#ChasingAbby: When Even the Flashiest of Boots are Overshadowed by Greatness

In the locker room we joked about Abby Wambach’s boots—a pair of flashy yellow NIKE Vapors. Tobin Heath even tried them on, looking ridiculous with the combination of the bright color and Abby’s much-bigger shoe size. Little did we know that those boots were about to make history by breaking Mia Hamm’s all-time international goal-scoring record. #ChasingMia became #ChasingAbby within 45 minutes of magical action in front of nearly 20,000 fans at Red Bull Arena.

A fairly ordinary international friendly was suddenly transformed into something incredibly special. The pitch became hallowed ground. The match ball was instantaneously turned into a valuable artifact. And the simple act of sitting on the bench (which is usually more relaxed during first-half action) was suddenly teeming with anxious excitement. Team press officer Aaron Heifetz came to us after Abby’s second goal of the night and told us that if she broke the record we could rush the field. Suddenly spectating became especially involved and even stressful. Were we actually allowed to do this? How best to quickly get off the upper level of the bench and onto the field? Every time it was our turn to do a few warm-up jogs on the end line opposite where we were attacking, Christen Press and I were silently begging Abby not to choose that moment to make history (we would have had 120 yards to run and most likely would miss out on the celebration). Even wearing the U.S. crest on that night at home in New Jersey, which I thought could not have possibly been any more meaningful to me, took on new significance.

Abby’s stature and demeanor alone make her the perfect hero in the world of women’s sports. But getting to know her over the last few years, I’ve realized that it is much more than that. She is humble, but not so much so that she fails to acknowledge how special her accomplishments are. She is proud of being great, but also the first to acknowledge her teammates and make the night about more than herself.

It was surreal to be involved in this moment in soccer and sports history. And getting to sub into the game, which was of utmost importance to me, was suddenly just a minor bonus. Being part of the U.S. National Team is always an honor, but that night at Red Bull Arena will forever be etched in my memory as much more than what will be written in the record books.

The Beautiful Game From a Different Perspective

Andreas Gebert/European Pressphoto Agency

Bayern Munich players celebrated after win the UEFA Champions League title in London on May 25.

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — When I was 10, I remember a mentor telling me and my father how important it is to watch soccer games.

A family friend from England gave me a gray and orange Chelsea jersey with a collar, but as far as I knew, Chelsea was only the name of a girl in my class. The World Cup was the reason we couldn't watch any good TV shows when we visited Europe in 1994. And Maradona referred only to a strange spin move I worked to master.

I remember trying to enjoy watching the few games my dad and I could find on TV. The commentators' strong Italian pronunciation of "Parmaaa versus Rooooma" was much more entertaining than the action on the field. Even by 1998 I'm ashamed to say we still had little knowledge of the game. Everyone knew that Brazil was "the soccer country," so I remember being shocked when at my team's tournament we found out that some guy on France had scored twice to defeat Brazil in the World Cup final.

Little did I know that years later, watching video clips of that same French player (Zinédine Zidane) would be my equivalent of listening to a symphony composed by Mozart. I couldn’t have imagined that I would be staying up until crazy hours of the night to watch the 2002 World Cup games from Japan and South Korea. Or that I would travel through Europe, seeking out some of the storied arenas that at one time I viewed as simply housing a game with which a world of foreigners was so strangely obsessed.

The world’s love for the beautiful game has slowly infiltrated my being over the years. I have to admit, I am not good at supporting a club. It’s unnatural for me to place my allegiance with a group to whom I am not personally affiliated. Nonetheless, I have become passionate about the game in my own way.

I didn’t care much who won this year’s Champions League finals — women’s or men’s. But there is no way I would miss a minute of either. I marveled at how far the women’s game has come and continues to improve as I watched Lyon, the clear favorite, be upset by a first-timer in the competition, the German team, Wolfsburg. I was impressed by the quality of play and the way Wolfsburg fearlessly matched up with a team that is, on paper, clearly superior.

And then, only a few days later, I was awed by one of the best games I have ever watched, between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Rarely have I seen a championship match played with such an aggressive approach by both sides. I usually watch games quietly, but the end-to-end action and acrobatics from both goalkeepers actually made me yell out at times. Watching teams celebrate always gives me the chills.

As I saw Bayern Munich raise the trophy, I experienced a feeling that the 10-year-old me could not have imagined. It wasn’t only my admiration of the game being played at such an amazing speed and level of proficiency. Watching the game was about much more than studying the players in my position or analyzing the tactics. Watching the beautiful game fosters the wonderful connection of a shared passion.

My Typical Day in Sweden

 “And after a time you may recognize that the proper measure of success is not how much you’ve closed the distance to some far-off goal but the quality of what you’ve done today.” — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — This past week my parents came to visit me in Sweden for the first time. I showed them around the city of Gothenburg. My typical daily activities, that have started to seem mundane to me, were novel for them. They reminded me to be proud of this adventure and take pleasure in the life I’ve created here.

We are often told to look at the bigger picture. But sometimes it is all too easy to get caught up in that and to measure our success by how much you’ve closed the distance to some far-off goal.

As my parents asked me questions about the public transportation system, sat and observed every minute of my training sessions and thoroughly enjoyed lounging in each coffee shop we sampled, they brought me back to the moment. They reminded me that what I do every day is unique and extremely valuable.

Photographs by Yael Averbuch

We’re Tramming Riding the bike that the club gave me lasted about three weeks before I discovered the tram system. The above-ground public transportation appealed to me much more than biking the 25 minutes each way to training and back, and my quads thanked me. Anita Asante, Cami Levin and I each have a one-bedroom apartment in the same building complex, so we catch the tram together and then walk to our stadium, where we train and play games. The trip takes about 20 minutes.

Gear Corner My boots, turf shoes and all my training gear are left in the locker room.

It is washed for us each day and left by our locker area. When we arrive on game day our jerseys are hanging for us, and the rest of our uniform is laying out in our spot.

The only thing I really need to bring to training with me is a water bottle, which is easy to refill since the tap water here is so delicious!

The Stadium Our stadium field is turf, so most days I train in turf shoes. For games, I always wear regular molded studs. A typical training session includes a brief warm-up on our own; what the Swedes call “kvadde” (short for the word for square, kvadrat), small possession games with a variety of numbers and grid sizes/dimensions; and tempo spel (tempo play), which is small-sided and simulates game intensity.

My Mates The foreign players, like, from left, Cami Levin, me and Anita Asante, on the team have a unique problem most days: we have too much free time to fill! Often, we spend hours at coffee shops, which has become our primary pastime. Recently, we’ve made some friends outside the team, so we are expanding our horizons, but a typical, nonrainy day here includes a lot of walking and a lot of fika (chatting over coffee and snacks).

I often wonder if I’m in the right place and doing the right thing — for my personal life, development as a player and chance of earning a spot on the United States women’s national team. My parents’ visit renewed my faith that I am. But I must let go of constantly evaluating my decisions and how quickly they will bring me closer to a certain destination. My life is in the journey, and success stems from the quality of what I’ve done today.

Some Rest for the Weary

As I lounged on the couch, all I could think was: If I don’t do my hamstring exercises, they will be sosore when I start back up. And my quads … they’re going to kill me after I do a shooting session. At the end of my time in Russia I decided that I needed a break — both mentally and physically — from challenging myself in training, searching for playing opportunities, and pushing toward my goals. I knew that I needed it, but actually carrying through is a different story.

