pinoe

Dear Abby

Dear Abby,

Four and a half years ago, the only soccer I ever watched was youth soccer matches for teams a few of my friends played on. I didn’t know much about the game, except the few things I learned from watching those matches. In fact, at the time, I wouldn’t even refer to them as matches (which goes to show how far I’ve come since then). Something changed in the summer of 2011 though. Something that would eventually impact my life in the biggest way possible. Something that wouldn’t have happened without you. But to get to that point, it’s best to discuss the kind of player you are and the impact you’ve made in your time as a soccer player.

You’ve been playing soccer for quite some time now. You played as a child, a teenager, and as an adult. You’ve played for youth clubs, your high school, your college, The University of Florida, and the Olympic Development/U.S. national program (and maybe even other teams that I’m missing). You’ve played for professional clubs (Washington Freedom, magicJack, and Western New York Flash) throughout your career too. Most importantly though, you began playing international, professional soccer for the United States Women’s National Team over 14 years ago. You got your first cap on September 9, 2001 against Germany during the Nike U.S. Cup. You scored your first international goal on April 27, 2002 in a friendly against Finland and it’s only gone up from there.

You’ve went on to play in 254 matches (255 if you count tonight), including 4 Women’s World Cups, 2 Olympics, and many other tournaments, friendlies, and victory tours in between. You’ve scored a total of 184 international goals (and counting if you score some tonight), many of those with your head, and you’re the United States’ all-time leading goal scorer (for both men and women). You’ve won the World Cup (2015), Olympic Gold (2004, 2012), and the FIFA Player of the Year Award (2012).

Your impact has been great off the field as well. You’re an ambassador for women’s pro soccer and for equality in the women’s game. You’ve supported many causes and charities throughout your career. You’re even a role model in the LGBTQ world as an out professional athlete, even though that was never your intention as a soccer player. You also have an extreme passion for and dedication to Chipotle, possibly greater than mine, especially since you scored a personal burrito card (I’m super jeal).

Despite all your accomplishments, you never take all the glory. You always give the credit to your teammates and to those who put you in the position to be great. You influence and inspire those around you to be better, no matter your role. In all these ways, you really have been an impact in every aspect of your life, so now I guess I should explain how and why you impacted me. Back to the summer of 2011.

That summer you and your national team teammates competed in Germany in the Women’s World Cup. You reached the quarterfinals of the tournament after finishing second in your pool. You played Brazil and I think you remember what happened from there. After playing a man down for 25 minutes in the second half and all of extra time, your team was down by 1 entering the stoppage minutes of extra time. In a last ditch effort to tie the match, Megan Rapinoe took the ball up field and sent in the greatest cross of her life to the far post where the ball met your head as you easily directed it into the back of the net. Tie game. End of extra time. Next came the PKs. Every player (including you) nailed their shots and Hope saved one. You guys won and it sparked news all over the country. That’s when I heard about it. After that I thought, “Hmm, maybe I’ll tune into the next game.” I did and I was hooked. I watched your last two matches that summer. I cheered for most of you guys by name in the final and sadly, I watched you lose to Japan on PKs. It was at that moment that I declared out loud to myself, “They’re gonna win it in four years.” (And just an FYI, I was right!)

In the four years since the 2011 Women’s World Cup, I fell in love with the game and the national team. It was slow at first, because I really didn’t start following your team closely until after the 2012 Olympics. But when I did, it was all because of what happened in 2011. I wouldn’t have cared to watch the Olympics that summer if I didn’t already know about you guys and think to myself, “Oh yeah, I love that team! They’re beasts.” I watched almost every game of your Olympic tournament that summer, including that crazy semi-final against Canada, and the gold medal winning match against Japan. From that point on it snowballed. I was inspired by so many players, a few in particular and you included. Your diverse stories and personalities inspired me to change and accept things about myself that I never had before. It was life-changing. I truly believe I’m a better person because of it.

Without that goal in 2011, who knows if anything would be the same. I know for certain my life wouldn’t be where it is today without it or without you. Although maybe I should take a page from your playbook, thank Pinoe for the cross, and the rest of the gals for playing their hearts out  during the quarterfinal and rocking their PKs. You’d probably tell me I should, but for now, you deserve some credit too, so thanks for using your head and scoring that goal!

