Editor's Note: This transcript was automatically transcribed, so mistakes are inevitable. You can contribute by proofreading the transcript or highlighting the mistakes. Sign up to be amongst the first contributors.
And so for me, it's really finding the people around you when you're a leader that can help empower everyone else and take care of everyone else. And so it's finding those people and really, like leaders should create leaders. And that's what I kind of want my legacy to be, is that I will pass on the torch and that person is going to be better prepared than I ever was to take it.
Welcome to the Gentlemen Sports podcast, where we talk to the biggest athletes in the world about the untold stories behind their success. I'm Kelly O'Hara and my guest today is my friend and teammate Becky Sauerbrunn. Becky Sauerbrunn is one of the greatest defenders in U.S. women's national team history. Not only has Becky won two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal, she's also served as a team captain. And it's the first ever president of the U.S. Women's National Team Players Association, a four time NWSL Defender of the year and two time NWSL champion.
Becky is truly one of the best center backs to ever play the game. Becky, welcome to the show. Thank you very much for having me. Rebecca, Rebecca.
The muffin or your pumpkin? All the things are nicknames for each other. How are you?
How are you doing? You know, I am doing OK. I'm ready for this year to be done. I can imagine you've been a busy girl, but first I just want to say that you are our first offender, OmniPod. We've had three other footballers, soccer players. They've all been strikers. And I was thinking before this, what better person than the Rebeccah Sauerbrun to be our first defender? Because you are the epitome of defense.
Well, thank you for having me as your first defender. It is quite the honor. Yes.
Well, I think you're going to do defenders and defending justice today. I'm so excited to talk to you about it. But before we go to the beginning of your story, we're going to start at the most recent, which was our game against the Netherlands in the Netherlands at the end of November, just a couple of weeks ago, we won two zero. So this is a two part question. The first part is, as a lot of people saw before the game, we came together as a team and had Black Lives Matter on our anthem jackets.
And you were one of the players that was heavily involved in the planning for this and how as a team we could make a statement for racial justice. So I love to have you just kind of give some insight into what the planning look like for this game and this moment and what that meant to be able to do as a national team. Yes, I'm actually conflicted that it took us this long as a national team to get to this point, because for so long we have fought for so many things for gender equality, for pay equality.
You know, we wear jerseys for LGBTQ, for military, and we've never as a group come together to fight for social justice with with racial inequality. And so it's been a long time coming in. In a way, I really feel like we failed the black women on our team and in our program and our black supporters by not bringing more awareness to this fight. And so I'm glad that we came together. I'm glad that we got all the black women together and we really as a team, as a small group.
Decided on what we could do to bring more awareness to Black Lives Matter, and so it's amazing that we got to do that. But it's also like I feel like it's been too long for this to finally come into fruition. And hopefully it's just the first of many things that we do to continue this fight. I know that as an advocate for the Black Women's Collective that there are a lot of things in the works that they're doing as far as many pitches and curriculum and clinics and mentor programs.
And so there's a lot of things coming down the down the line. And so I'm proud about that and proud to continue that work. And as you know, it was the first time as a team that we've ever had a conversation about race.
And it was awkward at times and there was tension and it was emotional. But I think people really got to speak their truth for the first time in that group setting. And so I'm proud about that. And even though people decided to participate in the anthem the way that they did, at least it was done with an understanding for one another's motives. And so still work to be done. But it was a really big step for the group.
Absolutely, definitely just the beginning, which I am excited about and excited to see what twenty, twenty one can bring for this movement and for this team and continuing that work. But we also then stepped on the field and won two zero against the Netherlands. It was, you know, the game that we played a year and a half ago in the World Cup final. So what do you think of the game?
I had no idea what to expect going into it. I mean, we were all all over the place when it comes to fitness and being played in people that are playing in England and Sweden. So they were like ready to go. I don't even know if I could play 90 minutes like it was it was wild. It was just didn't know what to expect. But the way that we came out and I could tell in the first 15 minutes that were dominating and it almost kind of felt like the final where it was like we were generating chances and we just weren't putting them away.
Yeah, but it felt good. And as a defense, like I thought our back line and Elyssa and JJ, I thought we put such a great shift in it felt organized. I felt in control. It's like we were anticipating everything. Nothing was reactionary. It's one of those games where you we don't feel it so often, but you just felt so in control. But I felt the same way, it was so fascinating to not know for the first time, like we've never done this before.
I've never had eight months, seven months, however long off before we've played as a team. So it was a crazy feeling walking into that game. But like I said, that was the most recent thing in your journey in your book. But we're going to start at the beginning with you.
And that is little Rebecca in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child, what did the beginning of sports look like for you?
Oh, the beginning of sports was all of that athletic association. So, okay, all of it's the little town that I that I lived and where my family still lives. And they just had this this sports program where you could do softball or basketball or soccer. And my parents threw me into soccer and I would literally on the weekends, you know, hold their hands down to the local park, Stacy Park, and then just play. And most of the kids that I played with were like my schoolmates because across from Stacy Park was my elementary school.
So a lot of them were just my friends and it started from there. And that group we just enjoyed playing so much that that little group became a select team and we actually played more indoor soccer and outdoor soccer. So I just really started my career playing indoor. How old were you when you would go down to the park and start playing? I was like five. OK, yeah, five or six.
Typical age where everyone's like, wouldn't you start playing like five Ishido? Everyone asked, like, would you start playing soccer? Like I think usually they're asking professionally, I'm like four years old, you know, like that's not what I mean.
So was soccer did you immediately fall in love with soccer or was it you just love sports in general. I I loved sports in general, but soccer from the very beginning was was my was my dream definitely. I did a basketball and dabbled briefly in softball, but very briefly. And basketball really took to.
And at what point did you start to actually think, oh, soccer is something that I want to pursue more than just with my friends at the local park or playing indoor soccer, who I would say like the real turning point in my life was 14 years old, watching the 1999 Women's World Cup final.
That was when I saw them celebrating on the field after that amazing game. And Kristine Lilly saving the ball off the line and just thinking to myself, like, how cool would it be to do a game saving tackle off the line like that and then have your team win and celebrate on the field like they did. And that's when I was like, I need to know what that feels like. And that's when I pretty much dedicated everything to feeling that feeling.