Since the time I began playing somewhat seriously (when I was 9 or 10), I have never given myself a break. In college, one spring season I had to sit out for two months with a stress fracture, but I swam vigorously, lifted weights and did a lot to insure that I could jump right back into playing the second I was cleared. Besides that time, I have maybe only gone for two or three days in a row without touching a soccer ball, and even during those times, I would feel eager to get back into it.

So, while time off sounds nice in theory, it’s never been something I’ve wanted. But now I need it. And this may be one of the few times in my career when I have the luxury to take it.


Immediately after my return from Europe, I began my “rest.” But while out on a run with my dad, after I had juggled and kicked around for about 45 minutes, it dawned on me that this was not rest. Yes, I had scaled back my regimen significantly, but I still felt pressure to do certain things to make sure I didn’t lose fitness, lose my touch, or miss out on strengthening exercises. This was defeating the purpose of my plan.

I was being motivated by habit and fear of regression, rather than by inspiration to progress. I am extremely driven and for years have been pushing my body to its limits and enduring a lot of emotional stress by setting goals, risking failure and making tough decisions to chase my dreams. But this year I’ve hit a point where I feel exhausted mentally. It got tiring to often coach myself, create my own training sessions, make difficult decisions regarding my career and face some big disappointments. I think that a break will help me to refresh and refocus so that I can be excited by my journey once again.

Now, I’m taking a few weeks of actual rest. I am not training. I am not searching for teams overseas. I am not setting goals or making plans. Yes, I still sometimes get up off the couch and do a few leg exercises because I’m pycho, and sometimes while I’m driving or laying in bed I feel that burning desire to be the absolute best at what I do, but I realize that this time “doing nothing” is what I need to bring me closer to where I want to be. I am fully assured that when I get back into the swing of things I will be revived, empowered and inspired to reach a new level.

This summer, I’m going to play for the New Jersey Wildcats of the W-League. I plan to take another week off and then start to slowly ease back into training.

These couple weeks away from the game (excluding the fútbol I watch on TV) haven’t been easy. At times it puts me in a bad mood and I have a feeling of worthlessness because I am missing the part of my life that so often has provided me with purpose. But, over all, I am enjoying being a normal person for a bit, and the fact that I can enjoy that just shows me how much I really needed this. As much as it goes against the grain of my personality, it’s nice to be lazy for this one time in my life … I could get used to this!

The Mental Game

The Kopparbergs/Göteborg team that won the Swedish Supercup in a penalty-kick shootout.
The Kopparbergs/Göteborg team that won the Swedish Supercup in a penalty-kick shootout.

We lose ourselves in the things we love. We find ourselves there, too. — Kristin Martz

For people who are passionate about something in life (and I believe that everyone, in some way is), the quotation above will hold great truth. What I do every day as my job is about so much more than the physical action.

As a professional soccer player, I repeat techniques until they are habitual, spend time in the gym working on strength and balance to prevent injury, and condition my body to withstand 90-plus minutes of intense competition. But I continually realize that it is equally important to train my mind. A successful, enjoyable performance can only happen when the mind and body are both working to their greatest potential.

Consistent Confidence Consistency on the field is largely because of remaining level-headed, whether as a team or as an individual. My identity is tied closely to how I feel about my performance. I realize that I am sensitive to changes in my confidence and this is something to which I’ve had to pay close attention. I easily get euphoric or down on myself, caused by what can be a matter of a simple detail that I’ve (sometimes wrongly) read into. Managing the mental highs and lows is an ongoing struggle. I’ve learned to use specific moments to break up my mood and bring myself back to equilibrium.

For example, when my team, Kopparbergs/Göteborg, won the Swedish Supercup on penalties, I felt extremely proud and accomplished. But early the next morning, a new challenge lay ahead as I traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, to meet the United States women’s national team. I allowed myself to relish the victory until I went to sleep the night after the game and then promised myself I would refocus and prepare for the next challenge. Conversely, I usually have a session or two every training camp with the national team in which, for whatever reason, I feel down or frustrated with how I’ve done. That’s completely natural. No one in that environment is at her best every single session. It’s so easy to allow a bad day to begin a downward mental spiral. Sometimes something as simple as me reading into the teams that Coach Tom Sermanni makes for training can cause a blow to my confidence. I now know myself well enough to try to manage that feeling. I’ll tell myself, “The first time you touch the ball, let that negative feeling be erased from your mind.” Or after a bad session, “You may dwell on it until you get out of the shower, then move on.”

Maintaining Energy and Motivation In the last couple of months I’ve had some important games with the national team, competed in thequarterfinals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League and played in the Swedish Supercup final against powerhouse Tyreso (home to Americans Christen Press and Meghan Klingenberg, and the international stars Marta,Verónica Boquete and Caroline Seger).

It’s easy to be motivated for those games. They are the kind of situations in which you feel short of breath and your heart pounding in your chest before you even begin to run. Now we are about to delve into the Damallsvenskan(Swedish women’s league) regular season. The first couple of games will likely naturally breed the same excitement and nerves, but after that, motivation takes a bit more work. Game day always feels special, but it will take extra focus to remain sharp while facing a weaker team or in daily training sessions that at times can be repetitive.

Treating Yourself Like You Would Treat Others You’ve likely often heard the phrase, “treat others how you’d like to be treated.” Well, I’ve developed this concept in reverse. I try to treat my performance in the same way I would treat a teammate’s. This often means being particularly forgiving of my mistakes. The environments in which I played for many years held me to a high standard, so it’s interesting playing in a place where I have minimal feedback and I can’t understand what the coach is yelling from the sideline. It’s difficult to find the balance between holding myself to that high standard and also being forgiving and relaxed about trying new things. My rule of thumb is to only harbor thoughts of my performance that I would express to teammates about theirs. If my teammate had a rough day I would never say, “You suck! How could you play that badly?” I would encourage her to let it go and let her know that she can do better next time.

This sport has inspired, confounded, and obsessed me for years. I continually lose myself in its tumult. As I mature as a player, I find myself within this mayhem and am grateful for the challenge to constantly be able to reinvent myself as a player and a person.

5 Female Players I Want(ed) on My Team

A while ago, I made a mental list of players I would like to call teammates at some point in my career. You can watch a player play many times, you can play against that player, but there are things you cannot know or learn about them until you train and play with that player day in and day out. I want to know what makes all of the female soccer greats special. I want to know the nuances they have mastered, what their weaknesses are and what their mind-set is for training and games. Here is my Top 5 (in no particular order):



Obvious choice. Anyone who knows anything about women’s soccer has watched the Brazilian phenom play, and I think most would agree that she is the best in the world. Marta has capabilities unlike any other female player and causes a threat that can never be ignored by an opposition’s defense. I was able to check off Marta from my list of players to play with when we were W.P.S. teammates in 2011 on the Western New York Flash.

What I learned: I gained a lot of respect for her work rate, even in training. What sets Marta apart, in my opinion, is her speed and agility, and her ability to use those factors effectively with the ball at her feet.

Homare Sawa

Homare Sawa

I have never played with a Japanese player, and I have huge respect for Japanese soccer and the style of play they are developing. Sawa is a leader of this soccer culture and an experienced player.

I have played against her in W.P.S., but would love to be teammates and learn what little things she does that make her special and so consistent.

I hope that Sawa does not retire before I get the opportunity to step on the field with her, but if she does, I hope to get the chance to play with some of the up-and-coming Japanese stars.


