is generally accepted that no one plays in W.P.S. to get rich and famous; our rewards come in the ability to do what we love, for as long as we can. The majority of players play because we are passionate about the game and we hope that one day, those little girls in the stands will have a chance to also realize their dreams of playing professionally.
My alarm goes off at 8 a.m. every morning so I can leave the house by 8:30. I live at home, in the same room I had growing up. My medal from my first team, the U-8 Orange Bullets, is sitting on my shelf, and my signed photo with Anson Dorrance from when I was 12 is hanging on my wall (eventually, he became my college coach). I take an iron supplement and then eat a big breakfast, typically egg whites on wheat toast and yogurt or cereal. It takes me about 45 minutes to get to training, but it’s worth it to get to live at home for a little while longer. Most of the team lives closer, either in houses with several other teammates, or with host families.
Lately, we’ve had an unfortunately large crowd doing rehab on our sideline during practice. Jenni Branam, Carli Lloyd, Tasha Kai, Meghan Schnur, and until recently, Christie Rampone, have all been working to get back on the field. The good news is, as the season goes on and all the teams start to get worn down and tired, we’ll hopefully tip the balance by having some great reinforcements joining us! It can be hard at times knowing that we’re not at full strength, but the absence of several key players has given some others an opportunity to step up. For example, while Schnur has been out, Danielle Johnson, a developmental player, has stepped in at outside back and done a great job. She is just out of college and I overheard her recently say that she wasn’t even expecting to be drafted. Next thing she knew, she was playing in front of 5,000 fans, marking Marta.
We have a team meeting after each game to review video clips to learn from our performance. There is always an interesting debate on certain tactical issues. We all come from different backgrounds and it’s still early enough in the season that we’re trying to get on the same page. Pauliina [Coach Miettinen] has laid out the way she wants us to play. The thing is, Daphne Koster is used to defending one way in the Netherlands; Jessica Landstrom is familiar with a different style in Sweden; the University of North Carolina crew is used to high pressure; and Rosana comes from Brazil … enough said for her philosophy when it comes to defending. (Brazilians are known more for their attacking flair, and for some reason, whenever we meet about defending, the usually quite fluent Rosana no longer speaks or understands English!)
This past weekend I met the team at the airport the morning before our game in Atlanta. They typically take a team bus, but since I live close to Newark Airport, I meet them there. I suspect our away trips are nothing like other professional sports teams, but we are treated well. Besides some early departure times and long layovers, we really can’t complain. Although we are rarely recognized in public, we do travel in matching Sky Blue F.C. jackets, which often raises questions from people in airports, restaurants, and hotels. The most common inquiry seems to be, “Is this a basketball or volleyball team?” We have a lot of tall players, so it’s not a bad guess. People do seem genuinely interested when we tell them about W.P.S., though. We are building a fan base, one curious person at a time.
I always love game day, for many reasons. First, I get to sleep in. With the amount of training and travel we do, I can rarely get enough sleep, so this is a bonus. I also like to take a long nap, especially when the game is late and there’s a lot of time to kill. After breakfast our team goes for a walk and stretch. Then we have the day to ourselves until our pregame meal. For home games, we’re on our own for pregame meal, but on away trips it’s always provided.
Our game last Sunday against the Atlanta Beat was at 7 p.m., so we arrived at the stadium around 5:30. This game was special because it was their home opener — in the recently completed first W.P.S. soccer stadium. The stadium is beautiful, the grass is pristine and that night the weather was perfect. As our team bus pulled up to the stadium, and I turned off the techno music that I had been listening to with goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, I could feel the excitement. I try to find something special to look forward to in each game — not that playing and representing Sky Blue F.C. is not enough, but it’s a long season, and sometimes it’s a challenge to take every game as seriously as the first. But it’s hard not to get pumped when you’re playing under the lights in front of a big crowd (there were more than 7,000 at the game). My teammates often joke with me because I’m so nonchalant and relaxed before games. While everyone is in the locker room jumping around and dancing, I like to lounge quietly in my chair. Heather O’Reilly is known to get the most riled up, and this past game she was in rare form. We laugh about our differing game preparation, and one game H.A.O., as we call her, came bouncing over to me and intensely yelled in my face, “Yaya, pump me up!”
I never take for granted walking out as a starter for any team, and I try hard to make it a special moment for myself. Every time. The game was somewhat of a struggle for us. Atlanta had a lot of great chances, and Karen Bardsley was absolutely extraordinary in goal. Thanks to her and an own goal by Atlanta, we won 1-0. It was hard to know how to feel after a game like that. I was glad that we won, but I still was not satisfied with the way I played and how our team performed as a whole. (Not to take any credit away from Atlanta … they played well.) I gave away the ball more than I should have in the first half, but I was proud of myself for continuing to stay involved. After a few mistakes, it’s easy to not show for the ball quite as much, but I tried my best not to let my confidence drop. For me, this was a personal victory.
I expressed my mixed feelings about the game to Pia (Coach Sundhage of the U.S. women’s national team) in an e-mail and asked her for some feedback. I told her that although our results have been pretty good so far, I still feel that Sky Blue F.C. has yet to click and really find our attacking rhythm. Her response was interesting, and very important. “Yael, always remember to respect the game and the opponents!,” she wrote. “Your start has been awesome!” True. We are in second place.
I know exactly what Pia meant, because she has said this to us before. There is no such thing as an ugly goal, and you should celebrate the same after your team’s seventh goal as you did your first. There is no such thing as a not-so-good victory, and you should treat every victory with the same appreciation and excitement. In that way, you respect the game and the opponents.
The truth of the matter is that it is our job to play the sport we love in front of thousands of fans, and we get paid to do it. And Sky Blue F.C. has a winning record right now — something we did not achieve until the playoffs last season. So Pia is right. Our start has been awesome!