Had you watched the national team before that time? I had seen them in that tournament. A bunch of my club teammates drove to Chicago to watch them play, so I saw them live. It was horrendously hot in Chicago and I remember being like, how are they playing right now? But they absolutely crushed. And I was really fortunate to see that. And I think even at that point, which was like three weeks before the final, I don't think it really hit me what I was watching and what tournament they were in.
But that final something about it, I was just like the Rose Bowl packed the way they celebrated the game itself going into PCAs. I mean, something just hit me. I feel you on that. Definitely. It was something I'd never seen before. I never seen men do something like that before, you know? And then you're watching women do it. I thought it was I was the same way.
So I want to talk about your brothers and what kind of impact they had on you as a kid. And I've heard some of the stories, but I want you to give the listeners some of the stories of growing up with two brothers and what happened to you. They're going to be so disappointed that they get the Ringold into this podcast. So Granton Adam, two older brothers. Grant is eight years older than me and Adam's four years older than me.
So significant age difference being the baby sister. And I mean, it was just like I was a guinea pig, like they got bored and I was the target. And so I was always like just watching them out of the corner of my eye being like, they're going to steal my stuffed animals now, weren't they? Like, it was constant. Like I had to be aware because they were just messing with me all the time. You lived in fear?
And they would do things like roller blading was really popular and roller hockey. And so I would be the goalie and they would stuff me with like couch cushions and they would strap wood on to my arm so I could like block shots. And they were like three yards away, just like slap shotting, you know, like lacrosse balls into me. So it was just one of those, like you learned how to survive. And I mean that affectionately. I was really good at hiding myself.
I was good at hiding my stuffed animals because they would always steal my stuffed animals. And I loved them so much.
But they also, I mean, are super protective and super proud of me. And even to this day, I mean, my oldest brother, Grant, he wasn't going to come with his family to to France. And he surprised me and came to the final. And my little brother Adam was there with his wife. And I think they had a ceremony to get married there. So like it centered around the tournament and kind of around me. So that's amazing.
So, yeah, as much as they made my my childhood a little scary, I think they're making up for it now.
I feel like, you know, it's all in good fun. Older brothers, they want to just rough you up and they do something you want to.
Yeah. And like they you probably have them to thank for the fact that you are one of the grittiest players out there, that I can take shots to my face and be like, oh, it's fine, it's just a little blood.
But you this all makes sense now watching you, I've seen you save more shots with your face than any other player I know.
And it all makes sense. Now, this has been a long time coming from your childhood.
I know. It's like they knew that they had to prepare me. They did. So thanks, Grandpa. Adam, did they play soccer? Did they have any influence on you being super into soccer?
They dabbled in sports. And so my oldest brother wrestled and did baseball and then my middle brother did a little bit of football. And so, yeah, they dabble, but nothing really stuck to them. And so I don't think I owe them anything when it comes to my athletic abilities.
Just your grit. Just my grit. That's amazing, and we'll give them that, because that is like one of your key characteristics as a player is your grittiness. So at what point so you said 14 was when you realized, oh, I want soccer to be, but at what point we're like, oh, I'm actually good at this.
Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. Still days that I'm wondering that.
Oh, Roberto, I think when I, I realized that maybe I was better than I thought I was, I made my my region to team. So when was that. Oh, that was probably around 14 actually. We might have been the same year.
OK, so sophomore in high school. Yeah. That sounds about right. Yeah. We you know, as your state team you go to this like location. We were in DeKalb, Illinois, so really far away from everything and all the states compete. And then from there they they choose kind of the region team. And so you're talking about like the best twenty players of your age group within 12 states. And that's when I was like, hey, I made it.
You know, that's pretty cool. Was that your first time going to region camp?
It was. I was late to the ODP, seen the Olympic Development Program scene. And so my mom was like, hey, maybe we should put you in this. And I was like, nah, she's like, yeah, I'm like, OK. And maybe the best decision my mom ever made for me.
Hey, Mom, there you go. So you made the team and then you went to the national team camp where all the region teams come together. And it's like a big camp, right?
Yeah. The region teams play each other in a tournament. And that was your first time playing against, like, the best of the best in your age group?
Yes. And it was very intimidating because everyone kept talking about Region One and region for being by far the strongest because they were the coasts and obviously the best soccer players come from the coasts. I don't think that's true. But yeah, I just remember going in and just being like, wow, this is this is really something. And it was always over Thanksgiving. And I think I went to that tournament like three or four times.
Yeah. And that so you you made it the first time. And from there, did you immediately fall into that category of making the youth national team like you. Fifteen or sixteen. It was you sixteen. And I don't think I immediately made it. I think when Steve Swanson was the coach, he brought me in and I was maybe like fifteen and a little bit. So it took me a little bit of time, but I did eventually get it to you.
Sixteen pool. And what what was your first youth national team camp like Chula Vista.
You've been there a few times, right? I had, yeah. So just this like Olympic Development Center. And it's so cool because you've got like the cafeteria and you live on site and so the fields are like right there. I thought it was the coolest thing that I've ever been a part of was so nervous. I'm pretty sure we did fitness and I might have puked, although that could have been a different occasion. Not quite sure. Maybe I tried to repress that memory.
Oh, my gosh. But I just remember you're playing with the best of the best in your age group. And it was for me, like I was like I got I got to do what I can to be here every single time they do this camp. Sam, that's exactly how I thought I was like I because the way it works is that each camp is basically a tryout. You could get cut following the camp and never be called back in or you could get called back into the next scheduled camp.
So I went into everyone being like, make the next camp whatever you do to what you have to do to make the next camp. Kelly, that's our lives now. That's what we've been doing that since we were 15.
Isn't it wild to think, like, constant potential to not make it yet to be evaluated every single training session? Yeah, a lot.
It's a lot. Yeah. You're so right. That's and it's wild to think. I mean, I guess we just know it at this point, it's like in our subconscious, but at what point did you start to feel comfortable with the full team and just going to practice and not talking about games, but like going into practice for your like like it's practice? I'm going to enjoy this fun. I'm not super stressed right now.
So with some Dogge, never I never felt comfortable because I always felt like I was too bad long balls away from getting cut basically. So not with Pia, with Tom Samani for the brief time he was with us. I felt better with him because I think he leveled the playing field for everyone. Everyone was being evaluated from level zero. So I felt better and thought I was playing well. And then he got fired because that's just how soccer goes sometimes.