Kelly Smith

Kelly Smith

This is another player who I’ve played against multiple times and have watched play over the years. Smith is one of the most talented attacking players I have seen. She is a wonderful finisher, and also skillful and smart about the game. I doubt I will get the chance to call her a teammate before the end of her career, and I regret that, because I think her talents are unique and I would love to be able to learn from what she does.



If my list extended past five players, there would definitely be more Brazilians on it, but I had to include Cristiane in my Top 5. I have never seen a female player do things with the ball the way she does. She has something special. The game seems so natural for her, and she is able to beat multiple players on the dribble, most of the time pulling off highlight reel type moves. I had the chance to play with Cristiane on Rossiyanka in Russia and my opinion was verified.

What I learned: Cristiane’s dribbling ability is like no other woman’s I have seen (the only close comparison I can think of is Casey Nogueira, a former teammate of mine at the University of North Carolina). Cristiane is able to shift her balance and wrong-foot defenders extremely well. She also has the explosiveness to get past players and is a great finisher. On top of that, she is funny and a fun teammate!

Christine Sinclair

Christine Sinclair

Here is another world-class attacker whose stats and reputation at all levels (college, professional, international) are incredibly impressive. I have to admit, I had much less information on Sinclair’s abilities than the others on my list until I played with her on the Western New York Flash in 2011. She and Marta were unstoppable together.

What I learned: Sinc, as we call her, is a well-rounded attacking player, which is what helps to make her such a threat. She has the physical qualities necessary to be dangerous — speed, strength, height — but so much more. Her timing and finishing ability are possibly the best I have seen. For this reason, it is hard to deny her scoring chances, and when she gets a chance, she is always composed and makes the most of it.

Sonia Bompastor

Sonia Bompastor

I cheated on the Top 5 and added a sixth! I think that I would enjoy playing with a lot of the French players. Bompastor was an opponent of mine in W.P.S., and she has established herself as possibly the best outside back in the world. She is skillful and tactically smart. She would often deliver dangerous crosses and create trouble for the teams I was on when we faced her, but that is about the extent of my insight on her. Hopefully one day I can learn more.

The more the women’s game develops, the more great players have emerged, with varying styles and skill sets. I hope that for every player I can check off my list as having played with, I can eventually add a couple more. And hopefully one day I will be on someone’s Top 5 list!

Do you think I missed anyone? Please leave your comments below.


A Bus Ride, With Donuts

 DEN HAAG, the Netherlands — The alarm always seems to go off much too early the morning after a game.

Whether I’ve played or not, it’s always hard to fall asleep after a game, and the alarm usually interrupts me in the middle of a dream. I’m convinced that I’m more tired after a game in which I don’t play than after 90+ minutes on the field.

I didn’t play in the United States women’s national team’s 3-3 draw in a friendly with Germany last Friday, but the focus and mental energy I expended watching and preparing in case I was called upon left me as drained as if I were participating in the end-to-end battle.

The morning after the game, my roommate, Crystal Dunn (a fellow North Carolina Tar Heel), and I rolled out of bed and headed to fill out our daily physical monitoring form. Every morning we track our hydration, resting heart rate, weight and how sore/tired we feel. The morning after the game my body was in good shape (although the players who didn’t play much did a short training session after, so I wasn’t completely fresh). All of my data was pretty typical but I indicated that I was “sleepy tired.”

After breakfast, we were on our own to do a recovery session. There was a gym available and a pool, as well as a yoga instructor who was brought in to lead a 30-minute practice. I usually take advantage of the yoga offered, but this time it was a bit different. The instructor was hilarious and did an offbeat (understatement) yoga session in which we tried all kinds of different handstand-type poses with the help of a partner. It wasn’t at all the relaxation and stretching that I was expecting, but mentally and emotionally it was absolutely perfect. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time, especially when the instructor demonstrated a pose with Kelley O’Hara that looked like something from the Kama Sutra. …

After lunch it was time to pack and load up the bus for the drive to Den Haag for our second friendly of this trip. Paul Rogers, the goalkeeper coach, was nice enough to make a Dunkin’ Donuts (who knew they had one in Frankfurt, Germany) run for the team. The bus ride was awesome for about 10 minutes while we scarfed down our donuts, but the fun didn’t last long. We were told the ride would be four-and-a-half hours. A little more than six hours later, we pulled up at our hotel.

The first order of business was to get into our rooms, but almost more important was how to access the WiFi. On the road, WiFi is the only way most of us can be in touch with the outside world. So it is a valuable commodity on trips abroad.

After a long day of travel, we were finally able to have some dinner, get our feet up, and relax. We will face the Netherlands on April 9 and then hit the road once more to rejoin our club teams. Life on the field with the national team is intense, but the days in between are full of laughs, spending time with teammates, and sometimes (on a good day) donuts!

What Now?

Goalkeeper Elvira Todua during Rossiyanka's second-leg loss to Potsdam in the UEFA Women's Champions League in Moscow on March 20.F.C. RossiyankaGoalkeeper Elvira Todua, right, during Rossiyanka’s second-leg loss to Potsdam in the UEFA Women’s Champions League in Moscow on March 20.

“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now, and now is right on time.” ― Asha Tyson

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — My most recent mental struggle has been to accept the above concept in full. I love the sport I play, but women’s soccer is a tough career path. There is a lot of uncertainty and it seems that too often I’ve been faced with the question: What now?

After the 2011 Women’s Professional Soccer season ended …what now? After I decided to play with the Atlanta Beat and then received the news that there would be no W.P.S. in 2012 … what now? After spending a month in Europe with Russian club Rossiyanka … what now?

So, what now? I’ve decided to use the summer to regroup, mentally and physically, and slowly work to answer this question. In the past, there have been deadlines on my decisions. I was especially rushed in my decision to head to Moscow to join Rossiyanka for the quarterfinal of Champions League. I was gone for roughly a month and do not regret going, but over all it was not a positive experience.


I joined the club when there was a lot going on behind the scenes, none of which I knew about. A French coaching staff had recently taken over and made changes that were not taken well by some of the Russian staff and players. Kia McNeill, Leigh Ann Robinson and I were brought in by the French coach to help strengthen the team as it prepared to face Germany’s Potsdam in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. The Russian members of the staff (I think) assumed that we were signed by the coach and were his responsibility.

We were caught in the middle of a political battle that resulted in a logistical nightmare. We never knew our schedule and were woken up prematurely more than once because we were supposed to be at a meeting or leaving for training. Our laundry never seemed to get washed and would be left in a dirty heap, while our teammates’ was clean and folded.

There were issues getting us an apartment to stay in, and we had trouble finding enough food and water to be hydrated and nourished to perform on the field. After staying in nine hotels, taking six flights, and spending numerous hours in buses and vans, on top of often having no idea where we were going or what was happening, it became hard to focus on fútbol. The life of a professional athlete is already physically taxing and stressful, but these additional strains really wore on my mind and body.

While I was disappointed that we didn’t have a better performance and result against Potsdam, I couldn’t have been happier when my plane landed at J.F.K. airport in New York. But once the relief wore off, my eager mind once again brought up the infamous question: What now?

Now it’s time to step back and reflect. I need a rest from what, at times, has seemed like an uphill battle, but I am in no way giving up. If anything, I am doing what I think is necessary to build the strength to fight harder and do more to become the player that I think I can be. I plan to play for a local W.P.S.L. or W-League team for the summer and use the time to thoroughly explore my options.

