My Last Letter From Portugal: U.S. Women Win Algarve Cup

FARO, Portugal — We’re Algarve Cup champions! Germany had dominated Finland, Denmark and China in their previous three games, but today we outplayed them to a satisfying 3-2 win. We were excited to have a game in the big stadium … finally a good field where we didn’t have to worry about balls dying in puddles, or sliding an extra five yards after every sliding tackle. Little did we know, this was the worst field we saw all tournament!

I didn’t get into the game, but I wasn’t really expecting to, especially because the team looked energetic and sharp on Wednesday. After having warmed up on the terrible surface, I was so impressed watching how well every one of our players played and how much energy they brought to the game. It may sound cheesy or clichéd, but I was genuinely honored to be part of the group who, in our fourth game in such a short period, maintained such great discipline and was so relentless. We thoroughly dominated an extremely talented German team.

Obviously I would have loved to have played, but often there is a lot to be learned from observing. The field did make things difficult, but watching today was a real indication to me of what makes our women’s national team so unique and successful. In the past (as Coach Pia Sundhage has pointed out, having played for Sweden against the U.S.), we would dominate by going forward quickly and constantly until we simply broke the opponent down, both mentally and physically. The women’s game in general has changed a lot since then and Pia emphasizes a much more possession-oriented style. The challenge now is to keep the ball and attack with flair and creativity while still maintaining what makes us special — that grit and all-out attacking style. On Wednesday, I saw elements of both.

What better way to end my first Algarve Cup trip than by going to get crepes! I had one with ice cream, strawberries, bananas and chocolate sauce on it — amazing. A crepe that good won’t be easy to find back home. A few other things that I’ll miss about Portugal: my roomie Lori, the great salad bar set up at our meals, waking up every morning and being able to see the ocean (can’t do that where I live in New Jersey), fútbol games always on TV, the vertical jump test at 7:45 a.m., Chuck Norris, chocolate truffles left on my pillow, trying to send a message on Skype after practice when everyone is on the Internet and it saying “pending” for 20 minutes, Bananagrams with my teammates … well, maybe I won’t miss a couple of those, but it has been a great trip.

Now I’m looking forward to getting home and starting preseason with Sky Blue F.C. We have a couple days off and then we join the team for training before we leave for Florida. I’ve tried not to think too much about the coming season during this trip because it was important for me to be mentally present in order to learn as much as possible from the experience. But now I’m excited to get home and move onto this new phase of training.

On Tuesday, I jotted down a few notes in our team meeting. At the top of my paper it says, “TWO MORE STEPS.” This was something that Pia had written on the dry erase board. It means that in the attack we want to make each run just two steps longer. When defending, we want to close that space just two steps more so we can tackle. But the philosophy behind it is to just do that little bit more. We can all give a little more to make ourselves better and to invest in the team’s success. After writing “TWO MORE STEPS,” I listed some of the things that I want to focus on moving forward into this W.P.S. season. I can’t wait to get home and continue working on those things!