And with Jill, honestly, I really didn't feel that comfortable either, because she was the first coach I ever had that cut me from a national team. So she cut me from the twenty ones, OK? And I just remembered when she got hired for the full team, I was like, well, there goes my career. Like, there's no God, there's no change in her mind. I mean, when she let me go from the twenty ones, it was I remember the feedback really well.
It was one year. You're too slow for center back. And two, you don't have a presence on the field. And so that's like one thing, speed. You can only get so much faster. OK, but like your presence on the field, like that's the heavy criticism when you think about it. Yeah. Because as a center back, like you're expected to make plays and tackle and head the ball and just be super aggressive. And the center backs at the time were like that.
And so I was thinking, man, like I really don't fit into her ideas for a center back like this is going to be really tough. And then even when she started with the full team, I think she still had that impression of me. And I think it took a lot of time for me to convince her that, OK, I'm not the fastest player, but I'm not going to put myself into situations where I'm in a footrace. Yeah, so I'm that fast, but maybe I'm intelligent enough to recognize that and to negate any sort of weakness there.
First of all, you're fast. You're just maybe not the fastest player. Neither am I. But you are one of, if not the smartest players. Well, bless your heart. Yeah, our our team is freakishly fast. I exactly how that happened. But yes. And then with like the presence part of it, I think I needed time to show her that I do have a presence. It's just not the same presence that you're going to get from other center backs at the time you like.
I'm I feel like I'm a steady presence and you always know what you're going to get from me. And as a defender, you would I think a coach would appreciate that. Like, hey, Becky's always going to be a seven out of ten, eight of ten. But at least, you know, she's not going to vary and be a three out of the ten one day. And so I think she started to appreciate that. But I still felt like you don't ever get beaten a footrace or something like that.
So, yeah. So honestly, to go back to answer your question, I still don't feel super comfortable.
But I would say, you know, later on with Joe and now with Flacco because I've had Flacco as a coach for so many years now, AFC Kansas City, he knows who I am. He knows the player that I that I am. So I feel a little bit more comfortable because he already knows my strengths and weaknesses. Well, if it makes you feel any better, Jill told me that I didn't have a defenders mentality and the characteristic characteristics that make up a good defender when she first got hired and and was like, you're forward, that's it.
And then like a couple of camps later, after never rostering me in any of those games, she was like, oh, yeah, we're going to bring you in as an the back.
And I was like, all right, whatever you want. The national team is a crazy, crazy environment, but.
Speaking of national team and this kind of coincides, Steve Swanson, you said was your first youth national team coach and you end up going to UVA and Steve Swanson, his coach there. So how did you end up there? Was it. So, Steve, a big reason in that and kind of give me some or the listeners some insight into your college search and and what that looked like.
Sure. So Steve was a huge reason that I considered going to UVA. I think the first day that college programs were allowed to send letters of whatever of interest, he immediately had one on the first day that had a little handwritten letter and was just like, you know, like you got to come to UVA. We want you here. So for me, the college process was was actually quite easy.
I mean, obviously, it happened so early on the women's side that people are going on unofficial visits and basically declaring before even having gone on official visits. And so I went to UVA on an unofficial and I went to Notre Dame and it just happened to be that I had a tournament near near Notre Dame and. Went over there for an unofficial the coach like very, very unofficial and official and thought it was great that the program was really strong at the time they had a center back, a Mexican international named Monica Gonzales that I just thought was such a baller.
And so I had watched her play and I was like, wow, she's she's great. So that was a close reason why I wanted to go. There was just be like, if you can make center backs like that, like maybe I should go there. Then when I went to Cuba, it just kind of felt right. And I was so awkward on my visit. And like, my mom left me to go hang out with with the players.
And I was like, please don't leave. Oh, my gosh. But it worked out well.
And also, Steve helped that process. And also, it's a beautiful campus and it's a great school. And Notre Dame, obviously, same thing, but something felt right about Virginia. Interesting.
So, Steve, Steve's a man, you know, I know him well.
So he was a big. Part of your decision of ending up at UVA and how was it playing for him now, as are then as a college player, as opposed to just like a youth national team player? Like, how would you describe his influence on your career as your college coach?
For me, it was so great to have him day in and day out as opposed to a national team when you see him for like a week, a month or whatnot. So the day to day development and I couldn't tell you how many individual sessions I had with him, where he would just go out to the field and we would just he would help me hit long balls because I could not, for the life of me, hit a long ball, so hard to it's so hard to do.
And he would just work with me. And it was like I was just the most important player to him. But I think every single player felt that they were the most important player because he's just like that. Yeah. And at the time, the team that I played on, we didn't really win anything big. We never went to a final four. I wasn't there when they won in a. tournament. But we tried to play good soccer and we learned how to play good soccer.
And some of those individual sessions, he would bring me into the office and we would watch the back line of the Italy men's team, national team play. And he would say, like, look at how this guy leads this back line when that ball's there, he step in when that ball is there, he's dropping and just learning the nuances and subtleties of being a defender and leading a back line. And I just learned so much from him and just watching my own film and him talking about two steps there, two steps there, like that angle or this angle.
And honestly, the way that he saw the game in the way that he could coach us and coach me to see the game like that helped me so much. I honestly don't think I would be where I am right now if I hadn't had to do Simonsen.
That's amazing, and I love hearing the stories of what he actually did to craft you into the defender that you are, were you solely playing center back at that point? Like, at what point were you. I'm a center back. That's my position to go back to regional team. It's like every player that got picked for the regional team was the center mid. And so they started happening like throw them out at different positions. And so I got thrown down at center back and it just it took so well, it really did so from like 14 or 15.
I was pretty much always at center back and I had like dreams of being the six and being a sitting senator midfielder. And there were times where Steve was like, you know, we could play you there because during the games I just want to get forward so bad. And I would try to make these long runs and like combined with the center forward and seen you do that.
Yeah. Yeah. And they loved it. And I still love doing that. And it's just it just didn't work out that I could ever play the six. And so there was chances, but it just never happened. Interesting.
So Senaka was so another part of your college career is you missed your entire sophomore season to train and then play with the national team ahead of the world championship in Thailand. And you were the captain of the team and played every minute of that tournament. I didn't know that. That's pretty incredible.