My journey has certainly not taken me the route that I had imagined. Going to Russia and back verified that for me. But whether it be mental toughness or just plain old stubbornness, I still have full belief that I have something special to offer on and off the field and that I can establish myself as one of the best midfielders in the women’s game.

Around the World in 60 Days


GOTHENBURG, Sweden — Since the beginning of February, I’ve played in four states in the United States, three countries (soon to be four), and have reshuffled my suitcases almost as often as a casino worker shuffles cards. The sport might be called something different each place I travel, but the last two months of excitement have come together as fitting parts of my ascension to become a more complete player.

Soccer In the U.S. women’s national team’s opening friendly games of 2013 against Scotland, Coach Tom Sermanni showed that he is open to giving opportunity to as many players as possible. I left my club team’s preseason camp in Los Angeles feeling hopeful about my trip to Portugal to join the national team. I took the 11-hour flight carrying my belongings for the next five months of my life in Europe and my memories of the two previous Algarve Cups in which I had participated. This year’s tournament left me with a distinctly different feeling than those of the past.

O Futebol This Algarve Cup was a successful trip for me in certain ways, as well as for the national team. We were victorious in the tournament not only because we went undefeated and beat Germany, 2-0, in the final, but because the games displayed the awesome depth of the squad. No two starting lineups were the same. Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and Lindsey Horan, 18, got their first caps; Ali Krieger and Whitney Engen scored their first goals; and every player got quality time to experience playing at the international level.

Yael Averbuch

Coach Sermanni is not only slowly starting to demand that the team attempt to employ a certain style of play on the field, but he is changing the team dynamics through his decisions and player management. Veterans are having to get used to occasionally not starting or playing and still maintaining their confidence, knowing that often it is not a reflection on their performance. Similarly, those of us who have not typically been starters or who are new to the team have had to make mental adjustments. We must be ready to make the most of our opportunities and ensure that there is minimal, or no, drop-off in level when we are on the field.

Fotboll After the Algarve Cup championship against Germany, there was no time to rest. We departed our hotel at 1 a.m. to make the three-hour drive to the airport. Later that evening, I arrived back in Sweden, my home for the 2013 season. With no room for downtime, I trained the next day and then played a friendly match against Lillestrom, last year’s Norwegian league champion. We lost, 2-1, but the game reminded me how grateful I am to have a home on the field with a club where I can express myself as a player and enjoy playing. I am thankful for this freedom every training session and every game.

Le Football On Tuesday we travel to France for the away leg of our Champions League quarterfinal against Juvisy. In these last 10 months, I may have played more game minutes than in the three previous years combined. I can slowly feel myself becoming more comfortable in competitive matches and I continue to gain a better understanding of myself as a player. My experience playing in Europe has helped me to feel much more prepared when facing European teams while representing the U.S. I am looking forward to playing against Juvisy and analyzing their style and how it differs from our Swedish style.

Soccer, O Futebol, Fotboll, Le Football — no matter what language, field, stadium or uniform — every experience adds up, and becomes an important piece of my journey, which has taken me around the world in these last 60 days.

Heading to Portugal for the Algarve Cup

Coach Tom Sermanni and the U.S. women's national team open play in the Algarve Cup in Portugal against Iceland on March 6.
Bob Mack/The Florida Times-Union, via Associated PressCoach Tom Sermanni and the U.S. women’s national team open play in the Algarve Cup in Portugal against Iceland on March 6.

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.

New Era for U.S. Women’s Team

Joe Nooft turned out in support of the U.S. women's national team in Jacksonville, Fla., on Feb. 9, the team's first game of 2013.
Bob Mack/The Florida Times-Union, via Associated PressJoe Nooft turned out in support of the U.S. women’s national team in Jacksonville, Fla., on Feb. 9, the team’s first game of 2013 — a win against Scotland.

In the first United States women’s national team games of 2013, four players got their first caps, during which time we also celebrated Abby Wambach’s 200th. Jane Campbell, 17, got her first call-up and trained alongside Christie Rampone, 37, who has been a part of the team since Campbell was a toddler. Sydney Leroux and Whitney Engen got their first starts, and Christen Press scored three goals in her first two national team appearances.

As I waited at the midfield stripe to be subbed into the team’s first friendly of 2013, against Scotland, I felt as if in some ways I was making a return. In other ways, it was a fresh start. It was my first cap since January 2011, and I couldn’t have been prouder to be wearing the red, white and blue uniform. It was a wonderful moment in my journey, and arguably equally as meaningful to me as the first time I stepped onto the field to represent my country.

Now that Tom Sermanni has taken over as coach of the team, we are all trying to figure out how to navigate our personal journeys under a new regime. There’s usually a split-second pause after Sermanni speaks while the team seems to processes exactly what he’s said and whether or not it was a joke. But this statement was more than clear, even through his Scottish accent:

The only aim is to win the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

This is the beginning of a journey with a clear destination. There is a lot that will go into the process over the next couple of years to help insure that the U.S. team has the best possible chance for success in the next World Cup. And there is a lot that we will all do as individuals to attempt to insure our inclusion in that final roster.

The national team is dealing with a unique and special paradox. The team has the history, the talent and is currently the No. 1 team in the world. Yet there is still room for improvement. While Sermanni joked more than once that “a short meeting is a good meeting,” his brief words were well-taken. He talked about winning in the present, while simultaneously keeping an eye on what will prepare for victory in the future. He discussed maintaining the teams’ successful habits and traits, while introducing news ones and tweaking the current system to make improvements. And he promised to manage player personalities by being honest, but warned us that we must embrace the inherent unfairness of this sport at the highest level.

I am excited for the opportunity to prove my worth on the field. I look forward to learning from a new coach and some new players, while at the same time continuing to follow the lead of the veterans who have been so consistently successful over the years.

After being home for a day to unpack and repack, I’m heading off to Los Angeles to meet up with my Swedish club, Kopparbergs/Goteborg, for a couple of weeks of preseason training. I am excited to get back into a regular playing schedule and my team’s training environment. There I will continue to hone my trade until my next opportunity to fight for a spot to represent my country.

N.W.S.L. Keeps the Dream Alive

  Many of us who were invested in Women’s Professional Soccer rejoiced when the National Women’s Soccer League was announced.

The emotional roller coaster ride of W.P.S., however, left many players wary and skeptical. But as details slowly fall into place, and the N.W.S.L. becomes reality, I have once again become entangled in the excitement, hope, and logistics of this (yet another) try at making women’s professional soccer stick in this country. I firmly believe that it is possible to create a sustainable, and eventually successful, league.

Is the N.W.S.L. going to get it right?

While I support of the league and will do everything I can to help it succeed, I can’t help but be guarded. I think many others feel the same way. My good friend and former teammate, Ella Masar, and I have been hosting#WSoccerChat on Twitter where fans, team representatives and players join us to talk all things women’s soccer, especially N.W.S.L. I find that as I help sort through fact and fiction surrounding the league, answer questions, and respond to fans from all over the country and world, it’s easier because these issues aren’t directly affecting my life, for now.

It is my dream to play professionally in this country, and I intend to. But right now, Sweden is my home. I spent sleepless nights debating whether I should terminate my contract with Kopparbergs/Goteborg and come back to play in the U.S. As the deadline approached, the league still had no name, many of the coaches had not been announced, and national team player allocation was a distant notion. So, I’ve decided to stay in Sweden for this season. It’s been great to watch the details of the new league unfold without a clenched stomach and anxiety over how it will all affect my career. That said, and as a (somewhat) neutral observer, here are my capsule looks at each team.