Even though your playing career ends tonight, I know you’ll still impact the game through whatever you decide to do. I hope you finally have the time to do all the other things you love and want to do, including playing golf and starting a family with your wife, Sarah. It might even be a great time to start campaigning for the position as the President of FIFA, or at least a spot on the board. I heard they have some availability. I also heard you wanted to change the world, but I think most can agree you’ve already done that. I guess you can always just do it in a different way the next time. We all know you’re capable of it. No matter what though, I can’t wait to see what other great things you have in store for the future, because greatness runs inside you.

Lastly, before your final game in your illustrious soccer career, I wanted to say thanks. Thanks for being a world class athlete. Thanks for having that “American mentality” and the drive to never quit, despite the odds. Thanks for accepting and embracing every role you’ve been asked to play. Thanks for motivating your teammates to succeed and giving them all the credit. Thanks for inspiring me, this nation, fans, and others throughout the years. Thanks for being true to yourself while in the spotlight and most importantly, thanks for being you, the GOAT, Abby Wambach.

Sincerely,

An Inspired Fan

 

 

The Countdown Continues: Send Off Series Game 1 USA vs. IRL

THREE….

Sunday afternoon in front of a sold-out crowd at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA the USWNT squared off against Ireland in the first game of a three game send off series before the 2015 Women’s World Cup begins on June 6th (June 8th for the USWNT). They secured a 3-0 victory in a dominant performance over the Irish women with goals from Abby Wambach (2) and Julie Johnston. The team was without forward Alex Morgan who was resting her minor injury, a bone bruise in her left knee. Defender Ali Krieger was back in the lineup after being out for a month with a mild concussion she sustained during the first game of the NWSL season while playing with her club, the Washington Spirit, on April 10th. She was also sporting a trendy headband aimed to help prevent any further head trauma.

Compared to the last friendly a little over a month ago, the team had a slow start as far as finishing goes, but possessed the ball incredibly well in the first half. Christen Press created numerous opportunities for herself to put one in the back of the net. Forwards Wambach  and Amy Rodriguez also had some chances at putting shots in the goal, which Wambach eventually converted. The work of Meghan Klingenberg on the left flank and Krieger on the right flank helped to create scoring opportunities as well. The USWNT played a large portion of the first half in their attacking third. It wasn’t until the 42nd minute that they made a dent in the scoreboard though. An Ireland defender tried to clear a Megan Rapinoe corner kick that hit her own teammate, who was guarding the back post, in the face. The shot to the face subsequently prevented an own goal for Ireland. However, after bouncing off the face of the Irish defender, the ball landed at the feet of Press who delivered a pass to Wambach to finish the play. Wambach put in another goal in the 45th minute when Carli Lloyd sent a cross to her at the far post. In patented Abby fashion, she finished it with a header as the U.S.A. took a 2-0 lead to the locker room.

The second half saw plenty of subs for the USWNT as Lori Chalupny, Morgan Brian, and Sydney Leroux entered at the half for Krieger, Rapinoe, and Rodriguez. Kelley O’Hara, Heather O’Reilly, and Shannon Boxx came on later in the half. About 10 minutes into the second half, defender Julie Johnston flicked home a Lauren Holiday corner kick just inside the near post. It was Johnston’s third international goal and her third in the last three matches. The USWNT failed to convert any more chances in the rest of the time remaining despite some quality opportunities they had. Ireland goalkeeper Niamh Reid-Burke came up with some stellar saves. Starting U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo did not face any shots in the game nor did she have a single touch on the ball. It was a purely dominant effort by the ladies in red, white, and blue (but mostly different shades of blue with a little white and a trace of red mixed in) especially when it came to possessing the ball and controlling the game.

Of note in the first match of the send off series was that this was the very first time in the history of the game that the players of the USWNT were accompanied on the field by their mothers who flew in courtesy of Fox Sports to surprise the team for Mother’s Day. It was a special moment for the players and their moms and will be a lasting memory for years to come.

As I watched the game today, it felt like the team was a bit off. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say they regressed from where they were a month ago because they controlled the game. The only difference was the beautiful one-two touch passing exhibited during the New Zealand friendly was less evident. The finishing wasn’t there either which continued as a theme from the last match. These two things are minor though. It’s difficult to be perfect every game, but if any team can be near perfection it’s the USWNT. Fortunately they have 2 more games as a group to get to that level. The next one is in a week, May 17th 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT in Carson, CA (coverage on FoxSports 1), but time is of the essence. 28 days remain until Game 1 of the group stage versus Australia. The players are anxious. The excitement is mounting. The hype is real. Two more to go until the fun begins.