How did that experience kind of change your perspective on your career and your potential future?
I think it's just so great that there are youth World Cups to really get a player to understand what it's like to prepare for one, to live through one to live through the ramifications of having played through one. And so for me, at that age, 18, 19, it was like the end all, be all. And Mark Krikorian was our coach and he was such a great coach. He's now coaching at FSU. And the way that he brought the team together and he just made it seem like this was like life or death, like this is the most important thing like we have to do.
Well, this is it. This is your chance. And it just felt so important to me in every single training camp, like it was so easy for me to be like, yeah, I have to take a semester off school, like I got a World Cup to go to. And so playing there in Thailand and playing all these other national teams, I mean, a lot of those players we still play against, which is so funny to think about.
Right. It was so awesome. Like, honestly, we wound up getting third. We lost in the semis to Germany. And it was it was soul crushing. It was terrible. And just like feeling that feeling and being like, wow, I never want to feel that feeling again. Like if I ever go to another World Cup, like we got to win this thing. And so I'm just so glad that I had that that preparation. I knew what it took to make that team and to go to a tournament, how hard the tournament was.
And then honestly, like that terrible feeling of losing the tournament after having put so much into to winning it and wanting to win it. I think it was so important for my career just knowing like there are some highs and some lows on this roller coaster. So hold on. Would you say that was your first big low?
Yeah, yeah, I definitely think it was probably my first big Socolow up to that point, everything was kind of like, oh, make this team, make that team, make this team, make that team go to this and then lose. And it's like that was on the path.
Yeah, I know. It's crazy that. At some point, you do run up against, like, your first big failure, and it's I think it's very career defining how you handle it and what it does to propel you forward.
Oh, yeah. I mean, I've had a few of those failures when Jill let me go from the twenty ones and then when they let me go from the senior team. So I've definitely I've had those moments where you're kind of sitting there wondering, like, is this the path that I want to take or do I need to start focusing my passions and my energy into something else? And every time I had to have one of those moments, it was like, no, I still I still want this.
I still am going to give everything I have to it.
I love it. Still grind. All right.
So college career, you play in a youth national team. When was your first national team camp, because in my notes, something very eventful happened in your first camp with the senior national team. So first, when was it and then can you give the story behind what happened in your first camp? Because I actually didn't know the story. Oh, man. I'm going to go back a little bit and talk about the call up that I got. Please do.
It was an email from Cheryl Bailey. And it's so funny. Zola, who's been my boyfriend for 15 years. So we're in college together. He's in Charlottesville.
And I get this email and a dream come true. Like I wasn't expecting it. Eligibility had just ended. Here's an email like, hey, you're getting invited in like, oh, my gosh, I'm Mike. So I can't celebrate yet. I need to break this email, send it back and then we'll celebrate. So, just so excited. And, you know, you go into January camp and it was a training camp to make the roster to go to the Four Nations tournament in China.
OK, so I somehow like I think there are some injuries. So I make the roster to go to China, which I was not expecting. Like Briana Scurry was my roommate in the training camp, and I opened my door and almost fainted.
When I saw her, I was like one of the saviors of the 1999 Women's World Cup is my roommate and she's watching CNN.
And I'm sharing a room with her like wild, like literally I went, like, lightheaded. So anyway, back back to the story, made it to China somehow. Got to start the first game. It's against Canada, like pretty big game rivalries. And do you not do it?
Well, I'm like crushing some headers, like getting beaten, like you're doing well.
And then we get into the second half and we're already up a few goals. I think Amy Rodriguez had scored a few and going against Tancredi, who I'm sure you've played against. Yeah, she's trying to flick the ball behind her and I'm just trying to get my head on it and she just completely smashes my nose. This is going to end well. And I had never had to leave the field at that point for an injury. And I'm just kind of like, wow, that really hurt.
And I'm getting ready to like I think there was a free kick because maybe it was a foul on me. I don't even know. And I just looked down and just blood is just gushing from my nose. And I, I go to reach up to touch my nose and it's it's like so far to the side and it just felt so wrong. And the refs and the players are like, oh God.
Like what, you got to leave the field. So I'm like covering, covering my face, walking off. And so I had to leave the field. The doctor comes in to the locker room with me and had to reset my nose. And she's like, we could do it now or we could do it at the hotel. But like, you really should just look at your face because I think you're going to want to do it now. You're like, you're right, let's do it now.
So just how to, like, shove it back into place. And we didn't have a face mask to wear for trainings or for games, so I didn't get to play the second game. But then I started the championship game against China with this like MacGyver mask where it was like Velcro straps and they melted some sort of plaster to, like, mold to my face. So, like, my peripheral vision was like so bad.
I need to get a picture of this.
And what's crazy is that I assisted the championship winning goal, that game. Yeah, you did. Yeah. Basketball. Yeah, but that's that was my first tournament with with the national team. Wow. That's eventful. Yeah, it was very eventful. And then I got stories.
I got let go after. Wait, wait, wait, wait. OK, so what year was this. That would have been two thousand eight. OK, so two January 2008 probably. Yeah. So going into the Olympics like I was trying to make that Olympic team. Got it. And so you went to the four nations and then but then you didn't get asked back after that there was a camp, another training camp and that's when Pia brought me in and was just like, hey, like you're not as complete of a player as we were.
We were hoping. So we're going to put you back down with the twenty threes, get marks, OK, and then and so that was chosen a so what, how did you go from twenty eight to then getting called back in again. And what was your next call in 2009.
Oh no. My next call on wasn't until like late late 2010. Early 2011.
So what did you do during that time. Like where you just like. I was, as I call it, in the wilderness where you're kind of deciding what you're going to do with your with your life and like I love soccer and I love soccer. And so I was like, OK, I'm going to keep playing. And fortunately, the started and so got drafted to the Washington Freedom, played their first season, but the season was really short.
So I went over to Norway for about four months and played with a team right outside of Oslo called Ruel and played that second season. And for me I was like, how do I how do I make a name for myself in this league so I can get noticed because I hadn't heard a thing from Pia. Mm hmm. And I remember one game in particular, I was playing against Marta and I had like one of those defensive games of your life where, like, I saved a ball off the line with a flying bicycle kick and like to strip the ball off a MARTA a few times it was at the game, didn't even acknowledge my presence.
And I was like, man, like, what am I going to have to do?
