A Little Traveling Music

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — When I listened to Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, address the students at Stanford University’s graduation this past summer, he urged his audience to focus less on what they want to be, and more on who they want to be. I believe that my greatest growth as a person has come from realizing what aspects have been conditioned through where and how I grew up. The moment you can identify why you see things as you do is the moment you gain the power to choose how you will see them from now on.

I was raised by ambitious parents, in a fast-paced New York City suburb. From age 9, I’ve had high aspirations and goals, and my drive is an innate part of my character. Living in Sweden has opened my eyes to how much value is placed on this individualized competitiveness in the United States compared to other cultures. While I love these aspects of myself and will never lose them, living in Europe has made me crave information about how other people view certain aspects of life.

With the statue of Grete Waitz outside Bislett Stadium in Oslo.

This may sound odd coming from a person who has been around the world, but I just realized a couple weeks ago that I love traveling. For almost as long as I can remember, the process was simply the means to an end — a somewhat stressful trip to an unfamiliar place, paired with the nerves and focus of competing. With a team for a short time, you never truly get to experience a new place. A day off for sightseeing makes for educational moments and quality photos, but it’s nowhere near the same as living in another country for an extended period.

Being in Sweden has helped me to separate certain parts of myself that are inherently American — my sense of urgency, individual drive and competitiveness, and views on cultural diversity. By default, I’ve acclimated to certain facets of Swedish life and fútbol. On the field, I have benefited from a system of play that is more team oriented and forgiving of mistakes. Outside of fútbol, I have gained an appreciation for quality of life over having and/or doing more. The aspects of this culture that I have adopted into my own have made me want to widen my perspective further. I want to see and play in more places, and experience how more people live.

I’ve found that wherever you are in the world, there are always friends. Whether it is somebody you already know that is there by chance, a connection of some sort through a mutual acquaintance, or just a friendly stranger, there are people with whom to connect.

This past week the team had two days off, so I decided to take a train to Norway on a mini-adventure. The trip only increased my appetite to travel, learn more and be exposed to different people. I know an American male player currently trying to find a team in Europe. I took the four-hour train ride to Oslo, and then a short ride to the smaller town of Lillestrom, where he is currently staying. His parents are from Nigeria, so after walking through the town, watching the women’s team train and learning a bit about what life is like in Norway, he cooked me a traditional Nigerian dinner. I like pretty much all food so I didn’t think much of it when he asked if I would like Nigerian food. I not only loved the food but enjoyed learning about how it is eaten in Nigeria and some primary differences between Nigerian, Norwegian and American cultural values. As I soaked in everything I was seeing, hearing and feeling, it was intoxicating.

Gothenburg's home field.

While in Norway, I also met up with a good family friend. My mom worked with Grete Waitz, the famous Norwegian marathon runner and former world record holder, for many years and became close with her. Grete, who won nine New York City Marathons during her career, died last year. I met her husband at the train station and he gave me a wonderful walking tour of Oslo. He and Grete both grew up there, so it was fascinating to hear his impression of how the city, and country, have changed over time. I also got to see a special sculpture in honor of Grete, that is outside of Oslo’s Bislett Stadium.

These experiences during my time away have brought my attention back to Cory Booker’s wise words at the Stanford graduation. I came to live and play in Sweden to bring me closer to my aspirations — what I want to be. But I plan to continue to focus on and invest heavily in who I want to be.

U-20 World Cup: A Glimpse Into the Future

U.S. players celebrate their U-20 World Cup win over Germany in Saturday's final.

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — I love watching athletes celebrate. It’s that moment of pure joy in accomplishment and extreme relief that the nerves, fatigue and struggle were worth it. Seeing these celebrations gives me chills every time. As the young American women ran to embrace — sweaty braids and ponytails swishing across their faces — they acknowledged the fact that together they had achieved the ultimate feat: being the best in the world at what they do.

I followed most of the women’s under-20 world championship on Twitter because of a busy schedule and iffy Wi-Fi. But the final was a must-see. Germany had defeated the United States handily in group play, and now it was time for a rematch.

After training, I went with Cami Levin, Anita Asante and Olivia Schough (a U23 Swedish national team player) to find a place to watch. Over cappuccinos, we shared thoughts on women’s soccer and the players involved in the game.

First half: Watching the teams walk out and begin the game brought back memories from my experiences with youth national teams. Steve Swanson, the U20 coach, was my U16 national team coach. I reflected on the feeling of being in some of my first camps — the nerves, and the anticipation of seeing what the best from around the country looked like. Then I thought of my experience with the U19 national team (it was changed to U20 the tournament after I participated) and going to the world championship in Thailand. We played Germany in the semifinal and lost, 3-1. I remember Anja Mittag, whom I just played against on Malmo, being very dangerous. We went on to beat Brazil, which featured Marta and Cristiane, 3-0, for the bronze medal. I didn’t get to play in either of those games, but I tried to remember what the level looked like, and my mind-set, when analyzing how this tournament might compare. That was in 2003, but I distinctly remember what it was like to first participate in a major FIFA event, and hope that I would one day do that again. My youth national team experience prepared me well in terms of what it’s like to travel with a team, face international competition and play with some of those who have gone on to represent the United States on the senior level, like Rachel Buehler, Stephanie Lopez (now Cox), Becky Sauerbrunn, Megan Rapinoe and Amy Rodriguez, who were all on that team with me in Thailand. I’m sure that many of the U20 players feel that their experience was just as valuable. Plus, they can call themselves world champions!

Winning play: I was very proud to see the University of North Carolina play a huge role in the win. In my opinion, Crystal Dunn was the game’s best player at right back. She was very solid defensively, and got forward many times, causing a lot of trouble for Germany’s left-sided players. She assisted the winning goal, with a good ball across to Kealia Ohai (another U.N.C. player). Bryane Heaberlin (U.N.C. as well) was wonderful in goal, displaying a lot of confidence and coming up with several important saves in the last few minutes.

Stoppage time: This game led me to believe that the future of women’s soccer is very promising. It’s easy for a championship game to dip in quality because of players’ nerves, especially with those who are relatively inexperienced at the international level. A handful of the German U20s have played with their full team, and a good number start for professional clubs. You could see their experience during stretches of the game, as they calmly executed the typical German style — impressive organization, perfect spacing and wonderfully timed counterattacks. The United States women also displayed a level of maturity, remaining disciplined on defense, and creating some good chances, as well as possessing the ball well once they won it. Over all, the quality of this game says a lot for what we can expect in the future.

This tournament increases my optimism that when these players are integrated into the senior team level, they will continue to push the women’s game to new heights. Congratulations to the women involved in the final game, and especially the Americans for bringing home the championship. It is always great when I can watch a women’s game and feel thoroughly entertained — and impressed — by the talent and level of play.