Boston Breakers

Boston has always has a strong organization. Lisa Cole took over as head coach after Tony DiCicco stepped aside and has not coached the team in a fully professional environment. It will be interesting to see her make her mark. Kristine Lilly will be assisting, so the team will have a new look.

Chicago Red Stars

Chicago’s allocation could cause some interesting situations during the season. The team has two world-class caliber holding midfielders in Shannon Boxx and Keelin Winters, who will both be expecting to make a home in the middle of the park. Additionally, Leslie Osborne, another holding midfielder and former captain of the Breakers, has signed with Chicago. It will be interesting to see how the club uses these players in the middle of midfield.

Kansas City

I am curious to see how this club will look, both on and off the field. I am unfamiliar with the women’s soccer fan base in Kansas City. They also potentially lack some of the firepower of other teams. The team’s assistant coach said: “Our selections are a long-term approach and a long-term view. We feel like we’re going to have access to the top players as they’re graduating from college — the future stars for the senior national team.”

Portland Thorns

Portland is the team that everyone is talking about. Not only does it have perhaps the best striking combination in the world, with Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan, it has a solid goalkeeper in Karina LeBlanc. This team will surely draw impressive crowds. No one can argue that the club came out ahead of the game after the allocation. Cindy Parlow Cone will have a colossal task in her professional coaching debut, managing the talent under great pressure and expectation.

Seattle Reign

Seattle will be another team with a strong fan base and exciting players to watch. I am interested to see how Laura Harvey, former Arsenal Ladies coach, fares in a new country and managing a group of strong personalities. This team certainly has the talent to do well, but it will be a test for Harvey to put all the pieces together.

Sky Blue

Sky Blue will certainly have great leadership on the field, with Christie Rampone anchoring the back line. Jim Gabarra is an experienced coach and his teams often play simply and efficiently. It remains to be seen what other players he signs to fill out the roster, as he has built many relationships with players throughout his time in W.P.S and the W.U.S.A., which is reflected in his ability to secure some great free agent signings.

Washington Spirit

This team will produce an interesting brand of soccer. I am a huge fan of many of the players allocated to Washington. Ashlyn Harris will be great in goal, with Ali Krieger attacking out of the back, Alina Garciamendez providing support and organization in the middle of the back, and Robyn Gayle as more of an enforcer in the back line. I am also excited to see the combination of Lori Lindsey and Diana Matheson in the midfield, and I think they could potentially complement each other well. It will be key for the Spirit to secure a goal scorer or two to ensure success.

Western New York Flash

I’m happy to see Abby Wambach playing back home. I played for Western N.Y. in 2011 and every time Abby came to town, the crowd was unbelievable. The Flash is a dedicated organization with a great fan base. The team will not be stacked as it had been in W.P.S., and there is a lot of pressure on Coach Aaran Lines, after a W-League championship, W.P.S. championship, and then W.P.S.L. Elite championship in consecutive years.

There are still many details left to fall into place. But as things slowly unfold and anticipation builds, I find that the walls of my guarded opinion are crumbling. I’m excited for 2013 and to see the N.W.S.L. keep our dreams alive!

In National Team Camp, Treasuring the Opportunity

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — On Monday I saw a fun historical fact on Twitter about the United States women’s national team : Six years ago to the day, I received my first cap against England in the Four Nations Tournament in China. At the time, Greg Ryan was the coach. When Pia Sundhage took over, I was hopeful that I’d make a place for myself as a regular on the team. All these years later, I am thankful to have been to many training camps, participated in the World Cup qualifying tournament, and have 16 caps and one goal. But I am not in the spot I would have hoped.

Once again, a new era is about to begin. I have similar hopes for this go-around, but my perspective is much less naïve. I have learned a great deal over the last five years — about the game, myself and the things I can and cannot control throughout this wonderful, yet turbulent, process.

I made a promise to myself shortly into Pia’s tenure as coach. I decided that whether I played or didn’t, dressed for a game or was in the stands, made a roster or was sent home, every time I stepped onto the field I would train in preparation to be a starter for the national team.

Under Pia’s guidance, I got great insight into what it’s like at the highest level and what it takes to be successful. I played with and against the best every day in training camp and got to know them as teammates and friends. Although at times it has been extremely difficult, I have never lost touch with that promise I made to myself. Now that I’ve gotten a glimpse, every time I train or play, I am holding myself to a certain standard.

When I got the e-mail inviting me to the first national team training camp this year, which will conclude with two games against Scotland, I may have been happier than any other time I’ve been invited to an event or made a roster. For me, this represents a fresh start. It is a chance to show that I can compete for a spot on the No. 1 women’s team in the world. And I’ve learned to treasure that chance above all else. I leave for Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday.

As I prepare for this first camp under the new head coach, Tom Sermanni, nothing has really changed for me. Every day since I was 10 years old I have done everything in my power to be ready for the moment I would have this type of opportunity. It is helpful, though, to remind myself of what I have learned over these last few years.

One thing that has been imprinted in my mind, especially over this last year, is how rare opportunities like this can be. My journey has made me realize never to take anything for granted. Whether it’s being healthy enough to play and feel good, starting a game for a club team, or having the chance to come into a national team training camp, I truly appreciate every moment. It can become so easy to expect certain things and a certain level of success and recognition for the work you put in. The irony of my process has been that although at times I have been disappointed and frustrated to the extreme, I now have an enormous appreciation for the little things.

I have no clue if this upcoming camp will be my last, or the beginning of a successful new phase for me in which I will have a shot at achieving some of my greatest dreams. The only control I have over this is to do my best. There is nothing I can show any coach or prove to someone outside of being the best me I am capable of being on any given day. In the past, I have tried to be what I thought a team needed or prove I could do certain things that are outside my comfort zone. While these things are still important, in the end, being the best me is what will take me farthest.

What makes the national team environment different and special is that every woman involved is the absolute best at what she does. So while competing for a spot is important, it is not competition like I have been used to in the past. It is rare that any player will be better than another player at the specific skill that makes her world class. The key is to do what you do best, at the highest possible level, most consistently. In that way, you are really only always competing against yourself. I bring a unique skill set to the table. I must be the best in the world at that skill set every day I step onto the field. That I can control.

If I can wake up every morning at camp and remember to be grateful to be there, challenge myself to learn and get better every session, enjoy each moment, and be the best me I can be, then I will be successful no matter the outcome.

Going With the Flow

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — I’m often asked, “What is the most challenging part of being a professional soccer player?” My response never has to do with events on the field. From the outside, I have a glamorous lifestyle. I spend a couple of hours out at the field daily, get to travel the world, get sent pretty new Nike cleats, and occasionally get to compete in front of big crowds and win championship games. I feel fortunate to have the career I do, but playing professional soccer, especially on the women’s side, isn’t always as glamorous as it may appear. In fact, it can be difficult.

The toughest part for me isn’t finding motivation to train in the off-season, retaining my confidence after a disappointment or poor performance, or disciplining myself to eat well and get enough sleep. I struggle most with the lack of stability. As 2013 begins, I took a moment to look back at 2012, which was certainly the most tumultuous year of my life. The list below will illustrate that while I love my job and would not rather do anything else in the world, it can be tough on the mind and body.