So I try to make a name for myself by being like, I'm going to play every single minute available of every single game. And so that's what I did for those first two seasons. I was they called it like The Iron Woman. And after the second season, I remember I was like trying to decide if I was going to go play in Spain or something. And I get a voicemail on my phone right before I'm going to go into a movie.
And I was going with Zola and he was like, oh, you should probably check. That was like I was like, all right, I'll check it. And voicemail PSM Dagga. Hey, there's been an injury at camp we'd like to bring you as an alternate. You'd have to come in tomorrow morning. And so I called her back and I was like, I'll be there. That's amazing, yeah, and that camp was the camp that made the, I think, World Cup qualification.
And so I made that made the qualifiers, played about 20 minutes in that tournament. And she offered me a contract.
And the rest is history. I've been unless I've been injured. I've been in every single camp since you have.
That's pretty incredible. The fact that you I mean, you you basically, like you said, you're in the wilderness for, what, two, two and a half years. Mm hmm. Which I don't think people realize how. Stressful, that can be because it's like sometimes no matter what you do, you just might not there's a chance you just might not get called in. Yeah, I someone had to get injured and it was Joanna Loman. Someone had to get injured for me to be called in as an alternate.
And they had no expectations for me. And somehow I kept making it through the tryout process.
And here you are today.
All right. Well, you weasel your way back and you get called in, you make the qualifying roster for 2011 World Cup and you make you then end up making the final roster for the 2011 World Cup, which I personally didn't make originally. But then I got called in because Lindsey Tarpley got injured going into that tournament. How did you feel this was your first major tournament with the full team and First World Cup?
I had maybe 11 caps going into that tournament, and it was usually like the last 20 minutes or 30 minutes of a game where they were just trying to give me some time. And I remember going into the tournament, we even we played Norway in a practice game and everyone played but me. And I remember thinking, like, man, I am not going to get a minute in this World Cup and like, OK, like, I'm going to train hard.
I'm going to make all these players around me the best that they can be so that they feel prepared. And that's going to be my role. And it sucks, but that's my role. And so going into it, I was I was trying to put on a good face. I was a good teammate. I know I was a good teammate. But like inside, I was hurting because I just wanted to play so bad, like here was my chance.
I'm finally living my dream. But it's not coming quite the the fruition that I was hoping that I was going to.
But you end up getting to play. But we should talk about you getting to play because we don't need to talk about that because that is not exciting. We did not get we did not do well in that moment. Yeah.
So my intro into World Cup minutes was an epic fail. Yours was not your first step onto the field. Correct. In the World Cup was starting the semifinal game against France. Yeah, it's wild. It's absolutely wild. I had there is no reason really that she should have chose chose me to play because Rachel Buehler got the red card. So she had other ways of finagling and formulating the back line that I didn't have to go in. But do you really want to put a eleven cap defender in the back line for semifinal of the World Cup?
And for some reason she's like, yeah, I do. So started that game and France like up and coming program at the time, but still so good. And the way that they played, I'd never had to defend the way that I had to defend in that game. And, you know, I didn't do didn't do so bad.
So I think that was probably the first game or the first time where like I was like, oh my gosh, like, there's something to it. We're definitely going to keep her around a little bit longer.
I could see my minutes was Pia being like, we're definitely not keeping her. Like I specifically had a conversation with the coach where after those minutes, Pia said she's never coming back or she's like, we're going to put her outside back.
Yeah, well, you you played amazing. You you start this game, we win. We go to the final. We end up unfortunately losing. But how do you look at that final? Because it was so I feel like it was such a pivotal moment for us as national team and kind of in the conversation of sports and soccer in the world, but mostly in the US because of the response that we got. So how do you think back on that game, even though we lost?
I think of it so bittersweet because being so close to winning and working so hard to get to that to that point, and we had played Japan like twice that year and had beaten them. So we were like, OK, we have a really good shot of winning. And then for everything that Japan had gone through the tsunami, how well their team played, they had Herma, Hamar, Siwa, who just was the best player in the world that year.
And for her to play the way that she did like such respect to Japan for winning, that obviously it sucked for us to lose, but then to go back to the states and have people almost respond like we won, you know, the game against Brazil that garnered so much attention and then our semifinal win and then just the sheer spectacle of that final and I'm sure it was so great to watch, not great to play in, but so great to watch.
It's it's kind of crazy that that was the moment where, like, women's soccer gets put back on the map after nineteen ninety nine. And I think from there we've just kind of kept that momentum going and we keep writing it and a win in twenty fifteen, another win in twenty nineteen. And it's like this is a big wave now. Yeah I agree.
It was wild so. After twenty eleven and then twenty twelve, we go into Olympics, you also. Play in those games, we end up winning. Do you feel like that was the start of just building the momentum to become what I'm about to get to, which was 20, 13, 2014 and 2015? And Ebersol defender of the year.
Funny enough, twenty twelve. I felt like I was probably playing the best soccer of my life. And it was really frustrating on a personal level that I just couldn't break into the starting lineup. Whatever I did, I just it wasn't going to be me. And so, you know, going back to being like, OK, I'm going to prepare the center back so that they're the best that they can be. And so going into that tournament, it was kind of like going back into 2011 when I was just like, I want to play bad.
This is the Olympic Games. And I got like 20 minutes in the group stage. And then Rachel got kind of injured in the semifinal against Canada. So I actually want to playing the second overtime as a center back to get subbed into a semifinal.
The Olympics in double overtime, the most stressful position ever, the most stressful position ever.
All I can do is lose this game for this team like that's like it.
But there's nothing good coming out of this. Only bad. Exactly.
And so that was wild. And to think that maybe I was going to take a penalty kick, like, I can't even fathom that thought. So I got to play, you know, a little bit there. And then Rachel got a little injured in the final. So I actually was on the field when we won the gold medal. But it was still it was so amazing to be on the team that wins a gold medal. And it's interesting when you're role changes from being not a starter to being a starter.
And it's I give so much credit to those players that are on the roster that don't play a lot, that potentially don't play at all because you're doing such a role and it's so important to the team. And I don't think it gets valued or appreciated as much as it should be, because it is tough and it's so tough and so respect to all those players that have had that role and have done it to the best of their ability.