5 Things I Love About Playing In Sweden

Yael Averbuch in Sweden.

Two games doesn’t make me an expert. However, now that I’ve notched time with Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC, I do have a taste of the Swedish style of play and the Damallsvenskan (Swedish women’s league). Here are some observations of specific aspects of playing here that I love:

1. It’s awesome how many Americans are now playing for Swedish teams! There are four of us on my team alone. In my first game, it was great to see Lori Chalupny, who plays for AIK (but it wasn’t so great to see her causing havoc for us all over the field). On Wednesday, we face Ali Riley and Malmö in the Swedish Cup semifinal. We will face Kristianstad again, where Becky Edwards plays. On television the other night I caught the end of Tyresö playing Vittsjö, which is home to Kendall Fletcher, Danesha Adams, and Brittani Bock. And these are just some of the Americans sprinkled throughout the Damallsvenskan.

2. The goalkeepers, for the most part, play out of the back. Maybe only two or three times in our most recent game did our goalkeeper distribute long from her hands or a goal kick. I LOVE this. We start with possession of the ball every play and are able to build from the back, through the midfield, before going forward. Moreover, our goalkeeper, Kristin Hammarström, is phenomenal at distributing with her feet.

3. Some of the rules my team often follows while playing possession encourage great results that transfer into the games. If there are two defenders, they always have the aim of not only winning the ball, but connecting a pass with one another once they’ve done so. This way, the focus isn’t just on disrupting the play and kicking the ball out, but winning clean possession. Secondly, many times not only the player who makes a mistake, but the player who passed it to her, both become defenders. This emphasizes the importance and responsibility of setting your teammate up for success, rather than simply being concerned with getting the ball to another player. I can see these habits ingrained in the team’s style.

4. Following every game, an M.V.P. is chosen from each team and presented with flowers. I’m not sure who chooses the players to award, but it is not always someone who has scored goals or done something obviously spectacular. I can tell that the selections come from a broader understanding of who has had the best and most complete 90 minutes in her position.

5. From the end of 2009 until late 2011, I spent a lot of time in training camps being coached by Pia Sundhage, who was also a top Swedish player. During that time, I learned some wonderful things about the sport and the art of center midfield. At times, the progress I was making as a player—both mentally and physically—was overshadowed by the frustration I felt because I wasn’t able to break into Pia’s vision for the United States national women’s team. I’ve spent most of this past year observing the team from afar and dealing with my disappointment. But it dawned on me the other day in training that now I am finally seeing many things I learned from Pia being translated into my game. I spent hundreds of hours in camps thinking about and honing the elements of the game that Pia emphasized: changing the point of attack, feeling the rhythm of the game, changing one’s mind on the ball, making certain types of runs, dictating the tempo. She has a wonderful philosophy and view of the game. However, I was so focused on my lack of opportunity to show how I was learning and improving that I didn’t recognize the strides I was making as a player. Now I can finally incorporate these elements into my game. And it’s a wonderful feeling when certain areas from training finally “click.”

I am thousands of miles from the people I love, living in a foreign city, playing a sport I could be playing in other places in the world. On occasion I think: What am I doing here? Sometimes a question like that can be hard to answer. Not this time. For the first time in some years, I feel that I am playing in an environment where I am understood as a player. And that feeling alone is reason enough to be here.

U.S. Women Still No. 1. Can It Last?

Goalkeeper Hope Solo after the U.S. victory over Japan in the Olympic gold-medal game last Thursday.

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — The day before the Olympic final, as I warmed up with several of my new teammates in Sweden, I asked them who they thought would win the gold medal.

“I think the U.S.A. for sure.” “Yes, U.S.A. will win.”

The American women are considered a solid favorite in soccer minds around the world. Last Thursday, in front of more than 80,000 spectators at Wembley and millions more watching on television, they proved that despite the Japanese being crowned World Cup champions last summer, the Americans are No. 1. But can it last?

Those who watched the tournament saw a tough, relentless American team — a team that is deadly in the final third and organized in the back. They saw a team that is determined to win at all costs. But they also saw this team down two goals to a dynamic French attack. They saw a team not able to put away North Korea, and struggle for moments of the second half to maintain a 1-0 lead. They saw a greatly improved Canadian team go ahead against the U.S. not once, but three times. And anyone who watched the final saw a Japanese team that plays like no other women’s team in the world, working the ball from back to front and creating numerous quality chances.

The United States team returns home with a third consecutive gold medal — an impressive feat. There is, however, always more for which to strive. And there are three years until the next major tournament — the elusive World Cup in 2015 in Canada.


I am in Sweden, where women on Sweden’s U-19, U-23 and senior national teams train and compete week in and week out at a high level. As I have done, American female players are slowly dispersing throughout the world to play in leagues in soccer-mad countries such as Sweden, Germany, France, England and Japan. These women have a top-quality environment all year, some additionally competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Plans are in the works for a new professional league in the United States that will begin next year and include some former W.P.S. teams, as well as new ones. I fully believe that there can, and will, be a quality professional league in the United States, but this news brings some important questions.

¶ What exactly will the level be for the first couple of years?

¶ Will players who have found homes abroad return home?

¶ How many teams will compete in the league?

¶ Will it eventually be a year-round league like some of the leagues in Europe?

¶ Is it better for the development of some American players to venture to other countries and learn a new style, or to play together domestically?

The answers will shape not only the look of the United States women’s team for the 2015 World Cup, but likely the long-term trajectory of women’s soccer in the United States.

Without a doubt, we will continue to improve and produce quality young players. The real question is: can we remain solidly ahead of the development of some of the other countries?

It has been a longtime subject of discussion, but I still believe that during the next three years, we need to invest in these areas:


From my short stay in Gothenburg, I have been particularly impressed by the players’ passing technique — one touch, two touch, on the ground, in the air, a chipped pass, a driven pass. It is not only about getting the ball from point A to B. They understand the subtleties of the technique, such as putting the proper weight on a pass. Proficiency is about more than being able to perform advanced skills at a high tempo. It is about being able to do the basics as cleanly and efficiently as possible, as well as choosing the appropriate technique to use at any given moment.


As Americans, we are raised with the mentality to go at a team for 90 minutes and not let up. We are taught, through what is said outright and through what is encouraged, that getting to the goal as quickly as we can is best. This may still be effective for years to come, but eventually there will come a time and a situation when it is not. What will be vital for the American women of the future is to recognize how to manage the game. How can we keep the ball, control the rhythm of play, and then choose the moment to use our deadly speed and athleticism when it is most effective?

