U.S. Women’s Team: Cry, Laugh, Love and Compete

27uswnt1-popup-v2SAN FRANCISCO — In the sports world, the history of the United States women’s national team is the equivalent of a fairy tale. The team has completed seemingly impossible comebacks, maintained ridiculous winning streaks and featured moments of individual brilliance. U.S. women's national team players, bottom from left, Christen Press, Yael Averbuch and Heather O'Reilly; top from left, Whitney Engen and Jillian Loyden.

I am often starkly aware that I’m participating in something truly amazing, yet at times incredibly challenging and humbling. After all, the participants in this fairy tale are still human.

We Cry I have lost count of how many times this environment has seemingly broken me. There have been days when the stress and repetitive failure has overpowered my ability to enjoy playing and stripped my motivation. But in those times I am surrounded by some of my best friends and people who find ways to support me and hoist me back up when I can’t do it myself. If only I had a dollar for every time Whitney Engen has seen me break down and has provided a voice of reason. Or there’s Heather O’Reilly, who has encouraged me and made me feel valuable even when I couldn’t see my own value. A kind word or supportive comment at training from Carli Lloyd reminded me that I’m not crazy when I think that I can achieve what I’m after, but it feels like I’m fighting an uphill battle. There is no level of success that eradicates moments of doubt, disappointment and despair. But there are no people I’d rather be around in those moments than these.

We Laugh In the soccer world, there is no moment too serious not to find some humor. Whether it’s a Vine video that Sydney Leroux shows at dinner, Lauren Holiday (nee Cheney) making fun of her defensive abilities in a video session, or someone goofing around with Stephanie Cox’s baby daughter, the sound of laughter prevails in training camp. Although we often roll our eyes at his sense of humor, Coach Tom Sermanni likes to make light of things and even jokes with us about mistakes in training or games (which sometimes makes us cringe before we realize we are allowed to take a breath and relax). Laughter is about survival. It brings joy to an otherwise tense and stressful environment. There is nothing funny about this group’s goals and ambition, but we certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously.

We Love When you care so deeply about what you do, and fully invest in it, you leave yourself exposed. For this reason, many of us have formed extremely tight bonds with one another. We have seen each other play and develop over the years. We have witnessed one another’s ups and downs, seen each other get engaged, married and have children. We live together for weeks of intense training and talk about our hopes, fears, dreams and spiritual beliefs. For these reasons, we share a love that is like no other bond we will share in our lives. My teammates have seen me naked — in the figurative sense, not just in the shower — and accept me for who I am. And I love and respect them for that.

We Compete Competitive by nature is an understatement. This is the kind of environment where a player’s day is made or broken by a small-sided game in training; people slide during technical drills to try to make it work properly or save a stray pass; and card games in our spare time turn into fierce battles and weeklong arguments. Everyone here wants to be the best, and everyone is really good at what they do. What I’ve realized is the best way to compete in this environment is with myself. This is the hardest working, most talented group of women I think I will ever encounter. We each bring a set of qualities to the table that is unique, and we must mold it to fit within the framework of the team. My job, and all I can control, is to make my skill set as potent and effective as I possibly can. So while we scrap and fight to win in anything and everything possible, my real competition exists internally.

Those of us fortunate to don the U.S. crest are privy to an environment like no other. This group fosters greatness, but simultaneously maintains a tough and grueling blue-collar mentality. The success is composed of individual efforts, yet the feeling of cooperative momentum is overwhelming. Competing within the team is fierce, but fosters some of the closest bonds that life can offer. These paradoxes drive a level of success that is unparalleled in almost any field. At the end of the day, we play for our country, but we cry, laugh, love and compete for one another.

Totally Immersed in European Soccer

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — I am often asked if I am like so many other Americans who think Europe is one big country and who do not bother to differentiate between its various nations and cities.

Ah, no. I do realize Europe is home to a variety of people with vastly different lifestyles living in vastly different cities. And as an American in Europe, I have noted an aura that sets this place apart from any American city and from other places I have visited.

My experience living in Gothenburg has been distinctly European. The European identity can be felt in the coffee shops, the baked goods, the fashion styles and the music played. It permeates the faucets, the doorknobs and the light switches. Even the beds have a European identity. It also crops up in traffic patterns and laundry systems, in locker rooms and teammates’ hairstyling techniques. It supersedes language or nationality. It is a general way of being. And a large part of that way of life is defined by football/soccer.