Well, I feel like the way that you carried yourself in those moments showed me the example of how I would want to carry myself, because you are such a good teammate and you do handle whatever role you're given very, very well. You know, whether it's a starter, whether it's being a support player, that sort of thing. Thanks, Kel. That's really sweet.
I mean, I did cry in the shower a lot, but, you know, don't you do.
What you got to do is the right listen, the number of stairwells that I have personally tried and is unbelievable.
So I feel you well, like I said, 2013, 2014, 2015. And the result, defender of the year, you're playing with Kansas City and you guys end up winning twenty fourteen and twenty fifteen. So, I mean, this is pretty incredible. Three years in a row. Defender of the year for the league. Do you think that the 2011 and 2012 being part of those tournaments, but maybe not being part of them the way you wanted to, do you think that those moments and those two years kind of propelled you to the place in 2013, 14 and 15 to just be at the peak of your game?
Oh, yeah, it lit a fire. And I remember wondering if players were going to retire. Christie Pierce in particular was going to retire now after the Olympics and thinking like, OK, maybe this is my shot, you know, like if she's not there.
And then I remember reading an article saying that she was going to go another cycle and I was like, OK, I am going to now have to compete against her and Rachel and all the other center backs. And I really need to set myself apart. And how am I going to do that? I'm going to do that in the NWSL. And so it really lit a fire. And I really appreciate it, Tom Samani, in that time, because he kind of gave everyone that equal opportunity to establish themselves like no one had a reputation for.
That's so true. He took away ten. Basically, it was just like, no, we're starting from the beginning. He did. And so I felt like we were all starting from the same spot for the first time. And I think that freedom allowed me to finally, like, really show what I had and to actually play significant minutes and then to see me play professionally with Kansas City, who, like the team, just played the type of soccer that I think I just thrived in.
And it was just to me like some of the most beautiful soccer. And so it was just like such a good combination. So during that time, you captained FC Kansas City and this wasn't the first time you were captain of a team. You captained youth national team at the World Championship. I assume you were probably a captain at UVA. Do you feel like you've always been a leader? I think that coaches have thought of me as a leader, and it took me a while to really appreciate that part about myself, and it wasn't until really recently that I kind of come in to the acknowledgement that, like, I do have something to give to a team and there is value and I am worthy.
And I think I had to realize that it was more for me being authentic and knowing that I'm not going to be a rah rah high energy type of leader. Like, I'll leave that to you, Kelly, but I will be like the steady solid.
I will reach out to make sure that you're OK. I'll pull you aside and talk to you like that type of leader. And I think there's real value in that. I think there's value in all types of leadership. And as someone who's been introverted her entire life, like really understanding, like, how can an introverted people be a leader of extroverted people? And there are some books that I read, There's Quiet by Susan Kane, who I think was really life changing for me, that introverted people actually can be very good leaders for extroverted people because you keep them on track and you foster those those relationships with those people.
And so it's something that I've I think coaches always saw in me and maybe players on me, but I never saw in myself until pretty recently.
I would say watching you, as you know, when you when you've been the captain for the national team, watching you in that role, I really appreciate how you do what you do and how you lead, because it's something that should be celebrated. So thank you for that.
Well, I try to learn from you as well, and I need to learn that sometimes it's OK to get into arguments and to speak my truth and to get into it a little bit, because I always have shied away from that. And you've brought that out more. And me, like I feel like I can argue with you all the time. And it actually makes me more comfortable kind of getting it into it with other people, which I think is important.
That's good. Hopefully arguing in a constructive way. Yes.
All right, guys, I'm really excited to tell you about our new sponsor of the show. Woo! Woo is a super cool new fitness wearable. It's strap you're interested in. It's basically like having a personal trainer, all for less than one dollar a day. It monitors your workouts and the intensity of them and gives you target exertion goals to hit based on your recovery. So you can make sure you push your body for what it's ready to handle and avoid overtraining, which I think is something so many people do and they don't even realize they're doing.
It also tracks your sleep really well. It tells you your optimal bedtime. It lets you know exactly how much rest need to allow your body to recover to be at your best the next day, which is another thing I think a lot of people don't pay enough attention to, and it hurts them in the long run.
So I personally can't think of a better product to start using going into this new year and becoming the best you you can possibly be. And for that reason, for my listeners today, Wolf is offering 15 percent off its memberships.
You can get the Woop Strap 3.0 for free and access to its app so you can know yourself and perform at your best. Check out woop, woop, dotcom and use the code Jaquie at checkout to save fifteen percent. Well, leading into 2015, you're now back to back to back league defender of the Year, and you have established yourself as the defense for the national team. So how did you feel going into twenty fifteen that World Cup as compared to 2011?
Well, I had more of a playing role, so I was physically contributing more and it was interesting because our back line was it really solidified until like two or three months going into the tournament. So, yeah, I think people were really expecting that back line to kind of be the weak spot of the team. And ironically, during that tournament, it was kind of the the thing that kept us through the tournament until our attack really started heating up.
And so it was funny going in, thinking like I have no idea what to expect from this back line and then leaving the tournament being like, wow, like we set a record, like we did great. Like we did some really great stuff. Yeah. I will say that I obviously had a supporting role in that World Cup, but I remember watching that back line and being like that is defense. Like if I get to play on the back line again, like I want to look like that.
The goal that you scored in that semifinal was so awesome. Like, that's another one of my favorite memories from a World Cup. Wow. You're in a lot of my favorite memories.
Funny that that was such a like such a wicked goal, though.
So awesome. It was. That was a fun one to score. We're still waiting for yours, though.
No, not yet. So I have haven't I have it in my notes that you are the second most corrupt US dept. player without an international goal. Who's the other one?
The first is Hope Solo. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, we're going to get you three, but we're going to get you that goal, don't you? Don't you worry. It better not be epic.
Like if I score a goal, it's going to be one that I deserve to score.
We'll set that up so we win the World Cup 2013. What was that like for you? It was the moment that I wanted to feel what those nineteen ninety nine ers felt and I got to feel it in twenty fifteen on that turf field in Vancouver that just the, the relief and the joy and it just felt so great celebrating and just to think like wow. Like I said a dream for myself and my dream came true and I don't think a lot of people get to say that about anything in their life.