We have always had all the raw materials. Our country produces skilled players and phenomenal athletes. US Soccer, the sport’s national governing body, invests tremendous resources into the women’s program, and great support continues to come from those who build professional leagues. The women’s game is still evolving. Now is the time to more fully commit to developing and emphasizing the areas of the game to keep the United States on a course of improvement.

Perhaps it is not about having all the answers at this point. For now, we just need to be asking the right questions. We are No. 1. But how can we stay there?

At London Games, This Is Fútbol

The American women will face Canada in an Olympic semifinal Monday in Manchester, England.

It looked like any other fútbol game — thousands of chanting fans packed into a picturesque stadium. The constant roar of the crowd provided the soundtrack for a show, taking place below on the perfect green grass. When the camera panned the field, however, ponytails were in abundance (and, no, it was not Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Philippe Mexes, Martin Caceres and Ronaldinho kicking around).

At one end of Wembley, Kelly Smith drove a blistering full volley just wide of the post. Moments later, at the other end, Marta vehemently demanded a better ball from her outside back. The spectacle took place in front of 70,000 people in attendance.

It was fútbol. Not “women’s fútbol,” but fútbol. Women just happened to be playing it.

Gone are the days when three or four powerhouse women’s teams dominated the world stage. No longer can you bet on a semifinal round including most of the obvious contenders of the past — the U.S., Brazil, Germany, China. This Olympic tournament holds the possibility of surprises, emerging stars and conflicting styles of play.



Before the 2011 Women’s World Cup, I considered Brazil a strong contender to be the best team in the world. It has never been known for its organization or fitness, but it has some of the most talented players in the women’s game.

Among them, Marta, Cristiane and Formiga are capable of wreaking havoc on any team at a given moment. But that is what their players are: individuals. In the World Cup, Brazil’s lack of unity was its downfall. This Olympics has proven to be more of the same. Brazil’s elimination came at the hands of its antithesis in terms of style: Japan (less individually talented, but wonderfully organized and cooperative). Brazil will continue to produce talent — evident by the emergence of young players like Thais, who immediately caught my eye — but at this point, it appears that it has fallen off. It is scary to consider what more thorough preparation could produce from this group of women.


The French had a breakthrough tournament last summer. For the first time, they were included as a top team on the women’s side — displaying skill, organization and an interesting combination of methodical possession and free-flowing creativity.

In my eyes, this Olympics is a huge test. Has France established consistent quality, or was the World Cup a fluke? I think that the French have arrived. Despite a tough loss to the U.S., France was able to score two early goals against the Americans (a feat that few, if any, teams manage), which says a lot about its potency. Additionally, coming from behind against an organized and athletic Swedish team shows that the French women have a bit of grit in their approach. I do not think this French team is going anywhere but up.


Yes, it is technically a new team, although made up mostly of English players. And, yes, it is the host nation.

England did not qualify for the last Olympic tournament. For a long time, Kelly Smith was the only English player whose name could be used in the company of the world’s best. Now the team’s style and savvy throughout the lineup, and off the bench, have impressed me. The fact that Fara Williams, who I rate as a top midfielder in the world, cannot earn a starting spot in her squad, says enough. Britain’s team has depth and speed, and it moves the ball well. This tournament has added a huge confidence boost to that mix, which could be a catalyst for enormous future success.


With certain teams on the rise, and others on the decline or out of the picture for now, the United States has proved its staying power.

This team is always a strong contender for a gold medal, and I do not see that changing in the near future. I think there are areas of the game that the Americans must improve upon to stay at the top (playing through the midfield, varying the rhythm and sophistication in terms of managing a lead, to name a few), but this team has all the pieces: talent, athleticism, organization. The production rate of Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan has been deadly, and it looks as if the U.S. is destined for gold unless an opponent is able to shut down this striker twosome.

There has been a five-team turnover in the 12-team tournament from 2008 to 2012. Only one of the teams that won a medal in the 2008 Olympics (the U.S., that won gold) is still alive in this year’s tournament. This is proof of evolution. And with evolution comes progress.

This is fútbol. Women just happen to be playing it.

Next Stop, Sweden

It’s official. … … I will soon venture to Sweden to represent my new club, Goteborg F.C.! I will be joining some familiar faces, including the Americans Ingrid Wells, Christen Press and Cami Levin. I’ll also be reuniting with my former Sky Blue teammate Anita Asante. Thanks to my Google skills, below are some fun facts about my new club, city and Swedish women’s soccer. Learn and enjoy!

¶ The Swedish women’s league is called the Damallsvenskan (which translates to Ladies all-Swedish) and consists of 12 teams. It took me a few tries to pronounce that.

¶ The team’s official name is Kopparbergs/Goteborg F.C. because the Kapparbergs brewery sponsors the club.

¶ The team is currently ranked sixth in the Damallsvenskan and is yet to win the league. Maybe this season?!

¶ The league is currently on break and will resume mid-August. It goes until late November. So I will have four months to experience Swedish football and attempt to help the club climb to first place.

¶ Hope Solo played for Goteborg in 2004.

¶ The manager is Torbojorn Nilsson, considered one of the best Swedish footballers. He played in Sweden for IFK Goteborg, in Holland for PSV Eindhoven and in Germany for 1. FC Kaiserslautern.

¶ The city of Gothenburg (which is the rendering in English) is the second-largest city in Sweden and is located on the country’s West coast.

¶ You can visit the team’s Web site here. If you speak/read Swedish, great. If not, you can just look at the pictures like I did.

I will fly to Sweden on Aug. 6 and will be updating the blog with my many adventures on and off the field. I look forward to sharing what life is like in Goteborg, and my observations on the style of play. If you have any recommendations of things to do or see while in Sweden, please leave me a comment!

‘We Learn By Going Where We Have to Go’

This summer I was supposed to be playing for the Atlanta Beat in W.P.S. Last week I was supposed to be flying to London with the Olympic team.

I was supposed to start coaching once my playing career finished.

I was not supposed to be working at anything besides being a professional athlete.

I was definitely not supposed to be playing in the W-League, the same league I joined as a 14-year-old.

This summer I found myself traveling a route I had not programmed into my personal G.P.S.

But … I’m trying to follow the words of Theodore Roethke in the headline of this posting.


My Team

Playing for the New Jersey Wildcats of the W-League turned out to be exactly what I needed for my playing career.

I was able to play 90-minute games with relatively little pressure, and just play. There were several mental habits I had developed in the past couple of years that I needed to break. I realized after a game or two that every time any substitution was made, I would immediately assume it was going to be me. Sad, but true.

