Counting Down to (That Other) World Cup

Less than 400 days … and counting. … I was finally home this week after a nine-day stint on the road.

The trip began in St. Louis with Sky Blue F.C. We tied the Athletica, 2-2, which is not a bad result for an away game — particularly considering that our team took a couple more minor injury hits in our pregame practice. We can laugh about it now, but at the time we were freakin’, to use H.A.O.’s (Heather O’Reilly’s) terminology. Daphne Koster and Jessica Landstrom collided while doing an agility drill. If you’ve ever seen either of those two play, you’ll know that a confrontation is likely to leave the opponent flattened — so you can only imagine what it looked like (and even worse — sounded like). Daphne’s teeth went through her lip and into Jessica’s head. It was not a pretty sight.

Hours after practice, at our team meeting, they wandered in straight from the hospital, both stitched up and looking dazed. As Daphne ate her dinner (she sipped soup through a straw), we all realized that the chance of them being ready for the game was slim. Jessica ended up subbing in up front, but Daphne was out for the count. Oh, the craziness of the W.P.S. season!

 

The morning after the game, H.A.O. and I woke up at 4:45 for the trip to to Cleveland for women’s national team training camp and a friendly against Germany. Brittany Taylor and the St. Louis girls making the trip were somehow lucky enough to be on a slightly later flight. Our Sky Blue F.C. representation was complete with Christie Rampone also flying in from New Jersey. I was tired from the game and from the long day of travel, but it took little time for me to be refreshed and ready to go.

After lunch and before training that afternoon, Pia [Sundhage, the head coach of the national team] sat us down and talked about being grateful and making the most of every day and every session. It seems so obvious, but it was an important reminder for me, especially during a long season with Sky Blue F.C.

It’s so easy to get in the rhythm of training every day and working hard, but so easy to lose that sense of purpose that I have when I’m really inspired. Sometimes, I fall into that trap of just going through the motions, although still putting in a lot of effort, especially as I get mentally and physically tired during the season. Pia’s few sentences helped me to re-focus, made me feel incredible gratitude for the opportunities I have, and reminded me to be intentional with everything I do on and off the field.

 

As the Cleveland trip went on, I was searching for a theme for this posting. I had jotted down some notes, but nothing that motivated me to sit down and write. I had been stumped for multiple nights in a row. Then we had a meeting with Dawn Scott (the national team’s sports scientist).

401 days. That was the count from Dawn’s first PowerPoint slide. And there was the inspiration I had been looking for.

That was the count until the start of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. And by the time this blog is posted, it will be less. 401 days to train, prepare, recover, plan, improve, analyze, and cover every aspect of the game — mental, physical, tactical, technical, and emotional. And even less than that until the roster is selected. 401 days.

Some months ago I wrote the number 2011 across an entire page in my journal. That’s the year of the next Women’s World Cup. And at the time I wrote that I was not a starter for Sky Blue F.C., nor had I been called in with the national team for nearly two years.

But I made it my goal and I’m not embarrassed to admit it. I have nothing to lose.

 

Dawn’s point was twofold. First, what can each of us do to give ourselves the best possible chance of being on the U.S. roster in Germany? Second, what can we all do individually so that the team has done everything possible to be the best in the world and win? From what I’ve seen, the collective team attitude is phenomenal. At practice early in the week, Pia called us in at the end of playing and said, “O.K., cool down.” H.A.O. blurted out what all of us were thinking. “Nooo! Come onnnn,” she wailed. “O.K., five more minutes,” Pia said, relenting.

While the time between now and the World Cup may seem like a lot, before we know it, it’ll be 301, 201, 101 days and then the World Cup will be around the corner. It would be a shame to let a day pass without doing something to bring myself closer to that 2011 goal that’s written across the page in the front of my nearly full journal. No matter the outcome, though, I want to know that I did everything possible.

We beat Germany convincingly, 4-0. I played the last 15 minutes. It’s always hard to step into a game of that pace toward the end, especially in the middle of midfield. It’s good practice, though, to experience a different role. I focused on trying to warm up as thoroughly as possible, because otherwise your body literally goes into shock. It’s amazing how going from low intensity to game speed can have your legs dead and lungs burning after three minutes. It was another great experience to learn from — for both the team and me personally.

Already that 401 is down by a few days. It takes extraordinary discipline to make the most of each day.

The players on Sky Blue F.C. recently received an email message from Coach Pauliina Miettinen: “Most people want to avoid pain, and discipline is often painful. But we need to recognize that there are really two kinds of pain when it comes to our daily conduct. There’s the pain of self-discipline and the pain of regret. Most people avoid the pain of self-discipline because it’s the easy thing to do. What they may not realize is that the pain of self-discipline is momentary but the payoff is long-lasting.”

O.K. Let’s play ball.

Oh, one other thing before I forget … I will be part of the Kicking & Screeningfilm festival in New York on Friday evening, June 4. You might want to check it out. I’ll be on a panel with Ethan Zohn, the founder of Grassroots Soccerspeaking about our challenges and lives in soccer. Soon to be a major motion picture? Ah, not quite yet.