But like that was a dream of mine. And I actually got to live it. And I feel so fortunate for that. And it's funny because looking back like going through the tournament, I would always get coffee with Zola the day of every game. And that was like our routine. And he's like he talked to me. I think it was maybe before we played Sweden. And he was just like like there's something different about you. Like you're on a different level of focus.
Like, I don't you're different. And I was like, I don't feel different. And then he kept you would always bring that up. You still like what's going on with you, like you're so, so different, so focused. And looking back, it's like, wow, I didn't feel that about myself, but maybe other people saw it in me, but it felt it felt really good. Twenty, fifteen felt really good, which is in a huge contrast to twenty nineteen.
I love that and I love how the people closest to. You or us, they can see that little change in that spark, and it's so cool. Well, we win twenty fifteen, it's amazing. We lose twenty sixteen. We don't really have to talk much about that. I am curious, though, what has been your most painful loss?
I would actually say that twenty sixteen losing to Sweden was probably my biggest loss. It felt like the biggest loss in my career, just coming off the high of twenty fifteen and having such high expectations for the team and then for myself going into twenty sixteen and then kind of being the reason in that Sweden game that we went down a goal and then we just couldn't fight our way back in overtime and then to lose in plays like I felt really responsible. And I was also one of the captains at the time and so just feeling like I really let the team down.
I remember flying back Mazola and he was like, do you want to stay and go to Rio and catch some of the other sports? And I was like, no, like, you just get me out of here.
Yeah, yeah. I ask because I think it was my most painful loss ever. Yeah, yeah. So twenty, seventeen, twenty, eighteen, twenty eighteen.
We become teammates on the club level. We did realise Kansas City moves, I guess it's sold to Utah. We become teammates. And you know, you were in Kansas City and kind of had the choice between going to Portland or going with the team.
Talk about that. And then obviously now you have found yourself in Portland and what that means to you.
So when Kansas City was moving to Utah, I was in some initial talks with Portland to try to make my way to Portland. I've been living there for a few years already with solar, and it was a tempting thought to be able to play at home just because I had never done that in my entire career. And they were basically like, we want you here. Like we want you to be a part of building something amazing. And I wanted to be a part of that.
And I wanted to help build a team there. And most of them were my Kansas City players. But we got a bunch of other players and like yourself. And I just felt like, yeah, let's let's try this new thing and build. And it was tough, but it was really great. And although we didn't have the results that I think reflected how much we wanted it and how well we were treated as professionals, still something special there.
Yeah, well, I'm glad you went. Brought me with you. And we obviously have both found herself now in our respective homes and playing for our home teams, which is exciting. Well, the last thing really the last big thing, 20, 19 World Cup. We're big thing, big thing, you know, we had one in twenty fifteen, you had anchored the defense, you were again going to be anchoring the defense going into this World Cup.
We had the pressure of winning and now trying to back it up. And we also had all of this media, all these people talking about our defense. Again, I guess I don't really realize because I wasn't in the conversations of twenty fifteen of people saying, oh, you know, saying that the defense was going to be the weak spot, but I was definitely part of it in twenty nineteen. And I specifically remember we were rooming together before the first game and I had to go to media.
I came back and I was pissed off because once again I the back line got brought up, Alissa got brought up and I just remember looking at you and being like we got to shut them down to shut them up. And we hadn't even started to play a game yet. But I was so frustrated even before the game started. So I'm curious if you felt the same way and how how how you personally kind of internalized that and looked at that pressure.
Yeah, I mean, I shared that frustration, we obviously had a different back line from even that Olympics in twenty sixteen. So of course it's like, oh, they haven't played that much together. And I don't think people understand is that sometimes it's time that Joe's a back line, but sometimes it's just chemistry. And sometimes that chemistry can happen so fast and sometimes it can happen. Not at all. Yeah. And what our back line had I think was was chemistry.
And it was a hard tournament and the pressure was definitely on the team in general. But I also felt because the media had made such a narrative about the back line, that we as a unit also felt added pressure to not only do our job, but to do it so well that we would shut people up for talking about us. And I would say, like for the most part, like the back line and Allissa and JJ in front of us, like we did that we really did.
We held strong. And I don't think I had a great tournament. I had some really rough games. My confidence was like up and down. So for me, like 20, 19 feels like I had to earn that like twenty fifteen. I was like, yeah, like we played well, everything was going well, we just maintained. But for me in twenty nineteen it was like every single game was such a grind in such a mental battle.
And thank goodness that you guys were so strong around me because like I don't know what would have happened. I understand what you're saying, like when you're, when you're having a bad game and everyone around you just keeps your head above water. I don't think anyone on the back line felt that from you at all. But I do think we all felt the grind because it truly was it did feel different. It did feel like each game was just like we have to make it through.
So I'm curious, which game was the toughest in your mind?
Well, I think. The toughest game was playing France in France quarterfinals because, I mean, everything was leading to that moment, and as much as we wanted to pretend that we weren't like looking ahead to what our possible contenders could be in the knockout stage, like everyone was talking about the US meeting France in Paris on a weeknight like it was it was built up to be the game of the tournament. And I think that one was the toughest just because of all the external factors and also knowing that that game easily could have been a final in the world tournament.
I would say personally, one of my toughest matches was the Sweden group stage, and it was a game that honestly, yet honestly didn't even really factor that much like we were already advanced, pretty much like we just needed to get a result and. The way that they tactically had set up isolated me and I had the ball so much and I just felt really alone and as a player playing soccer on a team sport like that's like the worst feeling in the world is feeling alone on a field with like ten other of your teammates.
So for me personally, that was the toughest. But I mean, England was rough because I gave up that pick. I gave Melissa her moment, though. So now she's like, OK, we'll keep her in the air. Oh, my God, you did.
First of all. Yes, you you were the you were what you did results in. But I was the reason that they even got the cross off. Just so we're clear, everybody listening. That's what we do as defenders. All right, final. Netherlands, you have massive collision and you split your forehead open, blood running down your face.
You leave the field for two minutes, but what was the conversation? Because they bandaged you up. You get back out there. What did you say to I assume it was Steve that took you in and got you bandaged up?
Yes, Steve, our athletic trainer. So basically, they were asking me the the cursory questions about concussion. And they knew right away that I was fine. It was just like my skin split open, no concussion.
And so he's going and he's going a little slowly for my and for Jill's opinion.
And so she's like yelling at him, which is actually kind of like making him work slower.