I had to untrain myself from the notion that if I made a mistake or two I would be taken off. I am actually proud of myself that I got used to trying things and being O.K. with messing up. I was able to mentally applaud my effort, as opposed to getting angry or frustrated with myself. I also got accustomed to not always playing one or two touch.

I worked a lot on facing up in the midfield, and doing more than I would usually do. I tried to take a lot of responsibility in the attack, and in doing so, scored often and had a good number of assists. While I’m ready to play at the professional level again, the Wildcats allowed me to take a step back in order to go forward.

My Job

I’ve always had the dream of one day starting a development academy. I like working with individual players and small groups who want to get better.

My focus is on technique and mastering the ball. Early in the summer, when I began training some players individually, I resented that I was out in the heat using my energy, and not doing my own training. I didn’t want to do what I considered work yet. But soon I realized I was learning while I taught.

I developed my own coaching methods that I will use in my academy one day. I came up with progressions to work on certain skills, and figured out ways of breaking down techniques to teach to various levels. I also enjoyed connecting with my students and making training fun for them. I was also often inspired as I attempted to inspire others.

I train an 8-year-old girl who is absolutely phenomenal. I saw the game through her eyes — the excitement of beginning her journey, the endless possibilities for the future, and the freshness with which she approaches her training. She helped me to reframe my thoughts and focus on just putting in the work, as opposed to worrying about results.

What’s Next?

I’m looking to play in Europe this fall. I am excited to play for a top team in a competitive league. Be on the lookout for an announcement about what club I will be joining! I’m hoping to know in the next week or so.

So, I took an unintended route. But in so doing, I realized that the trajectory of my life and career is supposed to be exactly as it is; not the way I planned it.

Euro 2012: The Volante Extraordinaire

Andrea Pirlo, right, and Mario Balotelli after Italy's loss to Spain in the Euro 2012 final last Sunday.

Suddenly, Andrea Pirlo, 33, is a household name and not only in Italy. His class as a player has always been recognized, but rarely has he gotten to be the star. When Pirlo ran the show for Italy against England, it got the public’s attention. But why now?

Pirlo’s dominance was so complete that he connected three times as many passes as any opposing English player. Truthfully, he was just doing what he does every game. But this time, when everyone else was frantic, when England struggled to keep the ball, and no Italian players made magnificent plays, there was Pirlo, doing it right all game long.

This is the plight of the holding midfielder. It is a position that often garners little glory, yet the team’s pulse rests in this player’s feet. In Portuguese, the position is called “volante,” the word for steering wheel. Euro 2012 brought to light something that I’ve often observed — seldom is the brilliance of the volante applauded and fully appreciated. As a holding midfielder when I play, I have a keen view of the position.

When we think of Spain’s dominant performance in the championship game, Xabi Alonso is likely not one of the first players to come to mind. But he, like Pirlo, deserves more credit. He consistently sets the stage for an entertaining and productive performance, but most times remains out of the spotlight. As the camera was focused on Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and David Silva, who at times pulled off stunning displays of fútbol, Xabi Alonso was a constant outlet. His passes were safe, allowing for his teammates to try something a bit more risky. His positioning was conservative, allowing others to make more daring runs.

Italian style -- on and off the field.Riccardo De Luca/Associated PressItalian style — on and off the field.

The volante is typically not a player with blazing speed, magical dribbling ability, or a charismatic playing personality. Most times he/she manages the game by making seemingly simple plays. I have inhabited this role on many occasions. A well-timed tackle or crisp pass can change the flow of the game in an instant. The position requires a unique skill set and some less tangible qualities than other spots on the field. An even temperament, and instinctive feel for the rhythm of the game are key. When does the team need a calming foot on the ball as opposed to an injection of energy?

It is rare that the holding midfielder is so dominant that he/she cannot be ignored. But behind the success of most spectacular teams is a puppeteer pulling the strings and supplying the ball to where it needs to be at the right time. This player may not produce the magic, but he/she allows it to happen.

So is it shocking that “past his prime” Pirlo ran more than 11½ kilometers (about 7 miles), more than any English player Italy played against? Only to those who never before considered what allowed Mario Balotelli to look dangerous or Claudio Marchisio to make dashing runs forward.

I saw Pirlo making himself available for every ball, covering the ground to link his players and putting in the work to flawlessly dictate the team’s pulse. It is way past time that he finally got the credit he deserves.

So next time you see a flashy Ferrari, or a team running on all cylinders, remember that it absolutely could not function without its steering wheel.

I Say ‘Thank You’

The national anthem is only roughly two minutes long. But before a game, sometimes it can feel like an eternity. It had been so long since I stood on the field with my hand on my heart, that I almost forgot my little routine. I put my hand on my heart, not only out of tradition and loyalty to the United States, but so I can feel the thump of my heartbeat. My heart is always pounding. This is how I know I’m meant to play this game. I summon the feelings of extreme gratitude. I say “thank you” for having something in my life that can make me feel so alive. I say “thank you” that I am healthy and able to step on the field. I say “thank you” for the opportunity to play the sport I love and express myself in the best way I know how, with the ball at my feet. I say “thank you” for my existence in this moment.

And I also remember the name Kelly Muldoon. I met Kelly my sophomore year at the University of North Carolina. She was 12 years old and had many of the goals I had at that age. But Kelly was sick, and unfortunately died not long after she shared in our 2006 season and N.C.A.A. championship, as she was rolled out onto the field in a wheelchair after our victory. I say “thank you” and I honor the memory of this girl who wanted nothing more than to be doing what I am so fortunate to be able to do.

As I stood on the field at DePaul High School in Wayne, N.J. for my first game for the New Jersey Wildcats, I remembered this ritual. I also remembered that my last W-League game was actually at DePaul, when I was 16. What a coincidence.

In four days, starting with that night at DePaul, I played three games for the Wildcats. This was all it took to remember why I love and am obsessed with this sport. I love the thrill of competition, of trying to use the skills and techniques I’ve practiced, and of just playing, making mistakes and trying to do better the next time, all without having to make up my own rules or workout. I enjoy and appreciate training — so much so that I had forgotten the full value of playing games. It took me a bit to get back into the swing of things, but not long before I felt that addicting excitement.

It was a bit of a mental struggle to realize that after nine summers, I was back in the same league, playing at the same local high school. I felt a moment of disappointment in myself for not having made it further in that time. But I then realized that I had hopped in the car for 20 minutes, stepped onto the field to do what I love, and my parents, boyfriend, former coach and friends were all in the stands watching. I have areas in which I want to improve, but also a feeling of mastery over certain aspects of the game that is very satisfying. this is my dream come true. I have high aspirations, but what more can I ask for than to play and be happy doing so?