Football culture is pervasive in the lives of most Europeans in a way that would possibly best correlate to “Monday Night Football” (American football, that is) in the United States. Not everyone follows it, but it runs deeper than the game. It is generally not easy to move somewhere new and create a life for yourself that is rich and meaningful. For me, football has been the tie that binds. It is the driving force behind so many moments that have shaped my journey and will forever change how I view the world.

A couple of weeks ago I walked with my American teammate Cami Levin among thousands of fans in Copenhagen. We navigated the cobblestone, slowly leaving the lights of the stadium behind us. But the images of the game we attended remained imprinted in my mind. I will not claim to be a true Juventus supporter, but I have followed the team for the last few seasons and jumped at the chance to see them face Copenhagen in UEFA Champions League.

Copenhagen is a three-hour drive from Gothenburg, so when the club rented a small car for us about a week before the game, I quickly learned to drive the manual transmission in preparation for the trip. Nothing like true motivation to trump my fear of changing gears through the city while navigating trams, buses and cyclists!

I insisted that we get to the stadium an hour before kickoff so we would not miss one minute of the warm-up. I watched, in part, as a professional admiring the proficiency and speed at which the men were performing the same skills I train every day. The other half of me was just a participant in a much bigger scene, though. I was taking part in the experience of total football immersion. On game day in Europe, people stream in from the streets of the city to the stadium, rather than tailgating in a huge parking lot. During important competitions you can hear cheers as you walk by sports bars on the street. After the game, my Juventus scarf raised questions and started conversations in the tiny restaurant where we ate.

I felt not like an outsider, taking in this spectacle, but instead like a European sharing in a communal experience. It has taken me nearly a year to feel like I live in Gothenburg, but slowly my extended soccer trip gave way to what I consider a new home. I have bonded with teammates from parts of the world that once seemed like only blips on a map, watched games live that were usually events only TV channels could connect me with, and lived my life in a way that never would have been possible for me in the United States.

Once more, the game I love has enriched my existence in ways I could not have dreamed.

N.W.S.L.’s First Season From the Outside Looking In

18yael1-articleLargeGOTHENBURG, Sweden — Last month, I lay in bed in Sweden with my computer tuned to the inaugural championship game of the National Women’s Soccer League. It was 2 a.m., and through sleepy eyes I watched the starting lineups walk out in Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester. I couldn’t help but reminisce about my last professional game in the United States — played in that same stadium — the 2011 championship game of Women’s Professional Soccer.

As the Portland Thorns celebrated the championship, I watched on the screen from a different place — literally (across the world in Europe) and mentally — than when I celebrated on that field in 2011 with the Western New York Flash. Since then, I have played for three different clubs: one in Russia, a W-League team in New Jersey and now for Kopparbergs/Goteborg in Sweden. All of a sudden, the new American league seemed foreign to me.

As an outside observer, the coverage of the N.W.S.L. has been excellent. The games have all been available for me to follow, although I have only caught a handful because of the time difference. As much as I do know about the league, I’ve realized there are a lot of areas in which I am out of the loop. Many of the players I know well and have played with over the years, but there were also some unfamiliar faces. Since I played in the U.S., there are also two new franchises — the Thorns and the Seattle Reign.

Playing in W.P.S. was my first professional experience, so I didn’t have much with which to compare. Now, as a slightly more experienced professional, my observations of the N.W.S.L. are influenced by my feel for European women’s soccer and how the game is growing globally, in addition to in the U.S.

In Sweden, while there is fantastic support for the women’s game, there is a different emphasis on marketing and attendance. Damallsvenskan (the Swedish women’s league) games have much smaller turnouts than the numbers I was seeing in N.W.S.L. game reports, but, for the most part, the teams here do not rely on ticket sales as a source of income. Most clubs have a number of local and corporate sponsors who support the team regardless. Hence the extreme number of logos on most Swedish team uniforms, sometimes including ones on the posterior of the shorts.

