Wednesday, March 27, 2013

by Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired waiting,
Or be lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet dont look too good, not talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools...

5.Welcome. Make Yourself Uncomfortable.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Photo Credit: Carl Sandin: http://carlsandin.blogspot.se/ 
[THE PITCH] It’s funny, when I graduated from high school I had no problem saying goodbye to my teenage cohorts—Insecurity, Vanity, and Jealousy, but my other companion Angst remained right by my side. Following me to college, Angst was there when I choked on the oatmeal and bananas breakfasts before practices, she was there holding my hair back when I threw up after fitness tests, she stayed toe to toe with me on breakaways, and huddled up with me after I missed. Angst was nothing if not a loyal compadre….a nursemaid, in fact, for Angst was the maker of the bed in which I would lie.

I don’t remember exactly when I began to believe that Angst was the enemy in disguise. Her influence over me was all encompassing and her presence enormous. I spent my later college years trying to break up with Angst, dump her. I worked hard to free myself from her weight on my shoulders, to wiggle out of the shackles around my feet. Only a few years ago, just the thought of getting a call-up to camp with the USWNT was the cue for Angst to run her cold, clammy hand down my spine. I tossed and turned at night finding little comfort in my twin extra-long bed, so dreams were few and far between in the spring of my senior year.

It was not, however, until my professional football career that I was actually able to ditch Angst. And in that freedom, I rejoiced. In Sweden last year, I adopted a new motto: “Fail. Fail again. Fail better.” When I started to realize that I had already missed, lost and failed a hundred times before, only to (eventually) convalesce with a smile on my face, it became clear that there was no room in my young adult life for the not-so-comforting governess of my youth. Perhaps, I’d outgrown her. I suddenly found myself sleeping comfortably in my Dux bed dreaming the dreams of dreamers…

So, by the time I went up for my first “at bat” with the Full Team, Angst was but a spectator in the nosebleeds. And I certainly did not invite her to board the plane to the Olympics. The summer in London as an alternate was a unique opportunity for me to get comfortable with the international game. Without the expectations and pressure my teammates felt to bring back the gold (or had previously felt to make the roster), I was free to play and practice and push unreservedly. And I thought Angst and I had finally and officially called it quits.

For me, “getting comfortable” is not just about speed of play and tactical understanding. It is not all about confidence in my abilities on the field or knowing I can succeed at this level. A lot of my comfort on the field, stems from my comfort off the field: in finding friends, in forging a routine, in navigating this new life of extensive travel and constant movement and managing what the Swedes have coined hoteldödden (the hotel death.) And while adjusting to this lifestyle during what feels like my first real opportunity to make this team, I’m rediscovering and reconsidering my old friend Angst.

I now have six caps under my belt. I’ve spent all but 40 minutes of my total time in a USWNT jersey playing in the midfield. I’ve started three games. I’ve had moments where I felt I was at my best: comfortable and confident and gliding. And I’ve had spouts of time where I was uninvolved, lost, and totally disconnected out on the wing. I’ve scored goals and felt reassured that I can, most certainly, do this; and still, the next day I was too nervous during a warm-up to produce a clean five-yard pass, doubting if I belong.

The USWNT might possibly be one of the most competitive teams in the world. Head coach Tom Sermanni told Sports Illustrated in an interview, “I haven’t seen many male teams train with quite the same intensity, let alone any other female teams. In this team, you just don’t have to motivate players. If anything, you need to sort of say, ‘Just be careful. I don’t want anybody injured in training.” And I have the bumps and bruises to prove it.

Perhaps I will never be quite comfortable on this team. Won’t someone always be waiting in the wings? … Perhaps no one should ever be comfortable on this team. Isn’t that what it means to be an elite athlete? The last place you expect to find complacency is on the National Team. And I'm down with that. I think being totally comfortable is a dangerous thing in any realm of life.

This time around, I think I’ve found a suitable role for Angst in my life. I am embracing the fact that her sloppy housekeeping makes for a lumpy, uncomfortable bed… which in turn makes it a lot easier for me to get up everyday to run, train, and fight. Like Jon Bon Jovi warns, “Don't get too comfortable with who you are at any given time - you may miss the opportunity to become who you want to be.”

 [Stoppage Time] The Algarve: Iceland, China, Sweden, Germany

On February 25th, the team traveled to Albuierfa, Portugal to compete in its 18th Algarve Cup. The Algarve Cup is considered one of the most prestigious international women’s football tournaments. The rainy weather, the less that perfect pitch conditions, and the small fan base did not detract from my excitement to be a part of these games!! The United States arrived at The Algarve a week before the games began, extending our time there to 18 days. So yes, by the end of our trip we had played every version of UNO that you’ve never heard of and consumed more Indian Food than I had in the rest of my life combined.