W.P.S.: Gone, but Not Lost

When I read the official news today about W.P.S., I did not first think of the teams that folded, the issues that arose along the way, or the lawsuit with Dan Borislow. I thought of how fortunate I was to be a part of something successful — a league that was home to many of the best players in the world, where soccer was our full-time job. I feel sad that this opportunity is no longer available to me and other elite female players.

Although I had come to terms that there would be no 2012 W.P.S. season, and knew it was highly unlikely that the league would be back in its original form for 2013, these words hit me hard: “W.P.S. ‘Permanently Suspends’ Operations, Dissolves League.”

As a player who was fortunate to participate in the inaugural season of the league in 2009, I can’t help but feel a sense of ownership that I think is shared by others, especially those who played in all three years of the league’s existence. We vowed to do everything possible to “make it work.” And in that sense, I think that all of us involved feel a sense of failure.


But I differentiate between a “successful” and “sustainable” league. W.P.S. was not sustainable, but it was successful in many ways.

I remember receiving the call from Sky Blue letting me know that they were drafting me as their first-round draft pick. At that moment, I had achieved my dream of being a professional soccer player. I could play my sport, make a living, and do it in my home state.

The first year was quite an adventure. I played with and against women on the U.S. national team, international stars, and players who had been a part of the W.U.S.A. (the first women’s professional league). We traveled to Los Angeles and beat Marta and the L.A. Sol in the beautiful Home Depot Center to become W.P.S. champions. Two years later, I played in a sold out stadium in western New York for the Flash, in which extra seating had to be brought in to accommodate the fans. I got experience doing appearances with youth players, being interviewed by the news media, for radio shows, and TV segments.

It’s easy to assess the shortcomings and how each faction could have done better. We can place blame, but bottom line: it is extremely hard (if not next to impossible) to build a league from nothing, have individuals fronting large sums of money, and make it sustainable.

It’s natural for women’s teams to evolve out of male clubs (the model in most of Europe) and have the support of those multimillion dollar businesses. It’s natural for a professional league to be formed out of a semipro setup, where the teams who have the money can afford to pay the best players. The truth is, women’s soccer is not leaving this country. When I read the comments on Facebook and Twitter, it reminds me of what I already know: there is a dedicated fan base, dedicated team owners and dedicated players in this country. Maybe those entities could not sustain W.P.S., but women’s soccer will be here, just in a different form.

When I read the word “folded” it makes me cringe. I prefer to look at it as a clean slate. Yes, there were aspects of W.P.S. that were not ideal, but if we take from these past three years the positives, and move on with a smarter, more sustainable plan, then although Women’s Professional Soccer will not exist, women’s professional soccer will.

Just Put In the Work

  The problem with having goals is that they can zap your motivation as easily as they can feed it.

I studied psychology at the University of North Carolina, and over the years, I’ve developed an in-depth philosophy about my sport, my goals and my path toward achieving them. But after facing a series of disappointments and failures, and recently taking some time off, I felt lost.

One decision I made in high school is that I am O.K. putting myself out there, risking failure. I want to state my goals and pursue them with every ounce of my mental and physical energy. And I’m not afraid to ask for help along the way.

So, when it was mentioned in a mass e-mail I received that a sports psychologist was offering to speak to players, I called her immediately. I told her, “I’m not quite sure why exactly I called, but I just feel that I need help.”


The hour we spent on the phone was refreshing and enlightening. What she brought to my attention is that, although I’ve attained a high level and had a lot of success in many different ways, I’ve never been so far from my most immediate goals.

As a youth player, there was always an O.D.P. team I was trying to make, and my aim of playing for U.N.C. In college, I was constantly competing and trying to prove myself and improve my team. Straight from college, I had W.P.S. and was fighting for a spot on a professional team. Shortly after, I was called in with the national team and aiming to establish myself in that environment and make the World Cup team.

Right now, I’m out of the picture to make the Olympic team and I have no first division professional club to represent. I want to find a professional team where I am a starter and make the next World Cup team, but these are both long-term and abstract goals that are not fully within my control. As the sports psychologist pointed out, they are “outcome goals” as opposed to “process goals.” It’s important to have both. My lack of short-term process goals was leaving me feeling hopeless and unmotivated.

After our conversation, I immediately established some process goals. I always talk about loving the process and just for the sake of training (not solely as the means to reach an outcome), but despite all my talk, I had lost sight of embodying those principles.

This summer, I want to take joy in simply “putting in the work.” I am taking 100 shots a day — getting back to being dangerous in front of goal from all distances and angles, as well as free kicks. I’m also building up to a speed endurance workout that I used to do in the summers to prepare for U.N.C. preseason. It’s a series of 20-, 40-, 60-, 80-, and 100-yard sprints.

I am a firm believer that “success” comes from consistently doing the right things and enjoying each moment along the way. I feel that every day in my training and in how much I love the game, but sometimes it’s good to refocus and have a little reminder. My motto for the summer, which will be hanging on the wall in my room shortly, is “just put in the work.” I trust that the rest will follow.

Differing Schools of Thought, Differing Styles of Play

Rossiyanka, in white, and Montpellier players after their recent friendly match in France.

POTSDAM, Germany — Women’s soccer in the United States has always been at the top of the game. The most recent Women’s World Cup, however, showed that the women’s game is developing strong teams all over the world.

As an aspiring member of future World Cup and Olympic teams and advocate for the women’s game in general, it’s been interesting for me to see what soccer looks like across Europe. In a lot of ways, playing for Rossiyanka of Russia has been an information-gathering experience. I’m on a Russian team with French coaches, playing with other Americans, Brazilians, a Swede and South African. We have already played against Spanish and French clubs and we will face the German team, Potsdam, in Champions League.

Our time training in Barcelona, Spain, gave me insight into the coaching staff’s style and expectations, and also how my teammates play and what makes them special. We played against San Gabriel, a Spanish team currently in the middle of the first division, and won, 2-1. Then we traveled to France to play Montpellier (second place in France) and beat it, 1-0. We also have had friendlies against two other French teams (St. Etienne and Nord Allier).

I am an analytical person and player, so these experiences have provided me with more than only the opportunity to lace up my cleats and compete with and against women who speak another language. I’ve noticed a lot of differences between playing and training philosophies in the U.S. and in other countries.

I would like to think that I, and everyone reading this, have enough respect for the women’s game to acknowledge the variety of talents and expertise that exist throughout the world and realize that my commentary is a generalization.

In the U.S., we are taught to train and play at high intensity, at times sacrificing quality for quantity and intensity of work. I was shocked at how slow the game in Europe seemed at first. I thought, “Wow, these women are missing something.” But then I realized, they aren’t missing anything, they’re just approaching the puzzle from another point of view. It was especially apparent in Spain that the players are taught to play at a pace that ensures a large percentage of success in performing skills and techniques. If this means slowing the game down, so be it. It’s all about what is emphasized and encouraged.

