If you've been watching casually, you might not be aware of the real stars of the U.S. team. But if you're like me, you're hearing the merits of the USWNT defense trumpeted from every major sports news outlet in the world.
I love defense. When I played soccer as a kid, defense was my preferred position. I've always gravitated to athletes who may not light up the stat sheets but work quietly to make things happen. Good defense makes me feel some type of way, man. So to see all these people complaining about the USWNT's anemic offense and saying things like "the defense is good enough to win the U.S. the World Cup on its own" has me feeling a teensy little bit beside myself.
Most people know all about players like Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and Hope Solo, but not a whole lot about the badass ladies on the back line. (Myself included, until very recently.) But once I started doing some digging, I discovered that the four starting defenders have some of the most compelling stories on the team. So, with just a few hours left before kickoff, let's chat about the most awesome unit at the World Cup.
Kling is the smallest member of the USWNT, which automatically makes her my girl. She's been referred to as the team's "pixie-sized ray of sunshine," but don't let her tininess and easy smile fool you; it doesn't get more badass than this chick. If you watched the group stage game against Sweden, you probably had a heart attack when Kling deflected a shot from the goal line to preserve the 0-0 shutout. But it's also important to note that she's a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, and for her fifth grade talent show she did a nunchuck demonstration and broke boards. In other words, Kling is a TOUGH COOKIE and will beat you every. single. time.
Julie's gotten most of her attention recently for getting called for a yellow card in the box against Germany, which led to a penalty kick and could've very well cost the USWNT the game. But the German kicker missed the net, making this just a minor blip in Julie's absolutely stellar World Cup performance. She's the second-youngest member of the team, with only 12 caps (games played for the national team) before the World Cup, and wasn't even on the roster for the qualifying tournament last year. So in about eight months she went from not making the team, to becoming one of the starting center backs for a U.S. defense that hasn't given up a goal in over 500 minutes of play. Not only that, but she's one of the eight finalists for the Golden Ball, given to the most outstanding player in the World Cup. Girlfriend has just been an absolute beast. Just ask Tom Hanks.
Can we be real for a second? If I were to buy a USWNT jersey right now, it would probably say Sauerbrunn on the back. She's the definition of an unsung hero; locking it down on defense with basically zero mistakes, but not being named a Golden Ball finalist. It's a tragedy, honestly. But anyway, let's talk about Becky. She's always in the right place at the right time, always times her tackles flawlessly, and always diffuses any pressure situation near the U.S. net. She's so good that you almost don't even notice that she's there. Mostly this is because she's an incredibly cerebral player; she knew she wasn't the most physically talented, so she had to up her mental game. She's an unashamed nerd and will be the first to tell you she's always reading, and when she travels with the USWNT she and the rest of the "nerd squad" will be sure to take day trips to experience the culture of wherever they are. (Hey Becky? Call me. Let's be friends.)
Soccer aside, Ali is lucky to even be alive right now. When she was 21 she broke her leg, and not long after her surgery she noticed that she was out of breath all the time. When she went back to the hospital they found that she had a pulmonary embolism (blood clots in her legs that traveled to her lungs) and told her that if she'd gone to sleep that night, she probably wouldn't have woken up. Uh, yikes? She also tore her ACL in 2012, and wears a headband to protect herself after suffering a concussion in April. So this chick is a complete warrior, and has been absolutely impenetrable during the World Cup.
In conclusion: there's a reason the USWNT is winning games despite not scoring many goals. It's because these ladies have only let Hope Solo face 14 shots in six games. (I know, right?)
Love your defenders, friends. Thank your goalie and cherish your defense. And when you're watching the final tonight (because you WILL be watching, right?), take note of this amazing back line on which our World Cup hopes rest. #IBelieve