• Brianna LeBlanc

Falling in Love with the USWNT in Colorado

Colorado Springs, 2012. I'm 23 years old and visiting my brother, who's just moved to his first duty station. I had complained incessantly that I was missing the Olympics and why couldn’t the family have visited him ANOTHER time. Like when the Olympics were over. When we finally got back to the hotel for lunch, I grabbed the remote and frantically flipped through the channels until I found the Olympics, not caring what sport was on.

To my surprise, not only was soccer playing, but it was WOMEN'S soccer. "Girls play soccer in the Olympics? Since when?" asked my dad, just as surprised as me. I recognized the USWNT and their Where's Waldo jerseys, but I didn’t know who was in the navy jerseys (rest assured, I figured out it was Colombia). As I watched, I couldn't believe how fast-paced it was, how hard they were playing and how GOOD they were. As I marveled over the fact that the Olympics showed women’s soccer, Abby Wambach went down clutching her eye. “What happened?” my dad asked when I let out a disbelieving yelp. “That girl just sucker punched Abby Wambach in the eye!” I squawked incredulously. “Punching in soccer?” My dad laughed as he watched the replay with me. “Brianna, what are you watching?”

I didn’t know then that I was watching my life change. I couldn't take my eyes off them. They were so fluid, so dynamic. I had only watched the men's game up until then, so dramatics in a game was all I knew. Not so with the women, it seemed. They didn't put on a show when they were fouled. They didn't argue with the refs over a perceived slight, and, most of all, they got up when they went down. I didn’t know soccer could be played like this. I felt a love for this team rapidly fill up my whole being, causing my heart to grow three sizes bigger. They were perfect to me. They were a little sloppy on some counters, missed some easy passes and the defense looked shaky, and I adored them.

I was the only one in my family who had the slightest interest in soccer, so it was hard to explain to them why I wasn’t leaving the room until the game was over, asking them to bring me something back from the restaurant they were going to. I was glued to the screen, squinting and scanning names on the backs of jerseys so I could learn who these players were and engrave their names on the inside of my chest so my heart could beat against them, pushing them deeper into my body and soul. Cheney. Heath. Lloyd. Rampone. Rapinoe. O’Hara. O’Reilly. Mitts. Buehler. Rodriguez. Leroux. This was my team, and as Abby scored a revenge goal and Carli Lloyd sealed the deal with a goal of her own, I whispered into the quiet of the hotel room “That was amazing.”

And thus began my love story with the United States Women’s National Team. It would have its rough moments. Players would retire or fade into obscurity. Coaches would come and go. Games would be lost and won in spectacular fashion. The New Kids would move on, and baby mascots would grow up right before our eyes. But through it all, my love for this team, for the crest, still burns inside.