In 2012, I …

¶ Struggled to decide which Women’s Professional Soccer team to sign with. I wanted to be at home in New Jersey, liked the playing environment in Western New York, yet needed to be assured that I would see meaningful playing time. After a long and tough decision-making process, I chose to play for the Atlanta Beat, where I thought I would be most needed on the field.

¶ Trained with the U.S. women’s national team before it narrowed down and selected the roster that would go on to compete in the Olympics and win a gold medal. As you can imagine, I dealt with the disappointment of not being involved.

¶ Got the news that there would be no W.P.S. season and once again began my search for a team.

¶ Went to Russia to continue my professional career with Rossiyanka. My experience there was tough, and I returned home after a month.

¶ Spent the summer coaching and playing for the New Jersey Wildcats of the W-League.

¶ Continued to search for opportunities in Europe, and after many frustrating weeks of contacting anyone I could think of with a connection abroad, had the opportunity to sign with Kopparbergs/Goteborg. I moved to Sweden for three months, hopeful that I would find a home in the lineup and have a chance to get some games. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of play and have loved playing for the club.

¶ Watched Barcelona play Manchester United live and witnessed Lionel Messi work his magic.

¶ Saw Juventus play in its beautiful stadium.

¶ Got to compete in the UEFA Women’s Champions League with two different teams (losing in the quarterfinal round with Rossiyanka and then beginning the 2012-13 competition with Kopparbergs/Goteborg).

¶ Traveled to nine different countries: Russia, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, Serbia, Norway, Italy and Denmark.

¶ Came home from Sweden and immediately spent 10 days in the hospital with a complicated and serious case of pneumonia.

¶ Was excited by the announcement of the National Women’s Soccer League, but conflicted about whether to terminate my contract for 2013 with my wonderful Swedish club. It has always been my dream to play professionally in the United States, and while playing in Europe is a fun adventure, I want to support a domestic league and look forward to one day building a life here. My contract with Kopparbergs/Goteborg extends through 2013, but I wondered if I should scrap it and return home to play.

This felt like an easier decision and it would ensure me being seen by the new national team coach, Tom Sermanni. I was pressed to make a decision, and opted to stay with my Swedish club, which will compete in the quarterfinal of the UEFA Women’s Champions League in March. There are a lot of questions surrounding the N.W.S.L., and in Sweden I know what to expect and know that I will be happy on the field and have a place to express myself as a player and grow in an environment where I am greatly appreciated. I am taking a leap of faith and trusting that if I am happy and fulfilled on the field, then everything else will fall into place.

¶ Got to enjoy the holidays with friends and family, and make a trip back to the University of North Carolina.

So, that was my 2012. I played the game I love on various continents, with many different players with many different styles, and in an array of conditions. I was forced to make stressful decisions about my future when nothing seemed right. I felt the anxiety of waiting to find out information that would decide my fate, yet over which I had no control. I feared for the unrealized dreams that I am working to keep alive. And, I found myself, for a couple days, actually scared for my life.

The toughest part of being a professional soccer player is sometimes going against everything in my nature that has gotten me to the highest level — my passion, discipline, initiative to control my ascension, work ethic. At times, given the reality of my situation, I must throw those to the wind and simply have enough faith to go with the flow.

Home At Last

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness; nothing so gentle as real strength.” — Ralph W. Sockman MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Irony can be profound. Sometimes it’s painful. Other times it’s confusing.

My return home from Sweden was showered in irony. I make my livelihood being in top physical condition, but within 24 hours of landing in the U.S., I was in so much pain I could barely sit up and needed oxygen to breathe. I had just traversed Europe, asserting my independence and learning to live on my own, but I was at the mercy of nurses and family to care for me.

I had not been feeling well for the last few weeks of my time in Sweden. I couldn’t seem to overcome a variety of cold symptoms, and then I began to develop what I thought were some sort of strained muscles around my rib cage. The morning of our final game of the season for Gothenburg, ourChampions League home leg against Fortuna Hjorring, I woke up in excruciating pain. Every time I took a breath, I had sharp spasms throughout my entire back and chest. Somehow I managed to play 45 minutes that evening before asking to come off at halftime. A painful night and an eight-hour flight later, I found myself in the emergency room in a New Jersey hospital.


A complicated and serious case of the flu combined with pneumonia in both lungs, and bad pleurisy (inflammation of the lining of the lungs) kept me in the hospital for 10 days. As a 26-year-old professional athlete, only one week before I was training and competing against some of the best female soccer players in the world. The next thing I knew, I was being rolled in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank attached to the back. This Thanksgiving, I was thankful for some of the most basic things a human being can be thankful for: the ability to breathe on my own, a strong body capable of fighting off the sickness that had attacked it and life itself.

Life is, in so many ways, ironic and humbling.

Even those of us in the most vigorous condition are subject to health’s fragility. Sometimes a measure of independence is allowing oneself to be taken care of. Simplicity is one of the most difficult states to attain. To fight harder frequently means one must let go. We gain wisdom by admitting how little we actually know.

We are taught to exercise and eat well to fortify ourselves against disease; told to invest our time in activities to achieve long-term goals; encouraged to save money and resources for a later time. But ironically, it can all be gone in an instant, even if you do it right. I am finally home, but my recent experiences highlighted many of life’s sometimes dangerous contradictions.

In the past, I have trained so hard that it made me injured; cared so much about my performance that the stress made me play poorly; and slept so much that I was tired.

The more I aim to take control of my path and attempt to gain mastery over my body and this game, the more I am shown the frequent irony in my efforts. Once again, the sport has taught me a poignant lesson about grace, gratitude and the fragility of everything we attempt to build.

Now that I’ve finished discussing irony, I must go plan some spontaneous outings for this off-season

I, a few United States women’s national team players and members of the M.L.S. Philadelphia Union will be involved with putting on a clinic to raise money for people affected by Hurricane Sandy. Kick-Start the Rebuild soccer clinic will be held on Dec. 16 in Downingtown, Pa.

Fear, Dreams and New Perspective

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — Sometimes your life conspires on your behalf to bring to your attention something that is welling deep in your subconscious. A Blog My teammate, Christen Press, recently wrote an article on fear. She talked about the different fears we, as athletes, have learned to conquer daily, and those that still plague us simply because of the nature of what we do. As much as I would like to think we can eradicate all of our fears, the more I think about it, the more I realize none of us is without fear. Christen’s blog led me to think of fear as a healthy tension within ourselves, rather than the crippling emotion that it is most commonly associated.

For a long time, I’ve been proud of myself for conquering a certain aspect of my fear as an athlete — my fear of failure. I put myself out there, give 100 percent to my training and am resigned to accept the results and learn to grow from them, whether positive or negative. But I am not without fear. There is a force that pulls at me, sometimes keeping me awake at night thinking about the decisions I’ve made in my career. It’s the same force that inspires many of my blogs; motivates me to train smarter, better, more; and makes me take extreme pride in my performance, whether it’s pickup or the Swedish Cup final. It is the fear of unrealized dreams.

A Birthday At 26, I am no longer a young player. I still wholeheartedly believe that I have years of improvement left, but gone are the days when I can bank on some largely undeveloped potential. My recent birthday reinforced this, but also strengthened my resolve to keep chipping away and refining myself as a player because there is much work to be done.

A Film My enlightening observations on this fear that drives me coincided with watching a documentary called “Searching for Sugar Man,” about a musician from Detroit named Rodriguez. By all accounts, Rodriguez was extremely talented, and produced music in the 1960s on par with legends like the Rolling Stones. But he never made it in the U.S. For more than 40 years, he has lived a simple life as a construction worker in Detroit. Meanwhile, unbeknown to him, all those years ago his album had made its way to South Africa, where he gained acclaim and stardom equivalent to that of Elvis.

