NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — My first article for the Goal blog was posted on Feb. 9, 2010 and titled, “I’m Going to Portugal With the U.S. Women’s National Team.” As I read over my thoughts before heading to the Algarve Cup (the same tournament for which I am about to depart) not so long ago, I was taken aback by how these past three years have shaped me as a professional soccer player and changed my perspective about what I do every day.
During my first Algarve Cup, in 2010, I was naive about the world of international women’s soccer. In that tournament, I played in all three of the of the U.S. women’s national team’s group games, and started in the first game against Iceland. I had no idea what to expect, and in some ways took the experience for granted. In 2011, I again traveled to Portugal with the team, but this time I was one of four players on the trip not selected for the 20-player tournament roster. By then it had dawned on me how rare the opportunities I had gotten can be. To further imprint that in my mind, in 2012 I was not selected to make the trip, and followed the team’s results via the Internet.
As I write this blog from a hotel balcony (my Swedish team, Kopparbergs/Goteborg, has conducting its preseason in California), I am aware of how time has continually forced me to evolve in my approach to the game. My involvement with the national team has been as turbulent as the Pacific Ocean I am now looking at. But I have learned to try to find stability within the turbulence.
A few days ago, I was talking to our team captain, the Swedish international Stina Segerstrom, about our club and various national team experiences. She brought up the point that national team camps are always tryout situations and it is nice to be back with a club team, where you train and play every day in a more comfortable environment, and one in which everybody is not necessarily trying to prove something.
My talk with Stina reminded me why this Algarve Cup will be different for me than any in the past.
Since I left high school, I have been in a perpetual high-pressure playing situation. With my college team at North Carolina, everything we did in practice was a recorded competition, and my spot in the starting lineup never felt secure. In W.P.S. (the former U.S. pro league), I was in and out of starting lineups and constantly fighting for game time. In national team camps, I have been a bubble player since I started getting called in with the team, so every single training session or minute in a game has, in essence, been a try out. This constant tension has insured that I cannot rest on my laurels for one second. Although this pressure is often the by-product of high-level sports, after some time, it is not always healthy to have that tension surrounding performance every time you step on the field.
Going to play in Sweden has provided me with an environment in which I can relax a bit. Our team includes wonderful quality and competes at the highest level in Europe, but the general attitude and my role on the team are a nice relief from what I have experienced over the last seven or eight years of my career. I am not always worried about what the coach thinks of my performance, I don’t have to be concerned with being replaced if I make a couple of mistakes, and I can try things in training without the fear of losing my spot.
I think that the stability of my environment in Sweden will help me when I am with the national team. In this break, I have been able to play two 90-minute games, and train consistently with my team. I have also been able to relax and gain confidence while playing. That way, when I step back into the turbulence of the international game, I will have that platform of confidence and renewed energy on which to rely.
This Algarve Cup, like my trip in 2010, is a fresh start.I am approaching the situation, however, with three years perspective, playing experience and understanding of women’s international soccer. It’s like having a raft and a compass to navigate the waves.