I am hoping to watch the N.W.S.L. sustain itself and flourish over the coming years. Playing in Europe has opened my eyes to how the plans need to be long-term. Teams in Sweden and in Europe have gradually developed a culture, style and system of play. It’s something I really appreciate about playing abroad and hope to see take place in the U.S. In Sweden, there is a promotion-relegation system with a second league, Champions League spots to aim for and the Swedish Cup. Every team has something to fight for, regardless of its standing in the 12-team first division. This has taken time to evolve, but I’d love to see professional women’s soccer in the U.S. reach that point down the road.

Seeing the photos of the Portland Thorns celebrating their title took me back to 2011, but also took me forward in time with hopes that the league will continue to provide playing opportunities for American, Canadian and Mexican players, and also begin to expand to attract players from elsewhere in the world.

It is an impressive league with wonderful talent and dedicated fans. With my added perspective from playing in Europe, I realize how much N.W.S.L. is truly in its infancy. As Americans, we always look to quickly make things bigger, better and more successful. Like most invested followers and participants, I think there should be some tweaks made to the N.W.S.L. to continue to improve from season to season. After playing elsewhere, however, and seeing that even the leagues with great history and parity are not perfect, I have come to the conclusion that the N.W.S.L.'s opening season was a success.

Leaning Into the Learning Curve

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — From the moment my dad bought me my first pair of cleats (he actually called them spikes, thanks to his running background … at least he didn’t call them boots) and shin guards, I have been bombarded with instructions and advice. Some things I’ve learned from coaches, videos and various experts have stuck with me over the years, and others I’ve chosen to throw by the wayside. In the spirit of my love of lists, here’s another!

The writer playing for Gothenburg in a recent Swedish league game against Malmo.Photograph by Per MontiniThe writer playing for Gothenburg, which beat Malmo, 2-1, in a recent Swedish league game.

Three things I learned as a youth player that I’ve decided to scrap as a professional:

¶ Warm up like you’re going to play the game. I’ve found that I prefer to expend less energy in warm-up and just make sure that my muscles are loose and my mind is free. I play best when my body is ready to go and I’m happy, so usually, in terms of a pregame routine, this means less is more. I like when a team warms up with possession or some sort of actual playing, but I am not going to go all out and try to feel the intensity of the game just yet. That may work for some people, but it’s not how I prepare.

¶ Decide what you’re going to do with the ball before it comes to you. Yes, it’s good to have your head up and have a picture of the field in your mind as the ball travels to you, but I find it’s best not to make a decision until it’s at your feet. This might mean a split-second decision if you are going to play one-touch, but it’s not an early decision. I find that the later I make my decision, the more information I can process about what has changed on the field. Also, this makes the game less of a thinking game and more instinctive. I have a good feel for the rhythm of the game, so I like to rely on that instinct as opposed to my mind doing the work.

 Avoid caffeine before the game. I like to have a coffee, or two, before I play. I hydrate well and try to get plenty of sleep, but I feel that some caffeine gives me an extra edge in terms of energy and focus when it comes time to play. Coffee has a large effect on my mood. Plain and simple, it makes me happy. And who doesn’t want to feel happy before playing?


Three things I learned as a youth player that I always want to hold onto:

¶ The most important thing is to have fun. Hands down, this is my one key to success. I play much better when I’m relaxed and enjoying myself, and I enjoy myself when things are going well on the field. They feed off each other, but the one thing I can control within the cycle is to find happiness in the little things. Whether it’s something funny that happens on the field, a good combination with a teammate, or the simplest pass that zips along the grass, I try to appreciate those moments. I don’t think I’ve ever played poorly in a game when I was in a good frame of mind and enjoying myself.

In Montclair, N.J., 8 years old or thereabouts.Photograph by Gloria AverbuchIn Montclair, N.J., 8 years old or thereabouts.

¶ Have orange slices at halftime. I sweat a lot and find that I not only need to drink a lot of fluids, but also have a snack at halftime. Fruit, gummy bears, a granola bar all work. The little bit of sugar helps to replace some of what I’ve lost in the first half, and also keeps me focused and energized. I would love it if there were always orange slices available, but unfortunately that ended at about age 12.