The movie spoke to something incredibly relevant in my life about the subjectivity of success. How do I actually define my success? How much acknowledgement and acclaim do I personally need to feel successful? How much does achieving my goals of playing in a World Cup and Olympics actually matter to me, as opposed to having a fulfilling playing career and mastering aspects of my sport without ever realizing those dreams?

These questions — to which I still do not have answers — have replayed over and over in my mind. My respect and reverence for Rodriguez and his inner peace play themselves against the sharp discrepancy between his talent and the outcome of his musical career. Rodriguez’s album serenades me from my iTunes like an anthem, reminding me to search for serenity within myself as an athlete.

A Changing of the Guard I am a laid-back person for the most part, but awaiting U.S. Soccer’s announcement of the next women’s national team coachgave me anxiety. Just when I thought I had embraced the cliché to control the controllables, I was completely stressed by the thought that the future of the team was being decided, and there was nothing I could do about it. Just another sign that my fear is alive and kicking.

Now that Tom Sermanni has been announced as coach, several people have asked me: What do you think? Is this a good thing for you personally? From everything I’ve heard and read, I think it is going to be a wonderful and exciting new era for the team. Obviously, I hope to be part of it and will do everything within my power to make that happen.

A few years ago, I thought I was on the verge of being able to say I’m happy playing just for the sake of playing. Recently, my life has reached out to me from all directions, letting me know that there’s unfinished business. The fear of my unrealized dreams is a flame ignited in me. I do love this game as something removed from my career and have found a level of peace in that. But on behalf of the 9-year-old me who set out on a mission as yet unfinished, I will not quell this fear, but let it combust and propel me toward my dreams.


A Brief Sojourn to Italy

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — I am continually awed in a multitude of ways by the beautiful game. This past weekend was yet another example of how the game, and the experiences it has provided me on various levels, bring such color, joy and reflection into my life. Thanks to the league-wide break for FIFA international dates, Copparbergs/Goteborg had a weekend off from Damallsvenskan play. One of the perks of playing and living in Europe is being able to easily (and relatively affordably) travel to other countries and cities.

It was my boyfriend Aaron’s dream to see Juventus play in the their home stadium in Turin, Italy, so when I saw that my weekend off coincided with theJuventus-Napoli game, I jumped on the opportunity … and used my connections.

I often feel fortunate to be a Nike-sponsored athlete. Whether I’m lacing up my boots, picking out some cool new running shoes, or heading to the field in awesome training gear with a bag of brand new soccer balls, I am always proud to show off the swoosh. Another perk is the opportunity to see Nike-sponsored teams play live. When I asked for tickets to Juventus-Napoli, I would have been happy with two seats anywhere in the stadium. Instead, we were honored as guests of the head of Juventus merchandising in his skybox, and saw an amazing game from an equally amazing vantage point.

I consider myself a Juventus fan, but I am nowhere near the passionate supporter that Aaron embodies (which includes terrible mood swings and fits of anger during and after games that do not go well). He was in his element, singing along to the Juventus anthem at the top of his lungs, “Juveeee storia di un grandeamoooreeee,” which I know all too well because it has been his cellphone ring tone. He was at home among his fellow Juventini, and clearly loving it.

I am enthralled by watching live soccer. I love the sounds, the effort that you cannot quite see on television and sitting among people who share my passion for the game — or in this case, far surpass it.

But my spectatorship is twofold. I watch in admiration of the skill and level of competition, but also as someone who shares the players’ career. I feel the pride of those in the starting lineup for their club. I feel the stress of the substitutes warming up, wondering if/when they will get their chance. I feel the mental and physical strain of the player struggling and not having his best day. And I revel in the glory of the goal-scorer or player who just made an applause-worthy play.

My trip to Italy was short, but well worth the planning process that included 4 a.m. wake-ups to travel there and back with my brief time off. Aaron and I also got to walk around the beautiful city of Turin at night, and see downtown Milan the next day, where we ate delicious, authentic pizza at a café as we took in the scenery. But we agreed that this was all a bonus. Our trip was made by simply attending the game. Whether it was watching Andrea Pirlo smoothly evade a tackle and play one of his signature, perfectly placed chips; feeling the roar of the crowd after Juventus went up one, then two goals; or standing in front of the breathtaking Duomo di Milano(fourth-largest cathedral in the world), the short trip is one that will be imprinted in our minds forever.

As I looked out from the skybox during the game, I appreciated the atmosphere from a unique vantage point. The picturesque, bright green grass and full stadium that was louder than any I had ever experienced had both Aaron and me captivated. But at the moment I watched the players run out for their warm-up, I couldn’t help but think, they have the best job in the world!

Wait … I have the best job in the world!


'Small Team With Enormous Heart'

On paper, there was no way we should have won the Swedish Cup final, 2-1 after extra time on Oct. 11. But as we received our bouquets of flowers and took photos with the championship trophy, Marta, Verónica Boquete, Caroline Seger, and an entire host of star players on Tyreso sat empty-handed on the other side of the field.

For 120 minutes, Kopparbergs/Goteborg weathered the storm of perhaps the best attack in the current world of women’s soccer. We spent stretches seeing little of the ball, held our breath as several close chances were squandered by our opponent, but remained disciplined and worked with one another.

The Svenska Cupen is a tournament that runs throughout the season and is open to women’s teams in all divisions. I only played in the semifinal, against LdB Malmo, a 2-1 win, and the final because I arrived halfway through the season. It wasn’t until after that game that I saw the English translation for the name of our team Facebook group, “lilla laget med enorma hjärtat.” It translates to “small team with enormous heart.”


We are a little team, literally. At one point, we were down to a 15-player roster before bringing back a couple former players out of retirement. We are close-knit, and we lack the stature — both in clout and actual body size — of some of our opponents. But we are a quality team. When I first arrived, my coach told me, “we look for players who can read the game and like to train.” I thought, that’s all well and good, but clearly that can’t be enough to form an elite team. But my club follows the same methodology as my personal philosophy — if the foundation is right, everything else will fall into place.

Don’t get me wrong, we have some talented players. But talent is not the main objective. We’ve won some big games, but winning is not the main objective either. We operate under the belief that if you do things the right way, and enjoy doing them, you have already succeeded. So at the end of the hard-fought Swedish Cup final, I believe that the better team won. I don’t claim that we are more talented than Tyreso, because no team in this league is. But our enormous heart took this little team to victory.

I’ve been asked several times who I think the top players in theDamallsvenskan (Swedish women’s league) are. I have been impressed by the quality of many of my opponents and teammates, although I still have not faced several of the teams. Below I’ve highlighted a few players in the league who have stood out to me for various reasons:

¶ Verónica Boquete of Spain played in W.P.S. for the Philadelphia Independence and now plays for Tyreso. Her movement and positioning always makes her dangerous, but I am especially impressed with her quickness with the ball at her feet.

¶ Kristin Hammarstrom is our starting goalkeeper at Kopparbergs/Goteborg. Her distribution and ability to save breakaways is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen from a female goalkeeper. I would be concerned about my spot as a center mid if she decided to play on the field!

¶ Ramona Bachmann is a Swiss forward for LdB Malmo. Both times we’ve faced this team, she has caused us problems with her speed and ability to run at players on the dribble.