Another difference I have noticed is a tactical one, based on the physical and technical makeup of the players. In the U.S., we have a large number of very athletic, talented individual players. We breed great 1v1 attacking and defending by encouraging those athletic qualities. In Europe, I have seen far fewer players with that type of skill-set. Instead, it is obvious players are encouraged to cooperate to find success, as opposed to the “do it yourself” attitude. This encourages a level of sophistication that I feel is sometimes lacking in American soccer. Obviously though, both are very necessary in comprising a great team.

I think that the countries that rise to the top of the women’s game in coming years will have to encompass all of these attributes at the world-class level. It will no longer be enough to display superior intensity, technical quality, tactical sophistication, or the will to win. In the U.S., we can add a bit of the sophistication and technique that sometimes is impossible to develop when you are always playing on your physical edge. And in Europe, things will inevitably click enough that players can add that physical dimension of “going all out” to a greater degree.

For several years, international stars went and played in Women’s Professional Soccer and took home a lot of insight into American soccer. Now, it’s my turn to go elsewhere and hopefully return home with ideas and tools to make myself and my country even better.

We are in Germany to play against Potsdam in the first leg of the quarterfinal round of Champions League on Wednesday. Then we will face them at home in Russia on March 21. I’m excited and nervous for Rossiyanka to finally put our preparation to the test! And I will continue to add to my library of soccer knowledge and experience.

Yanks Abroad: News From the Road

From left, Kia McNeill, Yael Averbuch and Leigh Ann Robinson: Rossiyanka's three American players in Barcelona, Spain.

BARCELONA, Spain — Here’s the breakdown of some of what has occurred since I left John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to fly to Moscow:

45 Hours we spent in Russia before flying to Spain, in which time the subsequent (rough) stats were recorded. …

11 Times that my fellow American players Kia McNeillLeigh Ann Robinsonand I agreed that there was no way we would be doing this if it weren’t for one another.

15 Hours in a van (which, thank goodness, had Wi-fi).

12 Doctors we saw, including having three magnetic resonance imaging scans each, two times getting blood drawn, two times being exposed from the waist up, 15 minutes on a treadmill for a VO2 max test, one X-ray and one gynecological (no, you did not read that incorrectly) checkup.

1.5 Liters of water we each had to drink during this time, including after the treadmill run.

4 Meals we ate.

McNeill preparing for her VO2 max test.McNeill preparing for her VO2 max test.

10 Hours of sleep each of us got in three nights.

Nonquantifiable The experience of traveling to Moscow to play professional soccer for Rossiyanka.

Whether it was the thermometer that Kia raised to her lips, only to be told it goes under her armpit for seven minutes, or the massage therapist wearing full scrubs to flush the lactic acid from our tired leg muscles, or Leigh Ann ordering root beer and the waiter bringing nonalcoholic beer, we have been exposed to many new experiences during our brief time in Europe. After the rigorous process of obtaining a Russian work permit and being cleared to play, we couldn’t have been happier to finally meet our teammates and lace up our boots. We are now in Barcelona, training with the team.

The team is coached by the former Olympique Lyon women’s coach, Farid Benstiti. Meetings and training sessions are held in English and then French, which is translated to Russian, while sometimes also being translated to Portuguese by one of the Brazilian players. We have only been here for a few days, but are already enjoying playing with our new teammates and working to prepare to face Potsdam in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal. We will be in Barcelona for 10 days, France for a week and then head to Germany for the game.

Immeasurable The excitement I feel to play games and see what European fútbol is like.

An Adventure Begins: On the Road Again, This Time to Russia

MOSCOW — I guess you really never know where your dreams will take you. Since I got the news that the Women’s Professional Soccer league in the United States had suspended operations for 2012, I’ve been searching for opportunities to play abroad. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had several leads, but nothing concrete. There are women’s leagues in Germany, Sweden, Norway, England, France, Spain, Iceland and other European countries, but closed transfer windows, full rosters and scheduling were making it extremely difficult to find a place to play in the coming months.

Then I heard back from a team in Russia. Rossiyanka will face the German team Potsdam in the next round of Women’s Champions League, which takes place in mid-March. I was enticed by the opportunity to play against one of the top women’s clubs in the world and potentially move on to the semifinal round of the competition. Never in my life did I think I would move to Russia to play soccer, but I agreed to go. Then on Friday I got a call that they needed me to fly to Moscow on Sunday. So I was off to Russia, with not much time to plan or reflect on the move, but a good feeling that it will open doors for me and be an important step in my process.

There were a few details to be squared away before I left to fly across the world to Krasnoarmeysk, which is outside Moscow. One was picking up my visa from the Russian Consulate in New York, which was not the easiest task since there are specific forms you need to fill out and specific times of the day you can go to have a visa processed or picked up. Then there are all the minutia to consider — exploring if/how I can use my phone overseas, ordering new cleats and enough gear to play in the the cold from Nike, picking up several prescriptions, notifying the players I have been coaching in technical sessions, and, oh yeah, packing … let’s just say my to-do list was monstrous.

Laying in bed the night before I flew out, I felt a lot more relaxed than when I first got the phone call. I am up for the adventure and excited to get to play games and experience a different playing and training environment than I am used to. I love doing my own training and playing pickup every morning in Clifton, N.J., but I’m ready to get out of training mode and be part of a team again. When I Googled the name of the club, all I found were the pictures and stories of the team playing in bikinis. I think things have changed a bit though (I hope so, LOL). There are four Brazilians, a Swedish player and now three Americans on the team … all wearing our clothes!

I feel fortunate that two other Americans will be making the trip with me to Russia: Kia McNeill and Leigh Ann Robinson. It certainly makes it easier to have friends to travel with. I have no idea what to expect, or even how long I’ll be gone. I do know that we will be taking a trip to Barcelona for some preparation training and friendlies!

More to come as I traverse the globe and experience club soccer on another continent. …

W.P.S.: Once Again, Hope Triumphs Over Despair

A few mornings ago, Nikki Krzysik, Rebecca Moros and I showed up to play pickup with a bunch of guys. We entered the indoor facility in Clifton, N.J., excited about our preparation for another professional season. We left heartbroken, feeling as if we had nothing to play for. In the instant I saw the e-mail that W.P.S. 2012 would not be taking place, my motivation was zapped. I had a lump in my throat. Even worse was seeing the faces of the two other women who were there with me. Our livelihood had been taken away from us all at once. What now? Who should I contact? Where can I play? What are my options?

