The pressure of a major tournament can be difficult to deal with and not a lot of players have the ability to deal with that day in and day out
Before every World Cup game I played in, I felt good during the warm up. I was ready to play and wanted to play. But then we have to go to the locker room and wait for 20 minutes to come back out. Thats when the nerves start to build up. You walk out the tunnel. You line up for the national anthems. The camera is in your face. You become part of the pomp and circumstance and then the nerves start to kick in. Really kick in.
You can feel the tension and see it on the faces of the younger players. If I were Jill Ellis before the United States play their first game against Thailand on Tuesday, I would say, Hey its OK to be nervous. We are all nervous from the longest-serving veteran to the youngest player. Its important that players know that they arent alone when they feel these emotions for the first time. I was always nervous and told myself that if I wasnt if I didnt have butterflies in my stomach and if my legs werent a little bit like Jello that would mean I didnt care. So nerves meant that I cared. To win the World Cup, you have to care. So, you have to be nervous.
This time around, I wont be on the field so Im a little curious to how I will feel before the first US game. France put on such an amazing match in the opening game. Even the lead up to kick off was incredible. My husband played in the NFL and they would have jet flyovers before games all the time. Theyre always very emotional moments and I was always jealous they would get them for NFL games. I was standing in the Parc des Princes on Friday night and when the national anthems finished I could see the planes coming from so far away. I couldnt believe it. It was a spectacular seven-jet flyover in formation. The French crowd was incredible in red and blue. They were passionate about the team and the players. I couldnt imagine a better opening for a host nation. I truly got a tear in my eye.
I know that when my career ended I was at the peak of my game. So if I had the opportunity to keep playing and pursued it, I know I would have been successful. Then again, going through the four-year cycle off the field I dont know. Theres a lot that goes on off the field. Ive had emotional conversations with some of my old teammates who will be in France. Theyre very strong players but right now Im in such a great place after three years away from the game. I can look at things from an unbiased perspective and just enjoy the game for what it is and without the drama.
This US team, though, has so much great talent, some of the best players in the world, and so much depth. I have said multiple times that defense wins tournaments and that you cant win a major tournament without a great goalkeeper. I have seen that in action, I believe that, I have lived that. This World Cup is the first time that my philosophy will be tested. Ive seen some of the best teams in the world the United States and France who have holes in their defense. This might be the tournament where offense will win the tournament with goalscorers. The US has the best attacking ability in the world and it is going to come down to how well they perform in that part of the field.
Every tournament that I played in from the Olympics to the World Cup I knew that things would happen during a tournament that were totally unpredictable. Whether its also letting in early goals during a game, or tieing a team we were expected to beat, or a torrential downpour during a game or getting booed in Brazil. There are things that happen that you have to deal with.
So I know that one thing you can count on is that things will happen that you dont expect. To win a tournament you have to know how to handle those situations. That type of pressure can be difficult to handle and not a lot of players have the ability to deal with that day in and day out over a long tournament. I would love to tell the younger players going into a World Cup to expect the unexpected. Be prepared to deal with anything. Be nervous. Care enough to win.
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