The USA’s top young goalkeeper has been playing with the U.S. Youth National Teams for years. In fact, Ashlyn Harris helped the USA win the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cup when she was just 16 years old. Now at age 25, although she is still waiting for her first senior team cap, she’s older, wiser and a lot more worldly. Harris sat down with ussoccer.com to answer 11 questions about her great WPS season, training with some of the top goalkeepers in the world and her dream job (besides being a professional goalkeeper, of course).
ussoccer.com: First, let’s talk about your WPS season. Your Western New York Flash won the title, and you were named WPS goalkeeper of the Year. How did that experience impact your growth as a goalkeeper?
Ashlyn Harris: “I think just getting minutes at the highest level of professional soccer was a growing experience in itself. Coaches have told me I needed more experience, so playing every game and every minute definitely had a big impact on me mentally and physically. Getting to play with players like [Christine] Sinclair, Marta and Caroline Seger was an experience you don’t get every day. So I just tried to gain as much knowledge as I could every day, and it paid off in a good season.”
ussocer.com: Take us through the save that won the WPS title in the penalty kick shootout against Philadelphia.
AH: “I got close on a couple shots, and so did [Philadelphia Independence GK Nicole Barnhart], but I knew I had one [save] in me. I always say that to myself. You just have to make one save to make the difference. I was confident in myself, and I know my team was behind me. I just guessed the right way and went and ended up making a great save. I was so excited I just started running around crazy because I knew it was such a big deal for myself, my club and my team. It was such a hard year with a bunch of ups and downs, and at the moment I could just let everything go. Everything was released, and it was all worth it.”
ussoccer.com: It’s incredibly difficult for a young GK to break into the WNT, especially with several world class goalkeepers on the roster. How do you approach your training knowing that usually only one ‘keeper gets to play in a game, and it’s very hard to get minutes?
AH: “I honestly don’t think about that. Right now I can only do what’s in my control, and that’s coming to training every day and being consistent and continuing to grow and learn as much as I can. Once I get my time, I have to show that I am ready.”
ussoccer.com: What are some of the most valuable things you’ve learned from U.S. goalkeeper coach Paul Rogers?
AH: “I’ve learned a lot from Paul, both on and off the field. He’s extremely critical, and he demands a lot out of us, which is the reason why we have the best goalkeepers in the world. His mind is brilliant when it comes to teaching goalkeepers proper technique. He’s really helped me mature a lot. Everyone thought I was just athletic, and I think he’s built me to be more technical and smarter and honestly, I feel that I can be put in any situation and be comfortable because of the training I’ve had with him in the last couple of years.”
ussoccer.com: Describe the training environment with you, Jill Loyden, Nicole Barnhart and Hope Solo.
AH: “It’s a fun group, but it’s a very competitive group. We’re all seeking to make each other better every day. All of us have different things we need to work on, and it’s a good thing to be able to focus on other people’s good qualities and learn from them and know that they are doing the same. It’s an environment where we are constantly encouraging each other. We want the person next to us to do well, and we want to push them to do better. Even though only one of us plays, we have a huge impact on that person as we help get them ready.”
ussoccer.com: This year you’ve played against three of the best forwards in the world -- Christine Sinclair, Marta and Abby Wambach -- in a ton of trainings for many hours. Compare and contrast their finishing styles.
AH: “[Christine Sinclair] is just phenomenal in front of the goal. She has a nose for the net. She looks for corners. You really have to put yourself in a very good position to make saves because she’s not going to hit it at you. Marta likes to put herself in one-v-one situations. She likes to be clever on the ball, but her trigger is super quick. It’s a matter of constantly being set and keeping your feet under you. She’s deceptive, and you can get caught leaning and cheating. When I think of playing against Abby, you always have to be aware of where she is in the box, especially on crosses. She will absolutely hunt the ball. You can’t be intimidated, you have to expect to get hit and you have to be ready to catch the ball at its highest point. Then again, she can hit a ball with both feet from outside the box. She has the ability to be unpredictable.”
ussoccer.com: Being a Florida girl, you were a big surfer in your younger days and still hit the waves when you can. How does surfing help your goalkeeping?
AH: “It’s a calming experience for me, being out there in the waves. Playing in such a high-stress environment in such a high-stress position, you have to have that place you can go to and be free. Being out in the ocean with endless water, I don’t think, I just enjoy being in that moment. That’s what I love most about being out there.”
ussoccer.com: You had a string of major injuries that almost defies belief, but it must be nice to now have been relatively injury free for the first long stretch since before college.
AH: “I think that it’s about becoming a professional. Knowing what your body can take and what it can’t take. If I know my body is tired today, maybe I should do something a bit lighter or really focus on hitting the weights and doing injury prevention. Before, I thought I could do everything, and I thought I could make everyone happy. I thought I always could come back fast, but in the end it only served to hurt me, so learning how to be professional and take care of my body has been really valuable.”
ussoccer.com: Way back when you were the goalkeeper for the U.S. U-19 team that won the World Cup in 2002, you said your dream job was to be a bikini model. Is that still your dream job?
AH: “Absolutely. Who would not want that as a job? You get to go to Tahiti, lay on a beach and get someone to take pictures of you. It’s like a vacation 24/7.”
ussoccer.com: What’s the biggest challenge for a goalkeeper in the jump from college to the pros to the National Team?
AH: “It all comes down to experience. It’s about how many games you are in, how consistent you are and how you deal with the environment in which you have the one chance to be the hero and make one or two big saves that change a game. A mistake in training is not like a mistake in a game that makes the difference between being a starting goalkeeper and a back-up. Everyone can be great any given day in training, but in a game environment, that’s a whole different story.”
ussoccer.com: You always wear three-quarter length training sweats during practice. How come?
AH: “I’m a goalkeeper who likes to have as much of my skin covered as possible. We train so often that wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts would completely tear my skin up and I just can’t deal with that when I’m trying to train at the highest level. Plus, if I do get that bikini shoot, I can’t have all those grass burns. It’s not cute.”