Yes, I knew that the league was fragile, but my optimism made me sure that I’d be suiting up for the Atlanta Beat in a couple of months. On Jan. 30, I lay in bed, looking at the comments on Twitter and attempting to brainstorm my next move. I was emotionally drained. Distraught. Confused. Angry. Very angry. For about three hours.

Somehow, though, no matter how many knocks I take personally, or women’s soccer takes as a whole, I cannot help but feel an extraordinary amount of hope in the bigger picture. What kept popping into my mind, amidst some tears and the nagging urge to just let myself give up, was the “resume in 2013” part of what I had read.

There has been a lot of discussion about the resources that are lacking in order to make this league work as we had hoped. But maybe this year will be a good time to step back, assess, and consider the resources that we DO have. We have a very successful U.S. Women’s National Team, which is chasing an Olympic gold medal. We have marketable players who are known outside of the soccer world. We have five owners, and potentially more interested ones, who are committed to W.P.S. We have talented women training every day to compete for roster spots. We have families and young players hoping to be able to watch games and one day possibly participate themselves. This is what we DO have.

I don’t mean to diminish the hardship that this last-minute season suspension has caused many people. It is devastating that there will be no W.P.S. this year. Personally, I am now unemployed and scrambling to find playing opportunities abroad. But wouldn’t it be a shame to waste even one day hanging our heads when we can begin working toward making W.P.S. work in 2013? Maybe this year is a blessing in disguise — a time to step back, gather our resources, and realize just how important W.P.S. is to a lot of us. Let’s start preparing for the 2013 season now!

Where I Learned to Love the Game

From the outside it looks like a big warehouse. When you walk in, it smells of rubber, perspiration and shinguards. It’s noisy. The walkways and bleachers are old, cold and gray. But on the turf, magic happens.

Soccer balls are flying everywhere. There are colorful lights flashing. Techno music is often blasted over the speakers. Youngsters who can barely walk are playing their first game, while men well into their 60s are warming up to go onto the field next.

My iPod is loaded with songs that remind me of this place. My arsenal of soccer skills is full of techniques I learned and practiced there. My mind and heart are full of fond memories of this facility.

This is where I learned to love the game.

When I first stepped into the Armory in Teaneck, N.J., I was 13 years old. I was already serious about soccer, with the same lofty goals that still drive me today. But 12 winters ago I found the place that transformed this sport for me forever. What I experienced in the Armory made soccer so much more than simply a physical and mental exercise. I want to play at the highest level and I want to do so for as long as I am able. But because of my time at the Armory, I can safely say that I love the game as something beyond my career and my goals at this point.

“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” — Donald Miller from “Blue Like Jazz.”

Kazbek Tambi (Kaz as he is known), a member of the 1984 Olympic team and New York Cosmos, was the person who introduced me to the Armory and was my coach at the time. Every session there would be girls and guys of all ages and backgrounds. I learned nuances of the game, experienced how it feels when it “clicks,” and watched Kaz play and love the sport as if he were in the prime of his career. Before I met Kaz, I loved soccer as a pursuit and measure of personal achievement. He showed me how to love the game itself — the competition, the intrigue of learning to solve problems on the field and the camaraderie of what has become my soccer family.

There were winters when I’d be at the Armory every night of the week and then all day Saturday for a tournament. And Kaz would be there well before I arrived and would still be there after I left. He created the environment for us, but also for himself. The guys who would come to play with our high school-aged girls’ team weren’t getting paid to do so or training for anything in particular, although they are some of the best players I have ever played with and against. They just loved to play, and so when they got a call from Kaz, they would show up.

One night last week I got that call from Kaz. Some of the high school girls had training and he offered for me to jump in. It was not an opportunity for me to get fitter or sharper technically or to be challenged on the field. It was just a chance to play. As I opened the door to the Armory, the lights and noise and pure joy of soccer greeted me. This is where I learned to love the game.

Decisions, Decisions

I’ve played for many teams in my soccer career and won some significant championships, but it seems I’m still searching for my home. My first season as a pro was with Sky Blue, where we rose from a tumultuous beginning (and last place) to win the inaugural championship of Women’s Professional Soccer in 2009. During that season and the next, despite many ups and downs, I had wonderful teammates, and gained the experience necessary to become a member of the U.S. women’s national team pool.

Once my Sky Blue contract was up, I chose to join the Western N.Y. Flash expansion franchise. Our team was stacked last year, as they say, and propelled by the unstoppable twosome of Marta and Christine Sinclair. We rode the top of the standings all season, all the way to winning the league championship.

With two W.P.S. championships under my belt, and after spending some time reflecting on my first three seasons, I decided that despite this success, I needed a change, for personal development. I started to consider options in Europe. I was searching for an environment in which I felt more needed than I had in the past, and where I could get more 90-minute games, which are definitely at a premium in W.P.S. with so few teams and so many quality players. I explored, but didn’t feel incredibly enthused to move across the world at this point in my life. Additionally, the league was in crisis, and my work with helping to make sure it was in business for 2012 made me realize that my participation is important, especially in these early years when stability is a priority.

The five-team league narrowed my choices. I have only positive feedback to share about the environment in Western N.Y. It is a quality team with a dedicated organization and great training environment. Still, sometime change can be good.

I spoke to James Galanis, coach of the Atlanta Beat and left the conversation feeling really inspired, in a different way than I had in the recent past. Coach Galanis talked to me about an environment where if I show up every day, work hard, and bring the tools I have to offer to the best of my ability, I will be an important part of the team. I was sold. I’ve never been afraid of challenges or fighting for my spot, but it’s nice to know that I can simply be the “best me,” and have faith the rest will fall into place. I am excited about the prospect of having a new “home,” and a coach to help me reach my potential

In a couple months, I will embark on a new adventure. I am extremely excited to play for Coach Galanis and with the group of players the Atlanta Beat has assembled. It surprises me sometimes how after all these years, all the challenges I’ve faced, and all the times I’ve “failed” as well as succeeded, that I can get this excited about a new situation and a new chance to play the game I love. It’s something really special to me — to enter a situation with the experience of a veteran but the enthusiasm of a young (or younger!) player.

A New Year, a New Perspective

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — I don’t make specific New Year’s resolutions because I always have goals. Something that I began to think about as 2012 approached, though, is what my expectation is for the coming year. Then I read this quotation: “Expectation indicates the juncture between where you are and where you want to be.”Abraham-Hicks Publications

My goal is to begin to eradicate that juncture — to have no expectations in the way that I have had them in the past. I am in the midst of an interesting personal paradox. When I look at my long-term goals and where I would like my soccer career to be as a 25-year-old, I realize that I have repeatedly not met my personal expectations. However, the more I play train, and strive for these goals, the more I have developed faith in the person and player I am, as opposed to the person and player I strive to be.

