Every journey has to start somewhere.
For most, the #USWNT is a group of fearless women representing their country while fighting for the ultimate prize in women’s soccer.
But for others, especially family and friends, the player everyone else sees on the field is just the silly girl who grew up before their very own eyes.
In honor of #TBT, we’ve compiled the 23 best photos of your #USWNT before they were the players you root for every day.
On #FridayNight the USA will come out onto the pitch for the #USAvSWE match in Winnipeg. But first, let’s take a trip down memory lane and enjoy the fact that before all of this, before the bright lights and the world stage, that player you dearly admire was once just a five-year-old with a big smile and an even bigger dream.
The #USWNT is used to traveling, but it’s always nice to be surprised with #USA inspired swag on the road, especially when it is from one of your biggest fans. When the team arrived to Canada on Tuesday, red, white and blue bracelets were waiting for them in the terminal.
“I wanted to be a gymnast more than anything in the world,” says Engen. “But when you’re a five-foot-seven, 100 pound third grader, it’s not really going to work out for you. I was a huge, huge kid. I’ve basically been this size my whole life.” So she focused on soccer.
She loved driving to games in her father’s old diesel Mercedes, the whole car shaking, her dad blaring opera music as they wound up the hill toward her game. But on the field, things weren’t going much better than gymnastics, “I rode the bench; rode it hard. I only went in if we were winning by so many goals that there was no way I could screw it up.” She went to individual training sessions; she did everything she could to figure out how to break into the team. “This experience taught me two things: that it’s good to persist even when you’re not having success, and that I did not want to sit on the bench.” The next year, Engen switched teams – to one that included her future National Teammate Christen Press – ended up playing every minute, and loved it. “It changed my whole outlook on soccer.”
“In my family, everything was a competition,” says Engen. When they were little, it was a race to see who could get on their pajamas first, “My parents would be like, ‘Ready, set, go!” and we’d be stomping up the stairs, banging open drawers, ripping off clothes.”
There were also living room obstacles courses. Whitney’s mother would set up circuits – vault the chair, summersault over the couch, jump over the table. “My parents would be standing there laughing, calling out, ‘Four, five, six!’ and I’m trying to book it through the house,” says Engen.
In the car, there was the “Seat Belt Olympics:” gold if you were the first to get yours on, silver if you were second, bronze if you were third, lead if you were fourth. “Obviously, lead was the worst. You never wanted to get lead,” laughs Engen. “It was a full blown race to get in the car, but then you’d pull too hard, too eagerly and the seat belt would get caught … it was a delicate balance. To this day, it’s unsaid; we get in the car, and you’re still trying to see who got their seatbelt on first. It’s the personal satisfaction of having won.”
Engen’s parents instilled the idea that there should always be a ‘Plan B’ in case soccer didn’t work out. Law school was her back up plan. “Laws are things that are black and white, yet there’s a lot of gray in the field too. If it was just ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ there wouldn’t be a need for lawyers. The lawyers come in because there are interpretations. It’s kind of like a puzzle, and I liked the idea of finding the most right answer.”
U.S. National Team – A central defender who adds a commanding aerial presence at the back and on offensive set pieces.
2015: Named to the 2015 U.S. FIFA Women's World Cup roster, her first World Cup selection ... Has appeared in three matches for the USA this year... Started and played in the USA's first two matches of the year against France on Feb. 8 and England on Feb. 13... Was named to the 2015 Algarve Cup roster that claimed the USA's 10th Algarve Cup title, but did not see any action and was replaced by Christie Rampone after suffering a hamstring injury during training in Portugal... 2014: Engen took a big step forward with the WNT in her third year with the program, playing 1,051 minutes in 13 games while starting 11 … She scored two goals, finding the net against Mexico on a header off a corner kick that was assisted by childhood friend and youth soccer teammate Christen Press, and against Guatemala on a header from a set play in the opening match of the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship, where she helped the USA secure its berth to the Women’s World Cup … 2013: Had her best year for the WNT to date, playing in eight games at center back while starting seven … Scored her first international goal on March 8 against China PR at the Algarve Cup in Portugal … 2012: Did not play in a match for the U.S. WNT … 2011: Earned her first two senior team caps, coming off the bench against Norway and Finland during group play at the Algarve Cup in Portugal … Trained extensively with the team in the lead up to the Women’s World Cup … 2010: First call-up to the senior team came in March of 2010, and she trained with the team during matches against Mexico in San Diego and Salt Lake City, Utah … Also called in to train in October of 2010 during two friendly matches against China … Youth National Teams: Played for the U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team in 2009 … Played with the U.S. U-20s in 2006 and 2007 … First Appearance: March 4, 2011, vs. Norway … First Goal: March 8, 2013 vs. China PR.
Professional / Club –2014: Traded from the Houston Dash to the Western New York Flash on Oct. 16 for Carli Lloyd, Becky Edwards and a draft pick … Allocated to the expansion Houston Dash for the second NWSL season, joining the team after her Swedish club Tyresö finished runner-up in the UEFA Women’s Champions League… Played in 11 games for the Dash, starting all of them … 2013: In a season that ran from March to October, Engen marshalled a Liverpool Ladies defense that helped the club win the FA Women’s Super League on the last weekend of the season, holding off Bristol Academy to finish four points clear and break Arsenal’s 10-year stronghold atop English women’s soccer … Started and played in 20 of Liverpool’s 21 games (she missed one due to WNT duty) and scored once … Following her stint in England, she signed with Tyresö in Sweden and helped the club win its Round of 32 UEFA Women’s Champions League series against French power Paris Saint-German and Round of 16 series against Danish club Fortuna … In the second leg against Fortuna, she scored a spectacular back-heel flick volley off a free-kick service from U.S. teammate Meghan Klingenberg … 2012: In October 2012, Engen signed with English club Liverpool Ladies for the 2013 FA WSL and arrived in England in January of 2013 … Played with the Pali Blues in the W-League during the summer … 2011: At the end of the WPS season, Engen joined Swedish team Tyresö FF on loan, playing seven games with six starts while scoring one goal with one assist in Damallsvenskan … Signed with the Western New York Flash and played a key role in helping the team to the WPS regular season title and the WPS championship in its first year of existence … Played in 17 of the team’s 18 regular season matches, starting them all, and led the Flash in minutes played with 1,530 … Played every minute in the championship game shootout victory over Philadelphia … Was named the WPS Defender of the Year and to the 2011 WPS Top XI … 2010: Taken fourth overall by the Chicago Red Stars in the 2010 WPS Draft … She started all 24 games for the Red Stars and played all but four minutes of the season … 2009: Played for the Pali Blues in the W-League …Youth club: Played youth club for Slammers FC, winning back-to-back state and regional titles in 2004-05 ... Took part in two national championships with the Slammers, taking second in 2004 and third in 2005 ... Won two ODP national titles with the Cal South ’86 State Team.