MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Life is a constant series of moments. There are those that flow by, fleeting and unremembered. Then, there are the few among those millions that define an important part of us. Sometimes this happens in retrospect, but other times you can feel the importance of the impending moment right while it’s happening.
My mom really doesn’t like penalty kicks. She’s watched hundreds of soccer games, and never actually watched a penalty kick live. For the first time, in this year’s Women’s Professional final in Rochester last Saturday, I had complete sympathy for her sparing herself from witnessing those tense moments.
As I stood in the center circle trying to keep my legs moving and muscles loose, I could see the moment unfolding in front of me. One by one, four of my Western N.Y. Flash teammates had scored their penalties, as had the four Philadelphia Independence shooters. I was fifth. I’ve always been fine taking penalties; I’m O.K. with the pressure of deciding a game. I believe that a good penalty taker is anyone who wants the responsibility. And I did. I welcomed the opportunity to contribute in any way that I could.
Was I nervous? Heck yeah! I had played in roughly 20 minutes of the game and with one kick I could potentially lose the championship for my team. But I tried my best to focus on the fact that just as easily, I could win it.
When I was in college at North Carolina, our assistant coach, Bill Palladino, suggested that I make up a penalty kick routine — a certain way to place the ball, number of steps, breathing pattern, thought process, mantra — it could be anything on which to focus in a moment of pressure. As I walked (I never run or jog to the penalty spot) the distance to take my kick, it was all just part of my routine. As I took my shot and saw the net ripple, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had come through in a decisive moment.
As the Western N.Y. Flash raised the W.P.S. championship trophy (after a terrific save on Philly’s fifth penalty by our goalkeeper, Ashlyn Harris), it was an important moment in my career. Unlike the 2009 W.P.S. championship with Sky Blue F.C., my role this time was different. I’m proud that I was able to remain confident and focused to be the best I could be when I was called upon. Months of work and the outcome of a whole season came down to one moment for each of our five penalty takers, and all five of us did what it took.
For the past six months, my teammates and I have essentially been living the same life. We would wake up every morning, drive to training, return to our apartment complex and spend the rest of the day hanging out with each other. But beginning the day after the championship, we have dispersed into our own 23 worlds. As I sat in my parents’ house in New Jersey, Alex Morgan ate an In-N-Out Burger in California; Whitney Engen was with her new team in Sweden; Beverly Goebel had just arrived in Finland to play’ and Maurine was already back home in Brazil.
Right now, I’m about to go kick the ball off the wall at the local schoolyard, just like I did every night growing up.