¶ Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.Especially as a center midfielder, it’s easy to get down on yourself if you make a few mistakes. It can be scary to demand the ball when you’ve just given it away in a dangerous area. But since I find that being in that position puts you constantly in the middle of the action, I’ve started to view mistakes differently. My philosophy is to do more, and do it well, so mistakes matter less. Rather than attempting to limit mistakes, which sometimes I can’t control and trying can make me tense, I demand the ball as much as possible and always be available as an outlet. That way, if I am constantly involved and do tons of good things, the times I don’t do as well are far less important.

I’ve long outgrown that first pair of cleats and now prefer shin guards without the attached ankle guards. It’ll be interesting to look back some years from now and see what advice I’ve continued to covet and what new take I have on the pieces that I will chuck along the way.

The Never-Ending Path of Ascension

The other day, my team (Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC) got crushed 5-0 by LdB Malmö. Even worse than the score-line was the feeling of being completely dominated and ineffective at something you train for every day. Although everyone hopes life’s highs outweigh the lows, we have all traversed the valleys as well as the peaks along our journeys.

I can’t control everything about my life as a professional soccer player. I may have to switch teams/cities each season, or even midway through a season. I may play 90 minutes or notstep foot onthe field. I do all that I can to stay healthy, but I may miss time due to injury. Coaches or observers may love my style or performance, while others may criticize it harshly. My team may prepare thoroughly for a game and still lose or I may be subjected to a system of play or method of training with which I don’t personally agree.

But to refer to a Victor Frankl quote that encapsulates one of the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team core values, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Frankl’s analysis came from his experience in a concentration camp, which he describes described in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Surely we can all manage to stay positive with the much smaller obstacles in our daily lives.

Like the years I’ve spent honing technical skills and physical fitness, mental training for me is an ongoing process. And every time I think that I’ve arrived at a new epiphany, something eventually shakes my mindset. My confidence, contentment, and courage are constantly put to the test.

Sometimes it is nearly impossible to enjoy the moment or feel confident in the face of a huge failure. There is one stable element, however, that has allowed me to stay faithful to my dreams over the years. It is a philosophy I took from my father growing up and something that Anson Dorrance, coach at UNC, put into simple words. “We should aspire to live on a never-ending path of ascension.”

At the end of the day, it’s terrifying to do your best and possibly still come up short. And sometimes it feels that failures outnumber successes along the way. I often bring my focus to my development as a player and a person. As long as I feel that I am still getting better, then I know I am on the right track.

I am no longer considered a “young” player. But I still feel that I can be so much better and more dominant than I am. I hold onto thatdissatisfaction and the notion that there is another level of play within me that inspires me to keep pushing.

During the Swedish class that I recently started, I observed a personal characteristic that has played a large role in molding my journey. It is the way I learn. I have an obsession with mastering the basics. My mind and body will not let me move forward until I feel that I have fully grasped the foundation of what I’m doing. Sometimes it can make me feel like I’m getting off to a slow start, but philosophically, I believe that the wider the base you are able to build, the higher your pyramid of learning can reach.

When learning Swedish, I have been obsessed with fully understanding not onlyhowthings work and are said, butwhy. I have trouble making myself try to speak until I understand exactly what words I am saying and why they fit together the way they do. I’m slow, but making progress. Jag pratar lite Svenska!

Soccer has been the same for me. I have spent years mastering basic techniques and building my platform of physical fitness. Whereas other players maybehave more game experience or less fear to just try things in the moment and make mistakes, my approach has held me back at times from doing that. That’s why I feel that, at 26, I am just entering the period of my prime playing ability. I still work incessantly on building my base, but at the same time I am now adding other elements to my pyramid to help take it to new heights.

I have and will hit many stumbling blocks along the way—individually and team-wise—but as long as I continue on my ascension, I feel great about the process. After all,with this philosophy, I can always control my own improvement.

On that note, I will leave you with my personal motto that I’ve finally condensed into a simple phrase: “Pursue your dreams with every ounce of your being, but above all, love the journey.”

Season update: Kopparbergs/Göteborg remains in third place in the Damallsvenkan (Swedish women’s league). I will be traveling back to the U.S. for a week to represent the USWNT against Mexico in DC on September 3. We still have eight games left in the season and also Swedish Cup games to be played, so there are many chances to avenge our recent defeat!

