Stephanie McCaffrey had some experience playing with the Under-23 WNT in 2014 and early 2015, but getting a shot with the senior squad was a much bigger jump. She got her first taste of action with the full team at the 2015 January Camp when she was called up from a U-23 camp. After camp, the team shifted its focus toward the Women’s World Cup and McCaffrey embarked on her first professional season in the NWSL.
“I remember the first time I got the call to join the National Team my heart just dropped,” said McCaffrey. “It’s every young player’s dream to get a shot to play with the National Team and I had decided to not go oversees in hopes that I would get the call. Even though I got released from camp in January and I wouldn’t be in consideration for the World Cup team, it was rewarding because I kind of had done enough in [WNT head coach] Jill’s [Ellis] mind to get a second look.”
McCaffrey’s effort indeed paid off and she found herself back with the team a few months after concluding her first professional season with the Boston Breakers when she was called in for the October matches at the end of the USA’s Victory Tour. After not suiting up against Brazil in Seattle on Oct. 21, Ellis informed McCaffrey that four days later in Orlando, she would be in the match day squad.
“The only information I had gotten from Jill was that I would be on the bench,” stated McCaffrey. “Obviously when you’re on the bench as a player, your two responsibilities are to cheer for your teammates and help the players on the field, and be ready to go in. I just kept those things in mind.”
The U.S. went into the locker room with a 2-1 lead when McCaffrey learned she would make her long-awaited debut.
“We walked in the locker room at half and Jill just said, ‘McCaffrey will go for Tobin on the right,’ and I remember I was excited, I was nervous, I was anxious, but I kept telling myself to be confident because the one way to not play the way you can and to end up disappointed is to play scared,” said McCaffrey. “I had a lot of older players coming up to me and telling me, ‘remember why you’re here, remember what your strengths are and you’ll be fine,’ that really helped.”
The vote of confidence from her teammates proved to be a positive thing for McCaffrey who immediately made her presence felt on the field, controlling the right flank and running at the Brazilian defense to create serious danger. The game went into stoppage time and she had done her job. It was almost over, first cap in the books.
Then something incredible happened. Megan Rapinoe worked her way down the left flank and hit a perfect far-post cross.
“We were in stoppage time, we were up 2-1 against a really good team, so my first instinct was to kill off the game and remember my defensive responsibilities,” said McCaffrey. “I remember Pinoe got the ball in the corner, and I specifically remember she looked up and their defense was shifted over heavily so the back post was open. She played a great ball over the goalie’s head into the open space of the back post and I just kind of busted it as hard as I could to that open space and didn’t get tracked. I had the easy part. It was a tap-in because the service was so great from Pinoe.”
The whistle blew almost immediately following her goal and the stadium proceeded to play videos to honor Lauren Holiday and Lori Chalupny as it was their final game with the WNT. At that moment, McCaffrey’s mind wasn’t on what she had just done, but instead it was focused on spending time with two women she had long admired.
“It didn’t sink in until I sat down in my locker after the game,” she said. “I can’t believe that just happened.”
McCaffrey became the 18th WNT player to receive her first goal in her debut match, following fellow forward Christen Press.
She went on to play in the final four Victory Tour matches last fall and was invited to her second January Camp to begin 2016. This time around, after camp ended, she wasn’t released but instead included on the 20-player roster set to continue Olympic Qualifying on Feb. 13 in Frisco, Texas. Although it was a much different ending for her this January Camp, it was once again, just the beginning.