I am proud to have been able to play so many games for my country but, I've never been one who likes attention. More than any number of caps, I’m proud to have been able to play so long because of the experiences I've had in the game and the fact that I've been able to keep learning along the way on this amazing journey. Since I played my first game for the National Team in 1997, I've grown tremendously as a person, as a mom, and as a player. Even approaching 300 caps, I’m still learning about the game. I’m playing for my fifth head coach and I’m glad to be able to embrace change.
People often ask me to look back over all these caps, but I’m a person who likes to look forward. You can always think back and say ‘I wish I was this fit or this confident 10 years ago,’ but you learn from those experiences and move forward; that’s part of being successful. I will say, sometimes when I have a bad game, I stop and think, ‘I have almost 300 caps, how could I have a bad game!’ That’s soccer – nothing is given, everything is earned.
My family will likely be at my 300th cap, and my oldest daughter Rylie is starting to understand what I've done in my career, although she probably has no idea what a cap is. She knows about the big events, the World Cups and the Olympics, and all the players she’s been able to hang out with and places she’s gone. Someday, I’ll try to explain to her how I've gotten to this point in my career.
I do have vivid memories of my first game. It was against Australia in Melbourne. My emotions were typical me back then: stressed and uncomfortable. You know you have the ability in you, but the stressful part is can you bring it out at the right times? That’s the biggest thing. The confidence I have now, that’s part of building yourself and becoming the player you are. In that first few years on the National Team, I definitely learned a lot through my mistakes. But that prepared me for the big stage as failure really did turn into success.
People always ask me how I've been able to play so many games. Truthfully, a lot of it is that I've been blessed with great genetics. After that, it’s all about the process. Everyone on this team works really hard, but it comes down to what you are able to overcome, both mentally and physically. You have to learn how to push your body, when to push, and of course work through good and bad days. It’s just extra special to be playing at a high level at this point in my career because of the sacrifices, the amount of hours and the days of dedication. You've really got to commit to being the best you can for the team.
I started a lot of games in my first three years on the National Team, but in 2000 I felt like I had finally earned the jersey and earned the right to be in the starting lineup. I never played for any of our Youth National Teams, so I really had to come in and keep proving myself. That’s something I’m most proud of. Every day, every year and every game, I feel like I have to keep proving myself to the coaches and players over and over again. I think that has helped me in being a leader because you’ve earned the respect over so many years and that gives you confidence.
The way I was brought up, playing a bunch of sports and always competing, I just had a good grasp of when I was playing well and when I wasn’t. I learned how to fight through adversity on my own and not look to anyone else to solve my problems. I had many coaches over many sports who taught me to take criticism as well as praise. Even when I got negative feedback, it never took away my confidence, it just made me want to fight harder. At the end of the day, I truly know how I’m playing and I’m very in tune with my state of mind. That helps in pressure situations and when things aren’t going so well.
Part of my story that people may or may not know is that I played forward my entire life until I got to the National Team. But, I feel the whole process of becoming a defender at this level actually fit my personality perfectly. I feel like I’m a giver and work well with others and those are qualities you that helped me excel as a defender, along with my God-given gifts of having some speed and tenacity and toughness.
As I look back early in my career, one of my biggest inspirations was Kristine Lilly, who was a player that always gave a complete effort every time on the field, in training or a game. I love what she represented: the competitive edge accompanied by a light-hearted spirit. She left everything on the field, she was always fit, and there were no excuses, no complaints. She just really enjoyed the process of becoming a better player and the game of soccer.
Those are some of the reasons it’s such an honor to be beside her in such an exclusive club. In looking up to her and following in her footsteps, she represents everything I wanted to be.
That said, all the players I’ve played with have all touched me, inspired me and added to my game. Each and every person I’ve crossed paths with, whether they stayed with the team for a week or 200 caps, you can only keep moving forward if you keep taking positive things from each player to help you grow as a person and on the field.
I’m not one to be in the spotlight. I want to fulfill my role to the best of my ability. That’s why I chose team sports. I’ve always know that what really matter is the team. Team comes first and that’s how a group of individuals can achieve great things. The acknowledgement of 300 caps is nice, but it’s more than just a number, it’s a representation of how much I’ve put into the game and all the players I’ve played with over the years.
I know I am toward the end of my soccer journey, but I am really looking forward to it. This World Cup could be my last major tournament so I am going to enjoy every step and be positive and focused so we can be in the right place at the right time next summer.
Looking back on my career, I’ve never taken anything for granted. I never will. Every time I put on the U.S. jersey, I will do so with tremendous pride, from cap number one to cap number 300, and for however many I am privileged to earn after that.
My name is Brad Smith and I am the official photographer of the U.S. Women's National Team. I joined the WNT as a full-time staff member back in March of 2015 and it has been an incredible experience so far. For this year in review, the choices I made are subjective and personal. They include on-and-off the field moments, and capture the emotions and experiences that players and fans alike navigated in 2017. Some are also just cool photos, but I'm also probably a little bit biased. I hope you enjoy my picks, and I’ll see you all (more than likely through my lenses) in 2018!
- Brad Smith, U.S. WNT Photographer
"Does it rain much in Los Angeles? No, but the team seemed to have no trouble finding it there last January Camp."
"I’m always on the lookout for something different. Gym sessions are just that.
Then when you add some soft window light to a shadow boxing Ashlyn Harris, you get something special."
"When you practice at a college campus, word travels fast. During training at the University of Maryland,
a deserted pitch soon became a surrounded stadium."
"Winners on the field, winners off the field. While the team was in Frisco, we made a special visit to a local hospital.
Rose Lavelle even got a dance lesson."
"One of my favorite action photos of the year because it’s such a story-telling image. Not only does it have fantastic action,
but as you look over Allie Long to the right you realize the ball is going in for a goal over the keeper. "