When U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis announced the 21-player roster for the 2010 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup on May 30 of this year, Mollie Pathman and Meg Morris weren’t on it.
But both are in Germany and both made their World Cup debuts against Switzerland in the USA’s second Group D match, coming off the bench in the second half to contribute to the big win.
It is not uncommon for a World Cup roster to change after it’s named. The reasons can range from injuries, lack of fitness, coach’s decisions or other factors. In the days before the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, numerous players were struck down with injuries and replacements were called up.
And that’s exactly what happened to give Pathman and Morris the unique opportunity to play in a World Cup for their country.
Both players saw the majority of their national team action in 2010 with the U.S. Under-18s, but that doesn’t mean Ellis wasn’t keeping an eye on them. Both are among the top young players in the country – Pathman was named the Gatorade Girl’s High School Player of the Year – and both are versatile, able to play multiple positions on the back line or in the midfield. That versatility played a major role in both making the World Cup squad, but the phone calls from Ellis certainly came as a surprise to Pathman, who hails from Durham, N.C., and Morris, who is from Montclair, N.J.
Pathman was in a U-18 training camp that butted up against a U-20 camp and was asked to stay and train. She eagerly accepted.
“I think I did well at the camp and we played two games against Mexico,” said Pathman. “It was good to be with the team and experience a higher level of play, but I really didn’t expect much coming out of it.”
The U.S. team went on to Germany, without Pathman, for a pre-World Cup training camp, but she was invited in with the U.S. U-23s for a camp at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The U-18s to the U-20s to the U-23s in a matter of weeks? Not a bad run for Pathman, but it would get better.
During the second day of camp she got a call from Ellis, who had just returned from Germany.
“She first asked me about my fitness and how the U-23 camp was going, and then she told me she wanted to bring me into the World Cup Team,” said Pathman. “I couldn’t say anything, no words would come out of my mouth, I just took a breath and luckily she just kept talking. I knew I was an alternate for the team, but I never wanted anyone to get hurt or fall out of favor. I just couldn’t speak, I couldn’t breathe. It was like everything I worked for just came all together in that one moment.”
Morris got an even later call, finding out on a Wednesday before the USA began its final domestic training event in New York on a Saturday.
Ellis told Morris basically what she told Pathman. She’d been tracking Morris’ progress, she needed to make a change in the roster and would she be available to come to the World Cup with the USA.
“I was like, ‘oh my god, this is not happening,’” said Morris. “I only had a few days before camp so I had a lot of stuff to do. I had to pack for college, complete all the medical forms and get in some quality time with my friends. It was just a lot of running around but I’m used to running around.”
There was one catch. Neither player could tell anyone but her immediate family. The rest of the team hadn’t been informed and in Morris’ case FIFA had to be petitioned for a roster change. Also, U.S. Soccer had not yet announced the changes, so neither could say a word.
That can be hard for a teenager.
“I called my mom right away, but it was harder not to tell the people back home,” said Pathman. “I wouldn’t answer the phone if my club coach called because I knew I wouldn’t be able to not tell him.”
“It was hard to keep it to myself,” admitted Morris, who has played with U.S. U-20 teammate Maya Hayes since they were nine years old. “I was so excited that I was ready to tell everybody, but I didn’t. My family had a BBQ before I left and Maya came over and that’s when I told her. She jumped up and down and was really excited, but not as excited as me.”
While neither played in the first game, a 1-1 draw with Ghana, both players contributed against the Swiss. Pathman came on for Zakiya Bywaters in the 70th minute and did 20 minutes of work at left midfield. Morris played the last 12 minutes at right midfield, appropriately, in relief of long-time buddy and teammate Hayes.
Morris’ 12 minutes was eventful. She got a yellow card just three minutes after coming on for sending a Swiss player flying on a crunching tackle and she almost got an assist after racing down the right wing on a break.
“I was excited to get in but I’ve never been more nervous in my life,” said Morris. “After the foul, I guess, I kind of settled down. I probably need to get one good tackle in to settle my nerves. Unfortunately, it was too good.”
Hayes was asked how Morris looked when she came on. “She looked like she was anxious to hit someone and she did, so I knew she was ready to play.”
Pathman, whose game is as much skill as Morris’ is brawn, managed to pull herself together prior to entering the match.
“I was more nervous warming up and stuff,” said Pathman. “By the time I checked in I was calm and collected, surprisingly. We were sitting in a bit because we had a lead, but it was good to get in a game, get the experience and be a part of such a big win.”
Pathman, who is headed to Duke in a few weeks, and Morris, who will attend North Carolina, will surely meet on the soccer field as opponents many times over the next four years, but on July 17 in Dresden, they got to share a goal fulfilled that many thousands of young players only dream about.
“It’s just been better than anything I ever expected, or dreamed or hoped for,” said Pathman of her World Cup experience so far. “We have a lot of work to do still in this tournament, but the team has been great, and the experience of being able to put on that U.S. jersey and represent your country on the world stage is amazing and maybe something that will only happen once in a lifetime.”