The team switched both personnel and formation throughout the tournament, with Tom reminding us that he has one eye on today and one eye on the future. The trip was filled with first caps, first starts, first goals, a 100th cap, a 154th goal, and ended with the trophy. For many, the new cycle for US Soccer marks a rebirth for our international careers, and above all else the trip was noted with big smiles and people stepping up into new roles.


All The World’s A Stage.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

“All The World’s A Stage”: How the rise and fall of the WPS led to a more globalized game.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Our Game Magazine.

[Sidelines] Playing international football is not always easy, nor is living abroad or being in a constant state of transition. There is a lot that goes into being a world traveler. The packing alone requires thought and effort, in order to prepare for a successful journey. As traveling is part of being a footballer, I always take the time. I always make the effort. After all, these are small sacrifices in return for a chance to play the beautiful game!

So, in preparation for my move back to Sweden, I created a playlist for the seemingly endless flight: a mixture of relaxing songs in acknowledgement of another sad goodbye to home with some uplifting pop beats to celebrate a new adventure. And that’s when I came across Swedish House Mafia’s hit, Don’t You Worry Child. I smiled as memories flashed in my mind of friends from home singing to this song at a nightclub and the countless spontaneous dance parties that broke out in the locker room in Sweden to this favorite local beat. The song reminded me that although there are 7,000 miles in between, my two lives are not that far apart. As I turned on this tune during my trans-continental flight, I thought how the Swedish artists performing high energy House Music in English is symbolic for the globalization in football. Like the sport of football, sharing world music is a beautiful thing. I relaxed as my mind drifted back, toward my past, and forth, toward the future... How will the globalization of football play out?

In its short existence and with all its problems, the WPS was undoubtedly the strongest women’s league in the world. The seven and then six team organization planted a tight-knit network of elite female footballers and seeds of globalization took root. The highest caliber of international women footballers (including Marta, Carolyn Seger, Kelly Smith, Christine Sinclaire, and Homare Sawa) flocked to the states to play alongside an incredibly strong domestic group.  During its existence,  very few Americans played abroad, as rosters in Europe’s long-standing leagues were comprised almost entirely of domestic players. However, when the WPS ceased operations, both domestic and foreign players scattered throughout the world in search of clubs. In 2011, my former team Kopparberg’s Göteborg FC roster was entirely Swedish. Then, for 2012 they signed five internationals. For 2013, my current team Tyresö FF’s includes two Americans, two Brazilians, a Dane, a Dutch, and a Spaniard, all of whom once played in the US.

And where will all this “free trade” in football lead? Well, if my experience is any indication, then, I think we are headed in the right direction.

From watching international football, we see how stylistically distinct football can be from different countries. From playing international football, I have observed how much different styles of football reflect the attitude and concerns of the country’s culture.

At the top of the women’s game today, American soccer epitomizes physical dominance and mental toughness, resulting in a fast-paced, intense football style, reflecting a culture that emphasizes personal achievement and competition. Of course, I was reared in this style of play. And then there is Sweden, with its culture of “lagom.” Roughly speaking, lagom means in moderation or sufficient. From a young age, Swedes are celebrated for fitting into the status quo. Not surprisingly, their football style spotlights team tactics and fulfilling defined roles within the unit. And although I will always proudly flaunt my American competitor attitude, I’m learning to embrace this “balanced approach.”

I’ve found that when you have a blend of cultures and football philosophies together on the field everyday, these international teammates share ideas, skills, and training regimens and grow in ways they might not be able to in a homogenous environment. In time, what often starts out as a cacophony of styles, transforms into a very sophisticated melody. Don’t you worry, don’t you worry child!

Football is the world’s sport. We’ve seen that for years on the men’s side where even every small country, poor province and remote island manages to field competitive teams. If women playing abroad is not proof enough that a global philosophy is the sign of the times, then how about the fact that both our men and women’s national teams are lead by foreign head coaches?

Now, with the commencement of the National Women’s Soccer League in 2013, we shake things up again. The league will blend Mexican, Canadian, and American national team players with a domestic group and potentially two additional international players per team. The NWSL did not, however, present the same immediate lure for international players as the WPS, and many chose to stay in Europe. Time will tell how this crucial development of the women’s game in the United States affects the world, as many international and American players, myself included, look on from afar with hopeful eyes.

As for me, I am determined to make Sweden a part of me, both on and off the pitch. I know there is so much to learn here. But just as significant, I intend to leave my footprint here on the Swedish turf. As a Californian, I believe in the beauty of The Melting Pot. Globalization in football is the wave of the future…and the future is now!