Qualified. Not Satisfied.

In 223 days, the 2015 Women’s World Cup kickoffs in Canada and the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) will be a part of it. For the past week and a half the team has been competing in the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament which allows three teams from the CONCACAF region to qualify for the World Cup. With a win against Mexico last night the USWNT became one of the three. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the match in Philadelphia where the U.S. put up a 3-0 victory to secure their spot. The win also guaranteed them a spot in the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament championship match on Sunday at 6 p.m.

When I was growing up, I never would have guessed that I would become a soccer fan. In fact I remember thinking and saying to myself at one point several years ago while flipping TV channels and landing on a soccer game that I would never attend a pro soccer match or ever be interested in a game. Now, here I am, a day after attending a soccer game. Things change. I guess the only thing to point out is that the game I attended was a women’s soccer match but that game on TV was all men. I’m sure there’s a difference between men’s and women’s soccer but I don’t watch the guys so I wouldn’t know (aside from some of the World Cup this past summer). I love watching the women play though, but especially this group pulled from all areas of the United States.

Thanks to the internet, social media, Youtube and other technology I was able to learn a lot about the players on the USWNT. I don’t just mean facts about them either. In this technological age you really get a feel for what kind of a person someone is by what they say on social media, how they act, or what their interests/opinions are. It’s super incredible. At the same time though, it’s only half the story. Someone could be entirely different from how you expect them to be. Even if that is the case, I would still have to argue that we’re better off finding out more about people than we were before all this technology happened, especially with social media. U.S. Soccer has done a great job with their youtube channel to introduce/interview players and show their personalities through special videos that don’t just show highlights from the last match (although they have those too). Because of the youtube videos, instagram, twitter, tumblr, and other internet sources, I really fell in love with this team of individual athletes since I first started to pay attention to them in July 2011. There’s nothing I want more for them than to win the World Cup next year.

It’s evident that they want it too. The United States hasn’t won the World Cup since 1999 which made players like Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and Julie Foudy household names. The route to the final in 2011 put this current group of players in the eye of the sports world, but they fell short. Next year a large majority of those same players will be playing in front of the world trying to achieve what all but one have yet to accomplish, winning a World Cup (Christie Rampone was the only current US player on that 1999 squad). Ever since the loss to Japan on penalties in 2011, these women have been training to make it back to the World Cup final and come out victorious. At this point though the 2015 Women’s World Cup may be the last for many players on the squad. This amazing group might not look a lot like they do now in 2019. Abby Wambach has spoke of retirement. Christie Rampone plans to retire after the tournament (she’ll be 40 when it’s over). Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, and Ali Krieger are already in their 30’s. Becky Sauerbrunn and Heather O’Reilly will be 30 before the World Cup begins June 6th. Megan Rapinoe turns 30 the day the final is scheduled to be played. Lauren Holiday, Kelley O’Hara, Amy Rodriguez, and Tobin Heath will also be in their 30’s by the time the next world cup comes around. All the players mentioned above were with the team in 2011. That’s a large chunk. With age, health and fitness issues can come into play. Not only that but players may even want to start families and pursue other opportunities. So for me, for other fans, and for this team, the time is now. It’s win the World Cup or bust.

Of course who knows, maybe in 2019 a lot of those players will be around, but I just have this feeling like that won’t be the case. They know 2015 is the year. They’ve been ranked as #1 in the world for quite awhile and the 2015 Women’s World Cup is the time to prove it. So last night when the final whistle blew, I could feel the good vibes flowing from the field, but it was only for momentary celebration. They made it. They’re going to Canada. They qualified, but there’s no way they’ll be satisfied until the World Cup trophy is in their grasp and gold medals hang from their necks.

(As a side note, if you didn’t pick it up by reading this, the USWNT plays in the championship of the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament tomorrow at 6 p.m. ET. It’ll be on Fox Sports 1 if you’re interested in watching. I promise they’re fun to watch.)

Right before kickoff of the USAvsMEX Semi-final match last night. Sorry for the iPhone quality.

Right before kickoff of the USAvsMEX Semi-final match last night. Sorry for the iPhone quality.