Becky Sauerbrunn never expected to make it on the United States women’s national team.
It’s absurd, but true. She played her senior season at the University of Virginia during the dark ages of women’s professional soccer, when the next pro league was a year and half from starting out. Her international debut came in January 2008, and after two forgotten games in China (there’s merely a highlight clip to document the occasion of her debut, with Sauerbrunn walking out in No. 27), she went three years without another appearance.
What earned Sauerbrunn that recall, and eventually a place on the 2011 World Cup roster, was her consistent form with the Washington Freedom (before another dark age known as magicJack). Soon, it was her week-to-week play with FC Kansas City — the team she captained to two National Women’s Soccer League championships — that led her to cementing her argument as the best defender in the world in 2015.
Through the years, I spoke with Sauerbrunn about the importance of a professional league. Consistently, she repeated her gratitude for its mere existence. Without (each iteration of) it, she would say, her national career never would have happened. She would go on to win two World Cups — the only player on the back line to carry over in the same role from 2015 to 2019 — and captain the team in stretches amid her 200-plus caps.
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