In Sweden, My Dreams Will Find Me

From left, the author, Cami Levin, and Ingrid Wells take a break from a bike ride around Gothenburg.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — I’ve seen the quotation above dozens of times, but recently it struck me with renewed meaning and strength. Perhaps it’s because I am beginning to unfold a phase of my journey in another country. Suddenly, my habits don’t seem quite as normal as they used to, and I am being exposed to new ways of living.

Gothenburg is a wonderful city. It’s beautiful, there is a lot going on, and everyone is friendly and speaks English. The transition has not been a tough one. As my days here pass and I no longer feel like I am on vacation, however, the process of adapting to actually living here has taught me some things about myself, cultural influences and life in general.

We are what we repeatedly do. I first noticed this on the field. The Swedish women on Kopparbergs/Goteborg are impressively proficient in possession. Whether it’s 5 v 2, one touch, whatever the restriction or dimension, it’s normal to connect 10 passes (which is often typically the aim once or twice for the entire time playing when I’m back home). The players have mastered the techniques and decision-making to make games like this feel easy. Interestingly, though, a simple American warm-up series of traps and volleys (which you would think would be a breeze) seemed challenging when I watched my teammate Christen Press try to teach it to one of our more technical Swedish teammates. It has nothing to do with the players’ ability. We simply become proficient in the things that we make habitual.


I enjoy bike riding, but my quads don’t. After a few days here, the club bought bikes for Cami Levin and me (the two new additions to the team). They are both purple and have baskets in the front, and little bells to alert other bike riders when we are approaching, which is typical here. I loved my bike from the moment I saw it. And riding it on a sunny day to and from practice was fun! After two days of bike riding everywhere, though, my legs were heavy and tired. I’ll have to ride the tram instead on occasion until I get used to this new additional exercise.

The club bought purple bikes for the author and Levin.The club bought purple bikes for the author and a teammate.

The No. 7 in Swedish is physically impossible for an American to pronounce. I am not fluent in any other languages, but I consider myself decent at picking them up. I am usually fairly good at pronunciation, especially when I am just repeating after someone. But I am not confident I will ever be able to speak Swedish. I have hope that maybe one day I will be able to understand it, and even possibly read some, but there are sounds in this language that are impossible! If you are American, and have mastered being able to say “seven” in Swedish, please contact me (my Twitter address is below)! I may request a Swedish lesson over Skype.

Check out how to say some difficult words in Swedish here.

Swedes have a different attitude toward work. In my two weeks here, I have noticed that while the Swedish people I have met and observed are hard-working, they have a much more laid-back attitude toward work than I am used to in the U.S.

On and off the field, quality is valued over quantity, and enjoying what you do is top priority. Training is always just enough or leaves me motivated to do a bit more. Efficiency is valued on the field, but Swedish people also much appreciate their free time. On a nice day, many people are out relaxing in the park, getting coffee or lunch with friends, or walking and biking around the city. I could definitely get used to this!

“Do not expect rewards for football, football is the reward.” I saw this written somewhere and immediately loved it.

What a wonderful reminder. I have come to Sweden to learn, add pieces to my game and help bring me closer to my goal of playing in a Women’s World Cup and Olympics. But what is most important is that I enjoy every day here and treasure each time I get to step onto the field. I laugh a lot at practice, even though half the time I don’t understand much of what is being said. I believe that when I am truly and wholly happy playing this sport I love, and only focused on doing my best in the training session or game, then my dreams will find me.


I counted in my head, “Nine…ten…eleven. Nine…ten. Nine…ten…eleven…twelve. Come on, Yael, close the gap to 19!” Marlene “Marre” Sjöberg had changed her method of beading and I had no time to stop to improve my own system. She had overtaken me. For over an our, the two of us sat forward in our seats at the table, beading bracelets with the fury one might use to restart a manual car that has stalled just as the light turns green (which is becoming an all-to-common fear for me here as a new manual driver, but that’s a story for another day!). The rest of our teammates sat back, chatting, sipping water, and beading their bracelets, sometimes even taking time to make patterns with the multicolored beads.

My Swedish team, Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC, had gone on an outing to a local charity called Ung (Young) Cancer. The organization provides support for youth who are affected by the disease, either directly or indirectly, and sells bracelets that say “F*CK CANCER” to raise money for the cause (www.ungcancer.se). All I heard was that we would bead bracelets for two hours— each one 19 beads, the letters F-*-C-K, three beads, C-A-N-C-E-R, and then 19 beads again—before I furiously got to work and naturally was well aware of my production rate in comparison to everyone around me. So much for a relaxing afternoon of bracelet-making.

