I’m back in Seattle now, getting the new NWSL season underway with my team, the Seattle Reign. A lot has happened over the past couple weeks that I want to talk about, starting with our recent friendly against New Zealand.
But before jumping in, I want to take a moment to talk about the response to my first blog post. I was really, really nervous about putting myself out there, and how the whole thing would be received. The reaction was tremendous, overwhelming, and truly moving. I cannot say thank you enough to all of the fans out there for your support. It’s one of the many things in my life that I feel incredibly grateful for, and lucky to have.
RETURN TO ST. LOUIS
It was really great going back to St. Louis for the game against New Zealand. I had lived there in 2009 and ’10 when I played for the Athletica, and I have nothing but great memories of the city. I actually had a chance to spend Easter with some good friends of mine, incredible people who took great care of me when I was there, but who I hadn’t seen for years. That was really good.
Game day at Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals play, was a pretty amazing experience. It was a nice, sunny day, and everything about it was beautiful. The stadium was immaculate. The locker room was one of the nicest I’ve ever been in — it was painted Cardinals’ colors, and had nice recliners, big TVs, lots of outlets and friendly workers. It felt very different playing in the outfield of a baseball stadium, but pretty cool, too, especially overlooking the Arch. And of course, the crowd was awesome.
As far as the game went, domestic friendlies are a confidence booster for us, and a chance for the team to work on different variations in how we play. Three defenders scored goals for us, including the hometown girl (and my former Athletica teammate) Lori Chalupny, and I was really happy for her.
A GOALKEEPING GROOVE
When it comes to my training, a big change that hasn’t been talked about a lot is that I started working with a new goalkeeping coach about 10 weeks ago. My long-time coach, Paul Rogers, got a new job with the Houston Dynamo of the MLS, which was a great opportunity for him. But when our National Team head coach, Jill Ellis, told me the news, it was very disappointing, scary and worrisome. I couldn’t really believe it. I credit a lot of my gains over the past six years to working with Paul, and I honestly wasn’t confident that I could build a great rapport with a new coach with such little time prior to the World Cup.
But I did my best to embrace the change, and I’m excited by what I’ve experienced with the National Team’s new goalkeeper coach, Graeme Abel.
It’s really, really difficult to find a great goalkeeper coach. Great goalkeeper coaches realize that each goalkeeper moves her body just a little bit differently, and uses techniques that benefit her individually. The best coaches know how to maximize each goalkeeper’s footwork, positioning, body shape, set shape and individual styles. They know how to motivate each keeper based on her personality. They know all the nitty, gritty details, all the tiny intricacies that people can’t see. And they’re great in breaking down video. They video-tape every session, and then recreate that session the next time out so that you can improve on what you learned on film. It’s kind of an ongoing process, more than just going out and striking balls and saying, “Hey, dive! Get up! Dive!” (Trust me, there are many goalkeeper coaches who use that style.)
Graeme is English and a former goalkeeper. He’s very technical, and very good with video work. He’s hard on me, which I need, but he also has a really upbeat personality, and a great energy about him that everybody on the team enjoys being around. I really like the work we’ve done so far, and I’m excited about where we’ll be by the time the World Cup gets here. And I’m even more excited for us to take the World Cup journey together.
SMILING IN SEATTLE
I’m home for a few weeks now before the National Team regroups in Southern California, and I’m enjoying being back. There’s nothing like being back home, waking up and making my own coffee, and then leaving for work in a beautiful city.
I’m in a really good spot in terms of my home team, the Seattle Reign. and there truly is no other team I’d rather play for. The team’s owners, Teresa and Bill Predmore, had a vision of being the best women’s pro club in the world, and I admire them for staying true to it. It’s been an honor to play for this organization, and I feel very lucky and very blessed to be here. It’s a great training environment, and everything — even playing on turf, which we do at Memorial Stadium in view of the Space Needle — is going to help prepare me for the World Cup.
