With Sky Blue F.C., in Florida

Hello from Sky Blue F.C. preseason training in Tallahassee, Fla! Pauliina [Coach Pauliina Miettinen] asked for us all to take one of our favorite quotes to be part of our personal player cards this season. I have journals full of quotes that I like, but I chose a shorter one that gets straight to the point: “Do what you love. Love what you do.” It seems so obvious, but I find that few people actually embody this. In January, a few Sky Blue F.C. players were featured on a panel at the N.J. Youth Soccer Expo. Gerry Marrone (the team’s general manager), in his introductory talk said, “How many of you can genuinely say that you wholeheartedly love your job?” Out of my peripheral vision, I saw a hand immediately shoot up. It was Pauliina.

I’ve had many excellent coaches, but I can say with complete assurance that none has been as enthusiastic about their job as Pauliina. She is devoted to developing every aspect of the team. So much so that we can barely find enough time to sleep. Since the day I arrived at the team hotel in New Jersey to begin training, I can distinctly remember every free moment I’ve had (there have been precious few).

One of those moments was the evening before our first official team training and fitness test. I went out in the parking lot with my ball and iPod to dribble around and juggle — just to loosen up my legs. I was completely absorbed in what I was doing, when I saw someone running toward me, calling for the ball. I looked up and played a pass to Jessica Landstrom, our new Swedish forward, who was out for a light jog with Daphne Koster (a center back from the Netherlands) and Laura Kalmari (a midfielder/forward from Finland, and my current roommate in Florida). The four of us ended up kicking around in the parking lot and talking for a while. What a great introduction to “the internationals” (the team’s label for our new European players before we got to know each of them).

A friend and former coach recently wrote to me asking about the preseason. He was curious about Pauliina.

“Is she technical or tactical or motivating?” he said.

As I replied, in the 10 free minutes I had in between showering after training and heading to a team meeting, I struggled with that one for a few seconds before explaining that she is all of the above. Every team in the W.P.S. has talent. But I have to believe that you’d be hard-pressed to find a group that is more thoroughly prepared by opening day than we are certain to be. We’ve met in depth about defensive strategies, attacking principles and analyzed film of our scrimmages; we’ve trained twice a day most days, doing drills that range from possession, to 1 v. 1s, to small-sided games, to speed and strength training, to finishing, to fitness; we’ve talked with the sports psychologist Tiffany Jones, done team building activities and even scaled a 12 foot wall as a group. And this was all within the first week and a half of preseason.

On Thursday, after training, lifting weights and having a team meeting, we changed quickly and headed off to race go-karts. As we drove the 45 minutes to the facility, Pauliina was definitely the most excited person — and the most competitive. I was picturing some sort of arcade-type place with a kiddie go-kart track out back. As we turned off the highway and onto smaller roads, (and my cell phone lost service) I soon realized that my preconception was pretty far off.

We arrived at the 1.1 mile track, out in some random, isolated grass pasture, with only the two guys who worked there waiting to welcome us. This place was intense. We had to wear full motorcycle-style helmets, neck braces, gloves and jackets (some of which had mysterious tears and burn marks). The go-karts we drove went up to 45 M.P.H. and we raced in groups of 10. Each race was 10 laps of the track. Daphne Koster seems to have been the team champ. Honorable mentions go to Natasha Kai (Tash) and Rick Stainton (our goalkeeper coach). Pauliina was pretty impressive, too. It was fun, but honestly a little too intense even for me. After dinner, we finally got back to the hotel with enough time to relax for a few minutes before bed. I’ve learned to treasure any free time, because we’ve been constantly on the go, making use of every possible hour to do some sort of team activity.

It’s time for me to get some sleep. We had two training sessions on Friday and then a game against Boston on Saturday. A couple things to leave you with before I go:

¶We beat Florida State University in a scrimmage, 5-0, and it was a very good starting point for our team. I think that we still have a lot of room for improvement, but it was important to get to know each other a little better on the field and be able to score some goals.

¶As a Barcelona fan, I have just 3 words: Is Messi human?

¶My sister, Shira, who plays at Stanford, shared with me something touching that she wrote after training on her own the other day, which I have written in my journal. I hope she does not mind that I’m sharing this: “I’m proud of myself … for every second I’m out here and for every second they’re not. For every second I’m laughing or crying or feeling great or feeling crappy. For every second I’m loving this sport and for the seconds I’m not. I will always be proud of myself. Because this is who I am. I work, I play, I laugh, I love, I bring joy and happiness and spirit. That’s why I’m proud.” I thought that was beautiful and very true to me as well, and that is one of many reasons why Shira is my best friend!

¶Follow me on Twitter! yael_skybluefc (as much as I claimed that I would never get into Twitter, I’ve gone back on my word).