4.The Yellow Machine.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

[THE PITCH] After my extended trip to Jacksonville, Florida, Nashville Tennessee, and Helsinki, Finland, I was uncharacteristically exhausted and theatrically glum. Considering just how much I had enjoyed my time stateside there was only one reason for my melancholy. Jetlag…DUH! I fled into my bedroom, shut of the lights, and with a maniacal grin, turned on mindless television for hours at a stretch under the pretense of “resting” and “recovering.” Yet somehow I still overslept three days in a row! (Much to the astonishment of my little penguin housemate, who was kind enough to wake me up just in the nick of time for training.) However, as I unpacked and attempted to settle back into my home and routine, I realized I had just 10 days until my next trip to Algarve, Portugal.

In Finland I suffered a minor knee injury (a bust bursa), and to my dismay would be sidelined for a good part of my short time home. In the wake of such an exciting week in the US, I experienced a strong emotional let down exacerbated by my inability to train. And, once again,  “the little girl inside” reared her head and I responded to the situation by locking myself in my room. I declined invitations to spend time with friends and chose to stay in bed rather than watch practice in the cold. I racked my brain, searching for a way for me to “fix” the problem: just shake it off!  But maybe turning to myself was the problem.

Then, like a well-aimed spitball on a school playground…it hit me! A blue mood and a week of rehab did not cause my excessive yawning or my excessive frowning. There was stress ‘bubbling up’ from under the surface and my “chill” week gave me just the quiet time to hear to hear it.

So, during practice as my teammates ran, kicked, and skipped merrily along, I ruminated upon my personal frustrations. Getting a call for a USWNT camp or tournament will always beis a blessing in my life, but it will have a unique impact on my time abroad. The life of ‘an international footballer’—in both senses of the term: as a player who plays abroad and a full team player competing inter-nationally—certainly ain’t easy! Missing training games and training sessions with my club team gives me anxiety. I don’t like to lose out on these opportunities to learn my teammates flow and style on the field, grow closer to my companions, and explore the new world in which I live. I’m getting impatient as these things develop sloooowly over time. Don’t get me wrong, there is no doubt in my mind that this is where I want to be in my life and career, but I will undoubtedly have to adjust to the new flow and rhythm to get the most out of both of my playing environments.

My knee didn’t recover as quickly as we had hoped so I had to sit out our match versus Umeå IK. Watching from the stands sometimes feels like being in detention while all of your friends are on the playground at recess. And while inherently frustrating for any player, today my stadium seat proved to be an ideal vantage point. The cold, crisp air blowing in my face was refreshing…awakening, in fact.

Whenever I watch football, I always envision myself out there on the field; whether I’m watching Real Madrid or my little cousin Max’s pee-wee soccer team. (Note: I might be “the pee-wee” playing in Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, but in the pre-school game, I’m “Ronaldo.”). Like the soccer moms of the world, I sometimes find myself kicking air when watching a scoring opportunity or experiencing the vicarious nervousness of the striker on a fast break. So, even though I was not actually on the turf on Saturday, I could feel the frustration emanating from the usually smooth running yellow machine that is Tyreso. There is actually a sign in our locker room that reads: A … Yellow Machine!”  (An adjective is missing, here. but let’s just say, that inclusion of such a word would be grounds for serious detention at Lunada Bay Elementary School.)  Well, far be it from me to dispute the graphic characterization of the usually tenacious ‘engine’ that has rolled over more than a team or two in Damallsvenkan, But there are times when I picture this “yellow machine” more like the school transportation of my youth: so welcoming and reliable, I couldn’t wait to take my seat! On that particular day, however, unable to physically contribute, I played bystander as the wheels fell off the bus.

On the pitch (and off) when things go wrong, we often turn inward. When the pieces to the puzzle don’t fit together, we, as individuals, do our best to force them. Collaboration often seems like the more difficult option. However, as in the case of Tyreso vs. Umeå, the solution to a problem with flow and rhythm cannot be achieved through individual effort.[1]When things aren’t going well, fixing what’s wrong requires trust, understanding, and simplification.

I have come to love the simplicity of many of my interactions in this English-is-a-second-language land. In the uncomplicated terms of a Kindergarten teacher speaking to her class, my teammate spoke about what to do when a great team is playing not-so-great, ‘if we just trust in a few players who know the game and know the team, then we will all know our role.” Hmmm… Maybe my first grade teacher’s comment, “Plays well with others” was the perfect report card after all.[2] 

Football is like the big yellow bus of life. Playing and riding are a lot more enjoyable as a group. And they both run much more efficiently with the proper alignment. Yes, there are going to be many bumps in the road, but learning to rely on one another is what makes the wheels on the bus go round and round

[1] Yea yea, we all know winning ugly is possible. But that’s not our goal at Tyresö.
[2] Like the expression goes…everything you need to know you learned in Kindergarten!