And I think Greg was there, too, and they were reaching for white stretchy tape to put her on. And I was like, guys like, you got to go with dark or black. So if it starts bleeding again, like the ref won't see it. And so they're like, OK, so they go back in and they get the black and then just wrapped it up. And honestly, I think I was only off the field for about two minutes.
Yeah. So he actually was working faster than I think both Jill and I thought I move very slowly.
It feels like things are moving very quickly on the field, but that, you know, it's taking ten minutes to get done when you're off the field. Yeah. And honestly, like, I didn't feel a thing, had no idea where it was on my head, what it looked like. All I know it stopped bleeding. I could go back out and I still had to do a bunch of headers. And so I think after one I was like, OK, I felt that one a little bit.
Oh, my God. Yeah.
And then we win and we celebrate and we go to the after party and the doctor's like, hey, you can't celebrate as hard as you want because we need to stitch that up when you get back.
So to once you get stitched up at the hotel or in New York. No, at the hotel after our celebration, it's like 2:00 in the morning. I'm in the training room and he's stitching my face up. And then we go to New York and continue the celebrations and they're like, you should go see a plastic surgeon about your stitches. So we go and he's like, oh, no, no, no, I need to redo these. We need to exercise some of your skin that's crushed.
And I'm going to restitch it right here. And then I have to go to an Adidas appearance. And I was like, oh, my gosh, what am I doing? But it worked out great. And I just have a baby scar.
Yeah, you do. I remember you being on the plane and so like, oh, I have the worst headache. And I was like, just have just have some beer. Becky, it's fine. Just washed away.
But yeah, man, that the elevation and the altitude with the plane and then just the travel we got to New York and I think you guys were going to go get some sushi.
And I was like, guys, I'm I'm going to sleep like my face hurts. I know. I said I remember that part. I was sad. OK, twenty fifteen versus twenty nineteen in terms of the win, like as soon as the whistle blows or blew, how did you feel compare those two moments.
Oddly enough, they both felt really, really similar. I think twenty nineteen maybe had a tinge more of relief like wow this was really tough and we somehow did it. Twenty fifteen had that but something about twenty nineteen and just the grind of it, it made it just maybe a little bit sweeter. And I remember the back line would always kind of celebrate together. And there's this really cute moment where we're all kind of huddled together and then you find your way in and then the rest of the team kind of finds their way in and it's like, oh, it started from the defenders.
And there's like a gif of it somewhere. And it's just like it makes me smile every time I think about it. Oh, I love that love.
Defendor love. All right. So you've won a lot. You've led this team, not just national team, but many teams on the field. You also have been such an amazing leader off the field and how, again, you carry yourself, how you. Take ownership of these different big things that we are involved in with the national team, one of which being equal pay, and you're the first ever president of the US Women's National Team Players Association, which I just think is great.
How do you compare the role of leading off the field to on the field? I have noticed that for me, it's actually very, very similar how I lead on and off the field, I think both have taken me time to develop and I'm very aware of the weak spots in my leadership. And lucky for me, I have people that can kind of complement and supplement those weak spots. And so it's great with being on the players association. I have you and I have Sam, and I think we make a really great team and luckily on the field as well, I have players like you and Pino and Alex and just I think the combination of our strengths just negates all of each other's weaknesses.
And so for me, it's really finding the people around you when you're a leader that can help empower everyone else and take care of everyone else. And so it's it's finding those people and really, like leaders should create leaders. And that's what I kind of want my legacy to be, is that I will pass on the torch and that person is going to be better prepared than I ever was to take it.
Oh, I love that. And that is what you're doing. I was just about to ask what you wanted your legacy to be or what you hope your legacy will be when you come to the end of Nashton career. And I love that that's what you want, because that is what your legacy will be and has become. All right. Second question, they say work hard, get lucky. How much of your success is predicated on luck?
I would say luck definitely plays into my career. I have worked very hard and I have set myself up for when luck falls in my favor that I can take advantage of it. But I do think that sometimes it's luck when an opportunity comes about. Like when Joanna Loman rolls Rinkel and I get a call into national team camp, I think that might be a little lucky or a give me no percentage.
I would say luck played into my career. Fifteen percent.
All right. Fifteen percent luck. Eighty five percent hard work. Yeah. Yeah. Last question. Ended on this one. As we all know after this conversation, you have accomplished so much already, but where do you want to go next and how do you keep pushing? I want to stay in soccer, I think I just love the sport too much, and the thought of not being around it makes me really sad. And so whatever way that I can stay involved, if it's coaching, if it's I don't think I'll be commentating, let's be honest.
But it has to. You're so eloquent.
Please, I'm thinking about maybe looking into it, but coaching, training. Honestly, the ideal for me would be like a back line consultant and I just get loaned out to these teams and help their back line. So I think that would be like my absolute ideal.
That would be dope. You'd be so good at it. So how do you keep pushing? Because you're not done yet.
Yeah, I mean, I think I just have to put all the things that I put into soccer every day, you know, the hours of the actual work plus the recovery plus the studying into just a different avenue. And so I think all that. Eighty five percent work hard work still applies. And let's hope that 50 percent luck still applies itself. But I don't think it's going to change that much. It just might not be as physical.
Yeah, probably not. Well, again, we still have work to do on the field, so and I know that you'll be right next to me as we're grinding towards hopefully Tokyo next year. Fingers crossed.
Yes, but Rebecca Rheba, the next year, my little cupcake.
Thank you for coming on today, sharing your story, being such an amazing leader on the field and off the field. And an example for me and so many others. Very thankful for you and excited to see all that you do in the future.
Thank you so much for having me, Kelly. Really appreciate it. This was really, really lovely and you were lovely.
Thanks so much for listening. For more great sports content, go to just women's sports dot com and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. Our show was co-produced by just sports and film Integrated Big thanks to our executive producers Hayley Rose and Adrian Glover and Robin Lynn. Jawn Murray and Sydney Shot do our research production by Jen Grossman, Jeni Montalvo, Victoria Gruenberg, Clint Rhodes and Juan Garcia Tiku. Our special thanks to Jesse Louis, Haley Kazmaier, seven, Badler, Doree Newman, ISO's Haywood and Kathleen Bobby.
I'm Kelly O'Hara and you've been listening to the Just Women Sports podcast catch next time.