The Reign has some of the most talented players in the world. Kim Little is one of the best I’ve ever played with. She was the leading scorer in the NWSL last season, and she’s incredible. We have another player, Jess Fishlock, from Wales, and she’s also amazing. They’re both just work-horses, passionate and filled with skills. They’re so much fun to play with, it’s contagious. Neither of their teams qualified for the World Cup, which is unfortunate because they’re the kind of players everyone would love to watch, and that players love to play against.
Every day at practice, it’s fun, awesome, and competitive. Our coach, Laura Harvey, is English and really wants to play the game of soccer the way everybody says they want to play, like Barcelona. But Laura doesn’t just say it. She really does coach us to play through the midfield, to always have numbers around the ball. We have creativity on the attack. We have movement off the ball. We have everybody playing defense. Everybody plays offense, and even I’m involved in moving the ball around. It’s just a great style of play. I really enjoy waking up every day, going to my Seattle practice and knowing I’m working on becoming a better player.
One of the other great benefits of playing for the Reign is that I get to play with Megan Rapinoe. Megan lives here in Seattle. She had been recovering from injuries over the past couple of months, but she’s playing great now. In our opener Sunday against the Western New York Flash, we won, 5-1. Pinoe finished with a hat trick and an assist.
It’s amazing to think of how far Megan has come from when I met her, back when she was a young kid with long hair. Right off the bat, I remember thinking, “This girl’s got a lot of talent,” but the way she’s kept getting better and better has been awesome to see.
Back in the beginning of her career, Megan didn’t always embrace the defensive part of being a midfielder. She kind of approached it like, “That’s what defenders are for.” It actually became kind of a running joke between Pinoe and everyone else on the team, and we’d all laugh about it together.
Now, she makes an incredible impact on both ends of the field, not just with the U.S. team, but with our Seattle team, too. She’s so mindful of our team’s shape defensively that she’s become one of my favorite defenders on corners in the near post zonal position. I trust that nothing will go through her when she holds that spot for corners.
She’s also become the ultimate teammate, and I can’t say enough about how valuable that is. She treats everyone with respect on and off the field. She loves the game so much that she’ll do whatever it takes for her team to win. She doesn’t care if it’s her that scores, or somebody else. It’s not about her. It’s about us.
A NEW TEAMMATE
One of the most surprising things that’s happened recently is that Abby Wambach became my teammate on the Reign. Last weekend, Sydney Leroux was traded to Western New York for Abby. Syd and I were teammates in Seattle last season, so it was shocking to see that she was leaving.
The funny thing is that I already had been talking to Abby about coming up from Portland, where she lives, to train with us. Back in March, Abby said that she wasn’t planning to play in the NWSL while she got ready for the World Cup. Over the past few weeks, I had been encouraging her to come to Seattle to participate in our practices. “The World Cup is about 60 days away,” I told her. “I just want to make sure that you’re in a good environment training.”
Then the trade happened. So she’s coming! I think it’s going to be great for her, and for us, too.
Last but not least, the final National Team roster for the World Cup was released Tuesday. When Jill called to tell me I had made the team, it made me very emotional. A lot of thoughts went through my head.
Back in February, a little over a week into my time away from the team, Sunil Gulati — president of U.S. Soccer — called me from Australia to see how I was doing. Sunil and Dan Flynn, the CEO of U.S. Soccer, are people I highly respect, and letting them down had been one of the worst things about my suspension.
When Sunil called, I thanked him. I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to get healthy mentally and emotionally, something I may not have been able to do otherwise before the World Cup. If anything good came out of my suspension, it was that, and I will always be grateful to Sunil, Dan and U.S. Soccer for it.
Hearing Jill’s voice — hearing that I was getting a chance to go back to the World Cup for a third time — filled me with joy. I’m so proud and happy to be a part of this team, and appreciative of the many people who have helped me get to this point. And I can’t wait for the tournament to start. I say the third time’s a charm!