I’ve come to accept that I do not control certain aspects of my journey. I am a “planner,” in every sense of the word, but I cannot plan my career much beyond each day of training. At times, my expectation — that juncture between where I am and where I want to be — has caused me stress and frustration. I hope to eliminate that expectation and only expect of myself what I know I can, and will, do. I will do my best every single day. I will push myself to be better than I am at this very moment. I will plan for success, but experience whatever may come my way with grace and gratitude. This part of my career I can plan, and can feel good about no matter what.

So for 2012, I have no expectations; only inspiration to continue on my journey to play and share the game I love in the best way I know how. And I’m excited that I have a W.P.S. season to look forward to!

On that note, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the comments on my last blog (and the feedback via Twitter) about W.P.S. It produced a great discussion on how best to keep the league alive and viable. For those of you who have said, “How can I help?” or “Where can I send money?” there’s a simple answer: buy season tickets. Pick a team, even if you don’t live in the area, and support that team by buying tickets. If there is no W.P.S. franchise in your area (yet), give the tickets away as a gift, donate them to a charity in the area, or even donate them back to the team to auction off. This is something tangible that every supporter of W.P.S. can do. I am personally committed to doing everything in my power to insure that this league will be around for years to come.

I wish my readers a very Happy New Year. May each and every one of you be inspired and motivated to attain your dreams, yet at the same time find peace and happiness in who you are at this moment!

Trying to Save W.P.S.: A Player's Perspective

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — “When W.U.S.A. folded, one of the worst things I continued to hear was that it was too bad they [the general public] didn’t know more about it.” When I read that in an e-mail from a fellow W.P.S. player, I was moved to do my part. If you don’t already know, W.P.S., Women’s Professional Soccer, may not exist in 2012.

This, as I understand it, is the situation: On Nov. 20, US Soccer met to decide whether W.P.S. would be continue to be sanctioned as a professional league. The federation has established basic standards for a league to be considered professional, and this past season W.P.S. did not meet several of these standards. There must be no fewer than eight teams, and they must span more than one time zone — two stipulations for which W.P.S. was granted an exception. US Soccer has given W.P.S. 15 days to secure another franchise, meaning the league would again consist of six teams, still technically below the standard. But this has put W.P.S. in a bind. A bind that could potentially threaten the league’s existence.

There are a group of players (myself included) who have been involved since the inception of the league in 2009. We are closely tied to its success and struggles, and have had discussion after discussion about how W.P.S. is faring and what we can do personally to insure its survival and success.

I like to think that I have a fairly realistic view of the state of women’s soccer in the U.S. I am fully aware that it is likely never going to be a huge money-maker, filling large stadiums and securing tons of corporate sponsors. I have, however, seen extra seating brought into Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester to accommodate more than 14,000 fans for a Western New York Flash game, with others unable to get tickets.

I have seen families gathered around the U.S. women’s national team training field in Scottsdale, Ariz., eagerly hoping to get an autograph. I’ve seen girls screaming as if they were at a Backstreet Boys concert for the chance to meet Abby Wambach or Alex Morgan. I’ve seen Hope Solo, on “Dancing With the Stars,” transcend her role as an athlete and become a celebrity. I’ve seen fans jumping up and down, almost at the point of tears, because I gave them my used, sweaty shinguards after the W.P.S. final this past season. These things tell me that there is hope, and a lot of it.

I whole-heartedly believe that there is a market for women’s soccer in this country. No, it is not going to be a multi-million-dollar-making endeavor. And it will not happen quickly or easily. But the raw materials are there. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t feel so strongly about making it work.

No Longer Merely a Fair-Weather Fan

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — I woke up to my alarm, put on my Juventus jersey, and headed downstairs to the living room Sunday morning. It wasn’t a major championship, no one I knew personally was playing, but as I turned on Fox Soccer, I felt nervous in anticipation of the outcome.

I’ve always been a fan, but never truly supported a team. I am a fan of the sport, of particular styles of play, of individual players, but as I watched my boyfriend agonize over Juve’s failures last season and saw him celebrate their goals as if he had scored himself, I realized that maybe there’s a part of this sport that I have yet to explore.

I remember when I first started watching soccer with my dad. My coach at the time told us that it was helpful to watch games on TV, so of course, we made a point to do that whenever we could. We didn’t know much, and this was before DVRs, so we watched whatever game was on.

Over the years, I got to know all the major players, got a subscription to FourFourTwo magazine, and spent a lot of time (mostly during class) watching highlights. I used to memorize the names of the players on Man U because one of my youth coaches was a die-hard fan. I had a calendar of Real Madrid when Roberto Carlos and Zidane suited up for it. I have an old Arsenal uniform, an Inter hat and shirt (sorry Juventini, it was before I knew any better!), a really old-school Chelsea jersey, and some other random team memorabilia that I somehow acquired over the years.

I absolutely love the way Barça plays and moves the ball, but my support is for their personnel and playing style. I have not followed the club through its ups and downs, and who knows whether I will watch them once Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are long gone.

I started watching Juventus toward the end of last season. Initially, I wanted it to succeed mainly so my boyfriend wouldn’t be in a bad mood for the rest of the day. I watched in hope of falling in love with a skillful, creative team, that was just an underrated version of Barça. But it was nothing like that. I saw a group that was noticeably struggling. Despite momentary sparks from wing Milos Krasic (one of the first Juve players I could identify on the field because of his blond hair and distinctive style) and the important late addition of striker Alessandro Matri, I didn’t see much that I felt was worthy of my support.

But what I soon realized is what it means to really support a club. As I learned more about the history of Juve, saw the pride of its supporters, and watched the team unveil its new stadium, I couldn’t help but want success for the Old Lady, as it is called.

Jonathan Moscrop/PRESL, via Associated PressAntonio Conte is the new manager of Juventus of Italy’s Serie A.

I like the new manager, Antonio Conte, and the changes he’s made this season. Andrea Pirlo is now one of my favorite players and has a style I aim to emulate. I admire the work-rate of right back Stephan Lichtsteiner. And I actually get kind of emotional when Alessandro Del Piero (the club’s career leading scorer and most capped player) takes the field. I am far from a Juve expert, and wouldn’t dare yet say “we” in reference to the team, but I watch every game and my support is growing.

It is easy to watch Barça and know that they will do well and it will be an enjoyable viewing experience. I will always appreciate beautiful fútbol. But there’s something to be said for being more than just a fair weather fan. I’ve watched Juve begin a transformation back to the Italian powerhouse they historically have been. And I will probably need to get rid of my Inter gear next time I’m home.