I haven’t written in a while, and I apologize for that. I had somewhat of a rough summer, and I think for me, sometimes when I am going through something hard, I like to be able to take a step back and think before I say anything. At least that’s what I have learned from a lifetime of living passionately and speaking before I think sometimes. I also didn’t want to sound bitter. But here goes an honest recap:
I had a rough end of the year last year in Norway with my club going bankrupt and dealing with an ankle that inflamed for a good part of the year, and left me limping for days after every 90-minute game I played. We also changed coaches on the Irish team last August. I knew when our new coach was named with her history of coaching the youth national teams for years and having no connection with her, that I knew it would make it be a situation that I would have to fight for my spot on the backline once again and knew I was a potential target to be cut, especially being back in North America, being older, and having had my ankle injury when she had our first camp in August.
That being said, after a really good winter and spring training in the US, and being fitter and healthier than I have been in a long time, I was super pumped to come home and play for the Whitecaps. It was a choice that raised eyebrows, as I left right before I was to sign for the 2007 season because I stood up to a coach who had been treating players in a questionable manner (him and the Whitecaps “mutually terminated his contract” a year later for similar reasons). I also spoke out against the politics of the system at home when the Whitecaps copied my college showcase at home, had it endorsed by leagues at home and put it 2 weeks before mine. I was assured that this was all water under the bridge and that it wouldn’t have any bearing on the season. In retrospect, possibly why the water was thrown under the bridge so fast, was the fact that I recommended 2 of my closest friends to come and play for the Whitecaps this summer, one who was our only player named All-W League and the other our captain and MVP. Perhaps I am still naïve to think that I can stand up to things and have no consequences, but then again I’ve always been an idealist.
I think as players, and especially as I have gotten older, I think its safe to say that one knows when they deserve to be on the field, and when they don’t. I played our first exhibition game at center back against the University of Washington, and then played our first game of the W League season; 2 games thrown together on the backline with people I had never played with or practiced with and we got shut outs. I was playing well, and so was the team.
Then I got benched. And when I asked why, because I genuinely didn’t understand, I was told that it was because it was going to be a very aerial game, and he needed people out there that were good in the air. Which added to my confusion, as at any level I have ever played at, that has been probably my best quality. I asked if I could be considered as an outside back, as it’s the position I play internationally, and the coach said he only saw me a center back, after questioning Ireland’s level (Ireland’s level is just fine; in one of the games I played outside back 1.5 years ago, we lost 2-1 to almost the same team that beat Canada 4-0 in Germany). For those of you that know soccer, you know that besides keeper, center back’s probably the position that is least likely to be switched.
I worked hard at practice every day, as teammates asked me if I noticed that my team always won. I responded that I did, because my team always did win. But it was my only competitive outlet for the week, so maybe that gave me an advantage.
The point I realized that this wasn’t about the best players playing was when I congratulated one of my teammates for having an outstanding game, on what was probably our best game of the season. She started and played the first 45 in our 3rd game of the season, a 3-0 win. She told me that she had just been told that she didn’t make the travel roster to California. Inexplicable to our whole team, as players far inferior to her traveled. At that point I realized that again this was not about who deserved anything; there was obviously some kind of alternate agenda at play, which was unfortunate when national team coaches for all the countries of my teammates were probably at one point or another paying attention to who was playing and making judgments based on that.
Further frustrating me was the fact that if this was men’s soccer, no coach could make these kinds of decisions without having some kind of accountability to them. And we missed Amy V’s presence on the field on that 3 game road trip. She was told it was her fitness; she was fitter than people she got left behind for; she had proved that in our beep test the week before. Nothing made sense.
I was fighting ghosts; People that played ahead of me included people who had never played in the backline before, people who had arrived on the team, practiced once and started, people that had just arrived home from a 5 week backpacking trip and the clincher was when someone was brought in at the end of the year who had been off of competitive soccer for a year. It reminded me of one of those love songs about someone trying to compete with a ghost. And I say all those examples with no disrespect to those girls; the girls in general, including those that started over me, were the reason that I lasted as long as I did; there were some fantastic people I met this summer that I will be friends with for a long time.
Meanwhile my Ireland coach wrote me asking me why I wasn’t playing. She was following the box scores and could see. And I told her that I honestly didn’t know. Other answers I was given was that I pushed up aggressively and if defenders didn’t’ stick with me, and if the ball got played over, and players were onside that I didn’t have the speed to catch them. So then I asked incredulously, if I was being punished because people didn’t step? There was just no logic and I was left with the answer that was a version of what a parent tells a questioning 5 year old who is asking why: “because I said so! You might not like it but I’m in charge and I make the decisions”.
It didn’t help my situation that I got more outspoken as the season went on to the unprofessionalism that was occurring on and off the field. On the field it was chaos; players took off for weeks at a time and then came back and started, others would miss practices for vacation, and post pictures on facebook, while other players would see them, but then the vacationers would get the start on the weekend.
Nothing like the professionalism that I was expecting and was the key word thrown around when I was considering whether or not to come back to a team that I have never had a good experience on.
As I mentioned in a past blog the tight, fair, no BS ship my old coach Dan Eggen ran and what a positive affect on bringing the best out of players, and the team? Well this season was like watching a coach drum up the variables to create the Titanic. And a team that was so incredibly stacked with talent, stumbled to a third place finish behind teams that were far inferior on paper. I quit shortly before our conference championship when the player who hadn’t played in a year got brought in to play over me, and I just felt like I needed to spend my last couple of weekends at home focusing on something else. 1.5 games worth of playing time over 3 games was it for me this summer. Disappointing when I had just wanted to play and was at a point in my career where I probably could have on any other W League team.
So that all being said, although I am the fittest and healthiest I have been in a long time, the box scores of the games didn’t show that and I didn’t get invited into Ireland camp next week. But I am tired and just don’t have the soldier will in me to pick myself up to go to battle again, for what? To put in all the hard work, all the sacrifices to live in a soccer world that I have so little control over and to have people who are quite simply, not good people, calling the shots in my life. I don’t want to be bitter, and I just want to start making the women’s soccer world I care about so much, better. To put values such as hard work, humility, accountability, positivity at the forefront of every girl and women’s experience on and off the field.
At the end of the day, whether as a player or as a coach, our legacy is our integrity. Peace of mind is knowing that you gave an honest, fair effort every day. I can do that and be proud of the player and teammate that I was this summer and throughout my career. I have no regrets, and I think whether its life or its soccer, that’s all you can hope for. I gave my best effort. I have peace.
We’ll see where life takes me from here.