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.
Ashlyn Harris grew up in Satellite Beach, Florida, a small, old-school beach town where “rule-breaking was just a part of living there.” She had an older brother who was twice her size and she wanted to be just like him. She ran with the pack of boys – skateboarding through town, playing Manhunt, surfing during storms, sneaking onto school roofs and into arboretums, constantly proving to the boys that she was tough enough to belong. In the soccer world she also ran with the boys, playing on all boys teams up until high school.
On the field, other teams would occasionally give her a hard time – at one tournament, Harris, her teammates and their families were at a nearby beach and a player from another team got in Ashlyn’s face and started calling her a boy. “He was trying to hurt my feelings,” says Ashlyn. One of Ashlyn’s best friends on the team, Nick, describes what happened next: “She picked up a dead catfish on the beach, a whole, rotting catfish. And she smacked him in the face with it. He was bleeding and cut – and everyone was like, ‘Serves your right.’” Nick adds, “We were protective of Ashlyn, but she could always protect herself.”
“I wasn’t going to go say, ‘Mom, people are making fun of me. I had to stand my ground. I had to take care of myself to gain the respect of the people around me,” says Harris.
THE THRILL-SEEKING MINDSET ON THE FIELD
“I still love the thrill,” says Harris. “I would definitely say I’m an aggressive goalkeeper. I’m fearless. I own it. In goalkeeping, you’re either the goat or the hero - you’re an easy target to blame – and I love that thrill, I throw myself into things like that. I love that pressure.
But the goalkeeping position has a catch-22 element. “Goalkeeping is all about experience,” says Harris. “But experience is hard to come by because once you’ve found your ‘keeper, you don’t really switch them in and out.” As a backup ‘keeper to Hope Solo, Ashlyn knew she had to find ways to get experience. Never one to back away from adventure, she went to Europe to get playing time, playing in Germany, playing in Sweden and trying anything.
THE FIRST COLLEGE GRADUATE
Her senior year of high school, she hid in her closet with her phone, talking with Anson Dorrance, coach of the University of North Carolina. She knew UNC only gave full scholarships to players on the full National Team. “I told Anson, ‘Listen, it’s always been my dream to come to UNC. But my parents aren’t in a position to pay for anything – I can’t ask them to help.’” And Anson said they’d find a way. I told him, “‘You won’t regret it, I will be the best student athlete I can be.’”
Fast-forward four years: Harris had a 3.3 GPA and was the first in her family to graduate from college. She also won three national championships with the Tar Heels.
TO WRITE LOVE ON OUR ARMS“There’s been addiction in my family, and it wasn’t always easy on my childhood,” said Harris. “I couldn’t take everything as a kid. I learned to speak to other people.” Ashlyn shares her story and is heavily involved with To Write Love On Her Arms, a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. To learn more, check out the website: www.twloha.com.
U.S. National Team: One of the best young goalkeepers in the world at the 2002 and 2004 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cups, she suffered several major injuries during her college career and didn’t get her first call-up to the WNT until her final season at North Carolina in 2009.
2015: Named to the 2015 U.S. FIFA Women's World Cup roster, her first World Cup selection ... Played and started in the first two matches of the year for the WNT... Earned her second career shutout in a 1-0 victory over England on Feb. 13... Member of the roster that captured the USA's 10th Algarve Cup after defeating France 2-0 on March 11... 2014: Played in two matches and earned her first career shutout in a 6-0 win against Haiti during the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship … 2013: Made her long-awaited senior team debut against Sweden on March 11 at the Algarve Cup in Portugal, helping the USA to a 1-1 draw … Earned her second cap against the Netherlands during a 3-1 win on April 9 in The Hague … 2012: Did not play in a game, but did train in numerous camps with the U.S. WNT … 2011: Trained extensively with the U.S. team in the run-up to the Women’s World Cup … 2010: Got her second call-up to an extended training camp in Kennesaw, Ga., after the WPS season, and worked her way into the goalkeeping mix for the USA … Youth National Teams: Played every minute of all 12 matches for the USA over the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cup in Canada and the 2004 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cup in Thailand … The youngest starter on the team that won the inaugural U-19 Women’s World Cup in 2002, she made several key saves during the 1-0 overtime win in the title game … Was the captain of the 2004 U-19 Women’s World Cup Team that finished third … Finished her U-19 international career with 39 caps, one of the highest totals in U.S. history … Was also the starting goalkeeper for the USA in both CONCACAF qualifying tournaments for those youth World Cups … Played for the U.S. U-23/U-21s in 2009, 2006 and 2003, when she helped the U-21s win the Nordic Cup title in Denmark as the starting goalkeeper … During 2000 at the age of 15, she played with the U.S. U-16, U-17 and U-19 teams … Attended the U.S. U-14 I.D. camp in 1999 … First Appearance: March 11, 2013, vs. Sweden … First Shutout: Oct. 20, 2014, vs. Haiti.
Professional / Club – 2014: Played every minute of all 19 games she started … Had a 10-5-4 record and one of only three goalkeepers in the NWSL to reach 10 or more wins … Recorded four shutouts in helping lead the Spirit to an NWSL playoff berth … 2013: Played every minute of all 18 starts she made for the Washington Spirit, putting in an admirable effort while making 85 saves as the Spirit endured a difficult season … Following the NWSL season, she signed on loan with Damallsvenskan club Tyresö … She started seven league matches for Tyresö and four UEFA Champions League matches, helping the club into the quarterfinal round after two-leg victories over Paris Saint-Germain (she put in a particularly excellent performance in the second leg of the Round of 32 series) and Fortuna of Denmark (Round of 16) … 2012: Allocated to the Washington Spirit for the inaugural season of the NWSL … In June, she signed with FCR 2001 Duisburg in the Women’s Bundesliga … Played eight matches with Duisburg in 2012 before the winter break, seven Bundesliga games (630 minutes) and one German Cup game (120 including extra time), before the Spirit reached a mutual agreement with Duisburg for her release to start the NWSL season in Washington … 2011: Signed with the Western New York Flash for the 2011 WPS season and put in a stellar performance, earning WPS Goalkeeper of the Year honors while helping the club to the regular season title and championship in its first year of existence … Made several key saves in the championship game victory over Philadelphia, including stopping the Independence’s fifth and final penalty kick during the shootout to clinch the title for the Flash … She played every minute of all 18 regular season games while compiling a 13-2-3 record and a 1.00 GAA, which was tops in the league … She tied for the league lead in shutouts with five … 2010: Taken in the second round of the 2010 WPS Draft, 19th overall, by the St. Louis Athletica, but did not play in a match as she backed up Hope Solo … She signed with the Washington Freedom as a free agent in June after St. Louis folded and played a key role in the team’s playoff run, starting the final nine matches in relief of injured goalkeeper Erin McLeod … She went 4-3-2 with four shutouts, making 36 saves and allowing 10 goals … Made six saves in an excellent performance in the Freedom’s playoff match against Philadelphia Independence … Youth Club: Played club soccer with boys until the age of 14 ... First teams were the Palm Bay Rangers and South Brevard United ... Played for the Seminole Ice girls for three seasons ... Won the state championship in 2003 with the U-17 Indialantic Force.