Sunday, March 18, 2012

[THE PITCH] I have been in Sweden for over two weeks and I think it's a good time to decompress. I like to speckle my weekly blogs with alliterations and metaphors, as I relay specific lessons in soccer and show how that lesson altered my point of view in some way. Now, I feel is a good time to step back and give you a little background perspective.

I've brought nothing with me to Sweden but an open mind... and about 140 pounds of luggage… and okay, my 20-year-old Teddy bear, Brown bear (I was a clever 3 year old), but you get my point. I left my expectations and preconceived notions at home, as I set off to accomplish two big things.

First things first, change is scary! It's hard to leave home, especially when home is Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. But my little sister, Channing, recently brought to my attention that I am change. I love fashion, but I change my style spontaneously (not good for my bank account.) I left Chadwick, my high school, claiming to be a moderate. When I left Stanford my sister Tyler described me as "a baby hippie.” I can cut off my hair on a whim, like last month, and I am glad to be at a point in my life where I am secure enough to love it. I am determined not to miss out on any experiences in life. My motto here in Sweden is (à la Nike) … "Just do it... Just do it all!”

This season I'm hoping to have an Existential Experience Exploring the Errors of my Earlier Existence...(couldn't resist) Meaning I want to find myself and learn to love myself unconditionally. I believe that traveling and living abroad is just the opportunity to do such a thing ... but I'll get back to you on that in December...

When I walked through the gate at the Gothenburg airport, I was prepared to receive a new culture with open arms. I'm not shy or introverted. I am not afraid to meet new people or to be alone … Still, I wanted to make sure I left any tendencies to be standoffish behind. I'm not the same girl I was 5 years ago, nor do I want to be.

Another objective is is to push my game to its physical and mental edge. I have big goals for myself in soccer. It's no secret that I want to play on the world stage someday soon. But instead of focusing on the disappointments of 2011 ... my plan for 2012 is to ensure I am the best player I can be in 2013. And to do so, I want to be exposed to another facet of the game … goodbye soccer, hello football!

Some days, Swedish soccer really does seem like an entirely different sport. The players here train quite differently. I'm sure over the next few months, as I discover, digest and decompress, I will understand the differences more, and I look forward to writing about it. I strive to be a complete player. Ideally, a great finisher who is consistently great on and off the ball. If the game has four parts -- tactical sense, technical ability, mental toughness, physical prowess -- Gothenburg FC focuses is the former two, while my experience in American soccer has always concentrated on the latter. So training in an environment with different priorities feels like finding the missing jigsaw pieces. Only time will tell if I am able to complete the puzzle.

It is with this open perspective that I take the streets and fields of Gothenburg. Who is this person living alone in an apartment in a foreign country, thousands of miles from my family and friends? How will I respond to an entirely different set of norms, style of living and climate? What will happen when I hit that inevitable bump on the road? While I don’t know which way the road will turn, I’m sure it’s going to be worth the trip!

[Off the post!] Many of the girls on my team have been together for a very long time. One player has been at Gothenburg FC since 2004 and so, played here with Hope Solo. A good “core” of players are going on their seventh year together. One player read a book awhile back that said that when a couple reaches their sixth year together, it’s a good idea to have a baby or get a pet to maintain a strong relationship. Well, last year, the team decided to get a pet…!

I use the term pet loosely here, as the team actually got a bug, Pinnisch the walking stick. In Swedish, the word for stick is “pinne.” (The girls are evidently as clever as I when it comes to naming!) Anyways, they loved Pinnisch and fed it leaves and took care of Pinnisch until its dying day. The girls told me that Pinnisch is still somewhere in our locker room, but I’m hoping that something got lost in translation …

[Stoppage Time] We traveled to London to play in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals against the Arsenal Ladies. My very first game just happened to be the biggest game in the history of the club. I was so excited to have the opportunity to play in the Champions League. It’s a big deal! So big, in fact, my father flew from Los Angeles to London for a one-day trip to see the game. I don’t think I’ve been that excited to see my dad since I was 5 and my sisters and I used to fight over who got to go with him to the dry cleaners on the weekend.

I had been training with the team for just two weeks, and circumstances were such that I had met four starting players only a few days prior to the game. As I considered our preparation, or lack there of, I remembered that soccer is a crazy game. Sometimes you do all the right things and are perfectly prepared, only to fall short in the end (... NCAA national championship 2009, 2010)… and sometimes you do everything wrong and still win (… like when I downed a corndog during my warmup for the Surf Cup final.)

At the end of the loss, I felt both disappointment and a spark of hope. When I explained this to my teammate, she said, “I think it's a good thing because all the players are feeling this way: knowing that we were a strong team, but still could do 30 percent better. The feeling is in our hearts and we all just want to take it to the pitch to let it all out…”

Final Score:
Göteborg 1 - Arsenal Ladies 3

The second leg of the series will be streaming live on our website Wednesday 7 p.m. Swedish time (2 p.m. ET)!:

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