I hadn’t beaded a bracelet in years. The irony of the situation was that this is exactly how I would have approached the task as a seven-year-old. Growing up, there was always concern that I should be more well-rounded. My parents and I were constantly warned that it was dangerous or unhealthy for me to pursue soccer as single-mindedly as I was doing at such a young age. But with beading bracelets, or anything for that matter, I was just as fanatic.

The truth is, I’m not well-rounded at all. In part, because I approach everything I do with the same intensity. That’s the only way I know how to do things or find them exciting. I can’t really do anything “just for fun” because what makes it fun to me is the tension of always trying to do it better or be the best.

Still, seeking this ever illusive “balance” that I’m told is so important in life has been an ongoing process for me. Although counterintuitive to the very essence of my being, balance is necessary for me to have the mental longevity to play soccer at the highest level for as long as possible.

Besides my everyday reminders that balance is just not for me—for example, my inability to focus on a TV show without feeling I should stretch or foam roll or do something productive—my experience at Ung Cancer made a stark statement about my nature. While I seek balance to help relieve some of the constant angst that tugs at me to maximize my potential, my intrinsic way of being usually wins out.

I guess the irony of balance is that it is actually a very fine tension. It is the pull between the necessary forces of contentment and ambition, cooperation and competition, catering to your strengths and giving energy to improve your weaknesses, being in the moment and planning for the future.

I am absurdly focused, insanely driven, obsessed with perfection, and every other quality that if not applied to a valid discipline would end me up in a psychiatrist’s office as opposed to a soccer field. Part of finding balance in my life has been to have friends outside of soccer, spend time doing non-competitive activities, and expand my mind to new and unfamiliar areas. Finding the ideal tension between those elements and my inherent nature is an ongoing process.

And, although I am making progress, in the heat of the moment balance often gets thrown out the window. As Marre and I furiously made bracelets, the only thing balanced about the situation was the number of beads on each side of the letters.

Season update: Our team is two games into the second half of the Damallsvenskan (Swedish league) season. We have two wins, most recently 1-0 away against Mallbacken, and face LdB Malmö at home on Sunday. We are currently sitting in third place with 26 points, just behind both Tyresö and Malmö with 30. 

5 Big Things I Took Away from Euro 2013

I returned to Sweden from my summer break just a day before the opening games of Euro 2013. During the tournament, I was able to take in three games live and watched most of the rest on TV. Since all the commentary was in Swedish, and I’m removed from what’s being said about the tournament in the U.S., I developed some opinions on the action that may or may not be shared by a lot of people.

