[THE PITCH] I hear the whistle: a penalty kick in double overtime. I see two of my teammates both go for the ball. It’s the same thing that happened before! They fight to take the PK. But now, one girl takes the ball out of the other girl’s hands, and turns and gives it to me. She looks in my eyes and says, “This is yours.” At that moment, I know I score it for sure. It’s the biggest game of my career. This is the most important moment. Back home, my mom locks herself in the bedroom and tells my father to only come get her if we win the game. “If not, just don’t come in.”
I shoot, and the keeper takes it. I can’t believe it. I turn around to meet someone’s eyes, anyone’s eyes, but nobody looks at me. The bench is crying. The people in the stands are crying. My teammates on the field are crying.
Normally, I would just start crying too. It’s over! There is only one minute left. But something tells me there is going to be one more chance. So, I just run and run and run. I see the ball in the air coming across the goal. Everything freezes. I think “This is it,” and I just shoot and score. And then, I just keep running and running and running. And my teammates are running. And I slide to the ground. The referee blows the final whistle right then. I think, “This is the best feeling in the world.” I know I only feel like this once in my life.
-Verónica Boquete on scoring the winning goal in the final play of the game, qualifying Spain for this summer’s European Championships
One day on the bus home from training, she recounts this event. “In that moment my luck changed. I went from losing everything, to winning everything. I went from being dead to the feeling of most being alive.”
Vero smiled the whole way home. I’ve only known my new roommate/ teammate for a week, but even a stranger could see the sparkle in her expression when she talks about that goal. I can hear her passion for the game in her words, spoken in a thick Spanish accent—always in the present tense—but I can feel her football fervor even stronger in the words that were not said.
Just three years ago, Vero could be found in Spain, playing in the Primera División de la Liga de Fútbol Femenino (scoring 39 goals), but unknown to most the football world. In 2010, she came to the USA to play for a month for the then second-division WNY Flash. After being scouted in the WPSL final, she was picked up by the Chicago Red Stars and simply, “couldn’t believe it.” The next year, she would go on to be a star player for WPS finalist Philadelphia Independence, earning the Player of the Year award and the ample, well-deserved respect from the professional women’s football world.
Flash-forward to today. Vero is coming off of a championship season last year, where she was honored as Damallsvenskan’s most-valuable midfielder. There isn’t a women’s pro player in the game that doesn’t know her name and her quick feet. Not a bad three years! She is an attacking midfielder with rare technical prowess and an authority over the game at a mere 5’1”. I can still see her running up the field, seemingly moving faster with the ball at her foot, when I played against her at both Magicjack and Göteborg.
Before my arrival at Tyresö, I got a message from my soon to be teammate: “Are you ready for the penguins?” And when I walked through the door at the House of Happiness she pointed to the snow, “Here, only the penguins can live.” But Vero, like the little penguin Mumble, has managed to thrive with her “happy feet.”
I found her in the locker room the other day, lathering her leather cleats in body lotion. In response to my quizzical look, she explained, “These are THE cleats…” (meaning the cleats she wore when she scored that Euro-qualifying-luck-changing goal)… “They love the lotion. It’s very great for you to come to this team. Because you have me, and I have the lucky cleats. And so, we win everything.”
I smile, a knowing smile…I have lucky cleats myself. Their studs are worn down, their soles full of holes, and they are a size or two too small. I don’t have them with me anymore. My father has kept them over the years for sentimental reasons. Looking at Vero now, massaging her “lucky cleats” I cant help but wonder…just how much time she spent in those boots, running, juggling, finishing, and lotioning to make them so lucky.
[Stoppage Time] The below freezing temperatures here in Stockholm don’t keep us from training, running, lifting, and meeting in full-swing, pre-season mode. Our possession-oriented sessions with this attacking-minded team keep me on my toes and my head on a swivel. The ball moves quickly and smoothly. I’m enjoying learning our style of play as well as my new team’s personality. The ‘new’ is always fun and the football here is serious, just the way I like it. My feet are happy here, too.
We have our pre-season opener at home this Saturday against the Norwegian team Stabaek FK. I leave for camp with the USWNT squad early Sunday.
Rookie For Life,