U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn is a player every coach would want on his or her team. Tremendously self-motivated, she can play every position across the back line, has a personality and work ethic that is great for team chemistry and is willing to play the role of a reserve if that’s what the coach deems best for the team.
Best of all, she hates being a reserve.
“(Being a backup on the National Team) does have its challenges,” said Sauerbrunn. “It’s hard because everyone here wants to play and there are only so many minutes to go around. But you wouldn’t make it to this team if you were just okay being on the bench.
“That said, I am so grateful that I am here, because it really was a surprise that I made the World Cup roster. I don’t want to get ahead of myself and think I should be playing when I am competing with two extremely experienced center backs. It’s not realistic to take over a spot from one of those two. So knowing that, I accept my role and will be the best and most supportive teammate I can be, and if I get called on, hopefully I will be prepared, step up and do well.”
Sauerbrunn, who is one of the least capped of the regular call-ups with just 20 matches of experience, always seems to be prepared.
Case in point was the semifinal of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. When Rachel Buehler received a controversial red card against Brazil in the quarterfinal, she was automatically suspended for the next match. After the Americans won that historic game in penalty kicks, Buehler’s suspension left a gaping hole in the center of the U.S. defense for the next match against France.
How often has a player not seen a minute of action in a World Cup before being called upon to play in the semifinal and then play all 90 minutes while helping her team to the World Cup Final with an inspired performance?
We’re guessing probably never. And another FYI: that game was just Sauerbrunn’s 12th career cap.
“It never crossed my mind that I was even being considered for the semifinal until the post-game celebrations on the field after the Brazil game when (assistant coach) Erica Walsh looked at me and said ‘21 deep,’” said Sauerbrunn. “I knew she was implying that I would have a chance to play against France, but honestly I thought they would rearrange the back line, maybe bring Amy LePeilbet into the middle and play Steph [Cox] out wide.”
Instead Sundhage, who is known for her belief in her bench and her shrewd player and tactical management, inserted Sauerbrunn against dynamic France. It was a tremendous ask of the 26-year-old, considering she had not really played in a high level match for almost two months.
Sauerbrunn, whose selection to the World Cup roster was partly due to her tremendous versatility (she has performed well for the WNT in the center, at left back and at right back against some quality teams), played 90 minutes in the friendly against Japan on May 18. She got just five minutes against Mexico in the USA’s World Cup send-off game on June 6 and did not play in the USA’s scrimmage against Norway during the pre-World Cup camp in Austria. She then sat the bench for four consecutive World Cup matches. By the time the France game rolled around on July 13, you couldn’t blame Sauerbrunn for thinking she might be a little rusty.
But it sure didn’t look like it. She slid seamlessly into the center-back spot next to Christie Rampone, who admittedly makes the short list for best defensive partner ever. Still, Sauerbrunn held her own against a country that was one of the attacking revelations of the tournament.
“It was such a weird game because we did have tired legs, so we were defending for a great majority of the match,” said Sauerbrunn. “But I felt that my defensive style suited their attacking style. It was a very cerebral game, more problem solving and anticipation, and not so much about speed and power.”
Sauerbrunn admits that while she was trying to play her role on the bench well as a supporter and cheerleader, being able to contribute to the team’s success on the field was a tremendous feeling.
“It meant the world to me knowing that going in cold, I could perform and play 90 minutes and physically contribute,” said Sauerbrunn.
When asked if Buehler had any words of encouragement before or after the France game, Sauerbrunn smiled.
“Rachel was her normal super-supportive self and before the game was telling me that I was going to do great,” said Sauerbrunn. “After the game, she was so excited for me. She is an ideal teammate. She makes you feel like she has your back.”
And in the semifinal of the Women’s World Cup, Sauerbrunn had hers.