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Friday, September 7, 2012

Do Dreams Come True?

Before we talk about the last few days of events, let me post a few pics.  Another reason I love Japan is they have the technology beyond the 21st century, but their culture of respect of people and nature, health and happiness is engrained in them no matter how fast the technology. 
"I caught a fish!" 

Have you ever seen a smaller dishwasher?

Dry ice inside your grocery bag before you head home . 
Tokyo has about 13.2 million people and the architecture, waterways and highways are gorgeous.  The city seems to be on levels; there is one city underground that is functional, pristine and attached to the trains and subways.

Another city at street level and then a few more above the street where freeways go through hotel buildings and you can drive forever without getting stuck in traffic; the pedestrians are below.

The Nigerian team was a stark contrast from our previous foe.  The N. Koreans regimented on and off the field. You could feel the weight of their country they carried with them as they marched to the field.  That alone was intimidating.  On the other end of the spectrum, Nigeria danced and sang right up until the FIFA introduction came over the stadium’s speakers to drowned out the steel drum cadence the fans produced. 

I no longer cry just when I hear the Star Spangled Banner.  I get a little choked up when the FIFA anthem plays as well as our opponents’ anthems.  I have either been gone too long, getting my period, or simply am happy to have this experience.  I love the music, the colors, the flags, the game.

Nigeria does not support their women’s teams to the extent US Soccer supports ours.  With the US Soccer crest comes a fair amount of pressure, especially on the heels of the full team’s Olympic gold medal.  If one was counting, the 4 of the 6 Olympic medals have been placed around the necks of the Americans.  Whether it is talked about or not, the pressure is there.  A different kind of pressure than I believe Korea DPR feels, but pressure nonetheless. 

The Nigerians?  They were excited to have the opportunity to wear the uniform, get together and play. Some players come from bigger cities while others come from villages on the outskirts of town where tops are not a necessity, let alone a jersey.  The last U20 World Cup the USA lost to Nigeria in P.K.s.  The Nigerians may not have the training camps or the experience.... nor do they have the pressure.  What they do have is the passion, the speed, the athleticism and individual skills they can master on their own without the extraordinary history of success sitting on their conscience. 

While our team seemed tense (an understatement) in the locker room, the Falconettes smiled as if the victory was already theirs.  They were a tough opponent and gave us less than a breath to receive the ball and dish it off before the pressure surrounded each player.  However, after 90 minutes of a game and what seemed like 48 hours of built up stress; the smiles appeared.  To the finals: 

Once upon a time a group of young women and their staff sat in a meeting room.  The meeting room was sparse, the players disheveled, each with a notebook they were asked to bring.  In each notebook were a few blank pieces of paper.

They sat in their chairs and listened to the new coach as he rambled on about team rules, expectations and what we needed to learn in order to have success on the world stage.  A few doodlers had scribbled a “USA” or a United confirmation number haphazardly here and there.  Steve Swanson mentioned that following this info was the route to get to play in the 7:20 PM game in Tokyo on Sept 8th

Now, the notebooks are full.  Training logs, fitness goals, game notes, quotes, individual tasks, daily schedules, systems of play, situational play, raps, notes from teammates reside underneath the US Soccer Logo that covers the notebook.  Players arrive early for the meetings and I can see them flip through the ream of notes.  “Hey Cari, remember when April said this…?” or “Remember when we didn’t know the principles of defense!” 
Sarah Killion: Enough rice. Time for a spaghetti sandwich

Morgan Brian and Vanessa DiBernardo try not to act like they are not sick of my camera
Many of the faces are the same, but the people behind the faces are different.  They know the answers before Steve asks. Solutions to “what if” situations are readily available.  And they will be playing at 7:20 PM in Tokyo on Sept 8th.   At different times since our last game, it has seeped into the players that their dream is within their reach. 

The one thing in our way is the German team; the same team that hammered us in group play 3-0.  When our staff walked off the field the only thing we mumbled under our breath was, “We want to shake their hand in the final.”  We will have that opportunity.

Aaron Heifitz, our press officer is currently checking with FIFA to see if the team will be allowed to walk out during the anthems with the red, white and blue leis made up of 100 paper cranes the students gave to the players in Hiroshima.   Their wish is that the cranes and the message of hope and world peace make it to the podium for the world to see.   Come on FIFA…. Let there be cranes!  When this journey began, never thought my mantra would be remotely close to "Let there be cranes!" Maybe I will just stick with the phone conversation I had with my soon to be 11 year old.

Swearing is not a common occurrence in our home, but I admit when I am coaching (and when I was playing) every now and then a curse word would slip out and I felt a bit better.   Nicholas was on the phone and he mentioned, "Mom, if you are going to be gone this long, just go win the damn thing."  

Can't wait to kick balls at the keepers, listen to the music boom throughout the stadium, check out the faces and watch our team lace up their cleats while they put their game faces on.  

If I am going to be away from home.. for this moment in time, there is no other place I'd rather be.


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