  1. Sweden is awesome. Something that has really amazed me and pleasantly surprised me since coming to Sweden is the country’s respect for women’s sports. Newspapers feature articles on the local teams, TV covers a lot of games, and fan support is impressive. While most times there aren’t tons of people in the stands for club games, everyone around the city is aware of their local team. I was lucky enough to be in Göteborg for two games that featured Sweden and all day the city was filled with yellow and blue shirts. Both games sold out the stadium and had an attendance over 16,000 supportive fans proudly chanting and waving Swedish flags. The championship game, although Sweden was no longer involved, had a record attendance of 41,301. I’m not Swedish, but was sure proud to be a temporary resident of a country that appreciates and supports their women’s fotboll.
  2. The gap is closing. What struck me most about the entire Euro 2013 tournament was the fact that no victory was ensured. In the past, it would be a no-brainer that Germany would crush Holland, England would run easily over Spain, and France would glide past Denmark in a quarterfinal game (all results that did not pan out). But while the top teams continue to rise and refine their system of play, everyone else is closing the gap with leaps and bounds. Denmark, who did not finish top two in their group play but received a wildcard into the quarterfinal, impressed me as much as any team I watched in the tournament. Norway, currently ranked 11th in the world by FIFA, surpassed three higher-ranking European sides to feature in the final. For periods of the match I thought they outplayed Germany and easily could have taken the championship had they capitalized on the two penalties called in their favor. All in all, no team in the tournament could be counted out. All showed very bright moments and made a case for the increasing parity in the women’s game.
  3. Spain is to be feared. My personal favorites to watch this tournament (and I know I’m not alone is saying this) were Spain. I often face Verónica Boquete and Jennifer Hermoso, who play for my Swedish club’s rivals, Tyresö FF, so I am aware of their extraordinary individual talent. What surprised me was how well Spain played as a team. Not only do they have individuals who can break pressure and create a dangerous situation in a split second, but they move the ball well and with good rhythm. I had no illusions about how far they would go in the tournament. I don’t think they have the depth or physical strength yet to push through the later rounds against tough competition. But Spain is to be feared in years to come. They are a few players away from being one of the top teams in Europe and as they gain confidence and eventually increased resources and support from their federation, I think they have the potential to challenge as a top team in the world.
  4. Winning is a habit. Everyone had been talking about how Germany had injuries and was missing some top players leading into the tournament. They brought a younger team than usual and were visibly not the same powerhouse we’re used to seeing. I thought that Sweden outplayed them in the semifinal in the run of play, but were unfortunate to not do better finishing some chances on goal. And Norway could have easily been victorious based on their chances in the final. But Germany know how to win. It is an intangible skill in the game that has nothing to do with possessing the ball, creating quality scoring chances, or even the talent of the individual players. Yes, these factors are all important and it is very unlikely that you can win a major competition without them, but Germany was not the best team in Euro 2013 in my opinion. They just know how to win when it counts. They expect to win, they practice winning, and they come up big in the important moments. There is something to be said for that. It isn’t always the best team that comes through in the end, but the team who believes they deserve to be the best.
  5. Global coverage has improved in leaps and bounds. Players from both England and Holland (places with very strong traditions on the men’s side of the game) commented on much they felt coverage of the tournament had improved back home. Everywhere, the women’s game is gaining respect and being analyzed tactically and technically in similar ways to the men’s. The ability to follow the games from outside of Sweden was also impressive. In the U.S., all games were shown on ESPN3. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember being able to watch them in 2009.

I found myself very jealous that the U.S. does not have an equivalent tournament to the Euros. I think that a major competition in addition to the Women’s World Cup and Olympics is incredibly valuable for the countries and individuals who participate. New heroes emerge, individual players get exposure at the international level and to top club scouts from around the world, and it is another chance to compete for a prestigious title. Maybe we can apply for honorary European status??


Being A Normal Person

UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- I tried an experiment during my summer break. It was called “Operation: Be a Normal Person.”Ultimate fail.

I had a few weeks off before I head back to Sweden to resume training and prepare for the second half of the season at Gothenburg. I decided that it was best for me to take a complete break, both mentally and physically, for at least a week. That’s where my plan kicked in.

Finally, I could relax by the pool and not worry about the sun draining my energy. But I got bored just standing in the water I so started doing the pool recovery exercises I’ve learned over the years to loosen up my muscles. Plus, I kept checking the time to make sure I wouldn’t miss the Confederations Cup games.

I went out to eat with friends. The normalness plan was going really well. I had no hint of soccer gear on and we talked about regular people stuff. Until I remembered I hadn’t done my ankle exercises in a few days! Good thing no one would notice if I did them inconspicuously under the table.

I tried laying out in my yard. But why just lay there aimlessly on the towel when I could do some planks to strengthen my core?

And even watching a movie was tough going. It wasn’t my fault I couldn’t focus when the foam roller in my living room kept catching my eye. My IT bands were tight!

One of the learning curves of playing professionally has been figuring out my body’s most effective training rhythm. There are so many factors that go into being able to perform at my best at the right time.

I used to have to train every day. Even if I couldn’t really train I would make myself touch the ball a bit just so in my mind I hadn’t broken the chain of consecutive days of training. I probably went a few years without missing a day. Eventually I realized that taking a day off — or even a more substantial amount of time (I know, blasphemy!) — can be even more beneficial than training nonstop.

Although it’s always a struggle to temporarily free my mind of the discipline I have instilled over the years, I did get some good rest over my break and had a lot of fun while doing it. But I guess being normal is just not for me. I’ll always think Cristiano or Beckham when I see a No. 7. I’ll always make plans and goals when I’m supposed to be relaxing and going with the flow. I’ll always arrange my day around a big game on TV. And I’ll most likely always identify myself as a soccer player above all else.

#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.