¶ Nilla Fischer is a Swedish international who captains Linkoping and leads the team from the center of their back line. She is strong, good in the air, and made it almost impossible for us to create chances against her well-organized defense.

¶ Lori Chalupny joined AIK for the second half of the season. She is an American midfielder whom I know well from being teammates at the University of North Carolina. Lori always impresses me with her work rate and ability to dominate in both the attack and on defense.

The longer I play here, the more I am impressed by the level of talent and professionalism. So, as you can see, with all the incredible talent in this league, it really puts into perspective the honor of winning the Swedish Cup. That’s why I am especially proud to be a member of Kopparbergs/Goteborg, the “small team with enormous heart.”


My Swedish Slide Show

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — From our intimate stadium to the European architecture to the quaint coffee shops, I’ve tried to describe Gothenburg through e-mails, blogs, tweets and Skype conversations. But let’s be honest: despite my University of North Carolina education, I only know so many adjectives. With my camera, I’ve been able to capture glimpses of my surroundings and what I experience daily. It seems as if I was just boarding the plane on this new adventure and already I only have a month left until the season is over. For now, I’ll let some photos tell the story:

Leaving on a Jet Plane My journey began at Newark Airport, left, in early August. I left with an open mind, but tried to be wary in my hopefulness. I have often made the mistake of getting too excited about new situations and then ended up disappointed. I had only heard good things about my new club and home, though, and with every stepI’ve felt more assured that this is the place for me — physically, emotionally and spiritually.


Ah, Sweden I immediately fell in love with Gothenburg, above and below. It is not a big city, especially compared to “Gothamburg,” but there is always a lot going on (street fairs, chocolate festivals, concerts) and people are constantly out and about.

The Big Boys I got to see Barcelona play Manchester United, below, live on one of the first nights after I arrived. From my seat at nearly field level, I was blown away by many of my idols. The game strengthened my resolve to see as many live games as possible while I’m in Europe.

Playing in Valhalla I love games at our Valhalla Stadium, below. It’s only a few kilometers from where we live, and we train and play our home matches here. The field is turf, which is good because it rains often.

UEFA Women’s Champions LeagueKopparbergs/Goteborg finished in second place in the Damallsvenskan (Sweden’s women’s league) last season and qualified for the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

Our first-round game was against a team from Serbia, Spartak. We won, 4-0, on aggregate and advanced, and we will face the Danish team Fortuna Hjorring, featuring the American forward Tiffany Weimer. We have been wearing pink shoelaces and hair bands for Breast Cancer Awareness month.


Together Again Anita Asante (England international) and I played together for Sky Blue in W.P.S. and now play together in the center of midfield. She is one of my good friends and I absolutely love playing next to her. It’s been a wonderful experienceto get into a playing rhythm where I have many games and can establish strong relationships with my teammates. Anita’s style and experience make her a joy to play with.



A Home Away From Home My teammates all speak excellent English and everyone has been incredibly welcoming. I have especially enjoyed our training sessions and style of play. We connect a lot of shorter passes and play through the midfield, which is ideal for me as a center mid.

I will be returning to my new home next year for a full season. As an obsessive planner, it drives me crazy not to be able to chart my future for years to come. But my mind is at rest in a sense — I’ve found a place where I feel comfortable to play, try things and improve. Hope you like my photos.


A Champions League Sojourn

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — I have to admit, I looked up Serbia on the map when I found out we would be going there for Champions League. This was a business trip, like any time I’ve traveled to play a game, but it turned out to be a fascinating experience, leaving me wishing I could extend my stay and be a tourist for a couple days.

Tuesday, 5 a.m. We woke up and met the team at our stadium to take the bus to the airport. Temperature in Goteborg: 46 degrees and rainy. I was surprised to see that a small group of supporters were joining us for the trip. Dedicated fans!

1 p.m. We landed in Belgrade, Serbia, after a connection in Frankfurt, Germany. We took a three-hour bus ride to the city of Subotica, which is the fifth largest in Serbia and only about six miles from the Hungarian border. Temperature in Serbia: 85 degrees and sunny.

5 p.m. We left for a short training session at the stadium of our opponent,F.K. Spartak. Its field is grass, which was an adjustment because most fields in Sweden are artificial turf. The grass was also a bit bumpy, which proved to be somewhat of an obstacle because our style of play is to possess the ball with many short passes on the ground.


7:30 p.m. We had dinner as a team in the hotel (one of the two hotels in Subotica) and then a meeting to discuss the game the next day. We actually knew next to nothing about our opponent, so we’re told to be ready for anything and adjust quickly during the game. This was somewhat foreign (no pun intended) for me, especially having played in W.P.S. for three years where you knew every player so well and played each team three or four times during the season.

Wednesday, 8 a.m. Game day! After breakfast, we took a walk through downtown Subotica. The architecture caught my eye and imagination. It is extremely intricate, almost elaborate, which seemed to contradict the fact that a lot of the buildings were run down.

The author, left, and her teammate Anita Asante in downtown Subotica, Serbia, last week.The author, left, and her teammate Anita Asante in downtown Subotica, Serbia, last week.

Kickoff, 3 p.m. It was a hot day and our opponent was clearly energized. After only moments into the game, we could tell it was not going to be an easy one. Spartak is a good team, with some talented individuals who are good on the ball. They are also strong and physically imposing. It was tough for us to get into our usual passing rhythm because of the condition of the field and slightly heavy legs from the heat and travel. We went up a goal, thanks to a long-range shot from Cami Levin, midway through the first half. That was a relief and we were able to manage the game from that point on, but still never quite found our usual flow. In the end, it wasn’t a great performance, but part of the UEFA Women’s Champions League is doing what’s necessary away from home in unfamiliar countries and conditions. Interestingly, the crowd was composed mostly of men, which is definitely a different makeup than a typical women’s soccer crowd elsewhere in the world.

7:30 p.m. We had dinner back at the hotel and then decided to check out the spa. It’s the biggest spa in Serbia, and features hot/cold contrast water therapy, saunas, steam rooms, a salt room, and many innovative treatments. As hotel guests, all of the services were free, and we got 30 percent off any treatments. In total, I spent about three hours in the spa, including an hour massage. I paid roughly $10. I wouldn’t mind this luxury after all of my games!

Thursday, 8 a.m. After breakfast it was time to leave for home. I realized that after being in Sweden for nearly two months, I finally think of Gothenburg as home.

My first Champions League experience with Kopparbergs/Goteborg was definitely noteworthy. The Swedish demeanor when traveling was somewhat like the hotel spa: laid back and relaxed. I was shocked when we were in a hurry to catch a connecting flight, and our group showed no noticeable stress or urgency to rush.

I was impressed by the level of the women’s team from Serbia. That’s not a country you would associate with women’s soccer, but there were many talented players on the team and also a few women from the Cameroon national team. The level of the women’s game is rising extremely quickly, and not just in the countries in the World Cup and Olympics. The Women’s Champions League, which is only 11 years old, is beginning to mirror the men’s tournament more and more in that there are no easy games. I’m sure the game will look much different when we face Spartak at home this week, but they are not to be taken lightly.

My trip to Serbia only increased my appetite to see and learn about new places. Serbia is a poor nation that has been devastated by war, but at the same time I found it beautiful and welcoming, with a unique charm that I hadn’t experienced before. My gratitude for how my job allows me to experience the world in a wider way continues to swell!