Christine Nairn: Been There Before
If U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team Christine Nairn is experiencing a bit of “déjà vu” right now, it’s certainly understandable.
In 2008, Nairn was one of the two youngest players on the U.S. squad that qualified for the 2008 FIFA Under-20 World Cup and subsequently won the tournament. Now, as one of the leaders of the U.S. team that is trying to qualify for the 2010 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany, Nairn is getting a crack at doing it all over again.
“It’s definitely nice to have the opportunity to go around again,” said Nairn ahead of the team’s first match in the CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Championships, an eight-team tournament that will send three countries to Germany. “If we could go all the way again, that would be unbelievable, but I think this is an almost completely different team with a lot of different types of players and we are trying to find our own identity. We’re just trying to get to know each other and put on the best show we can. If that means winning the CONCACAF region, that would be great, because it would mean we are going to Germany this summer.”
It is also another chance at the regional title that escaped her and her teammates after they finished second at the 2008 CONCACAF Under-20 Women’s Championship, falling 1-0 in the final to Canada.
“Canada and the USA, we’ve always been rivals,” said Nairn. “Last time we weren’t ready for the final game. I think we went in thinking that we had already qualified and we were going to the World Cup. We had a mental lapse and didn’t win the championship. That’s always going to carry with me and Sydney Leroux (who was also on the 2008 team). That said, I think this time we’re just trying to go out there, win and qualify first and worry about everybody else after that.”
While the time has passed quickly since that last CONCACAF U-20 tournament, Nairn says that the memories are still fresh in her mind. Still, a lot has happened for the young midfielder since the U.S. wrapped up qualifying in Puebla, Mexico.
For starters, she was selected to represent the U.S. at the 2008 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Chile where she contributed greatly to the glorious championship run and came home with a gold medal. Following the World Cup, Nairn enrolled in classes at Penn State after delaying the start of her college academic career by skipping the fall semester in order to concentrate on the U-20 WNT.
Last year, Nairn was invited to train with the U.S. Women’s National Team by head coach Pia Sundhage. She went into her first camp in January of 2009 when she was called up to replace an injured player, and earned her first senior team cap on May 25, 2009, in a 4-0 win against Canada at BMO Field in Toronto. Nairn scored her first WNT goal, a dramatic game-winner in the final minutes of the match, during a 1-0 win against Canada on July 22, 2009.
She then played her first college season for the Nittany Lions, scoring seven goals with 10 assists (fantastic numbers for a freshman midfielder) and was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Now, here she is again, attempting to qualify for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, albeit in a different country and with different responsibilities.
“Last time around I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I made the U-20 team,’” said Nairn. “I was kind of like, not star-struck, but just excited to be down there, working hard in practice and just waiting for my chance to perform. Now, being one of the older players, you have to perform or get off the field.
“It’s completely different being one of the leaders. When [Sydney Leroux and I] were the younger ones Becky Edwards and Keelin Winters were the ones we went to and it’s a bit strange being on their side.”
Even U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis acknowledges that the change from rookie to veteran could be daunting for 19-year-old Nairn.
“She went to Penn State and was a freshman, then she goes in with the U.S. women and she’s probably the youngest player in there, and now she comes here and she and Sydney are seen as the senior players, so she has to shift gears,” said Ellis. “But I’ve already seen from last camp to this camp that she’s getting more comfortable with the players. Trying to develop chemistry in one camp when she’s an attacking midfielder is tough on the field, but she’s a quality player and I think with this team our possession will be good so that she’ll be utilized in a way that’s really productive and fun for her.”
While being one of the veterans is definitely something new for Nairn, the young midfielder isn’t afraid to work hard. After shifting from team to team throughout the past couple years, she is enjoying the opportunity to succeed again with the U-20s, this time knowing first hand the amount of work it takes to do so.
“Going in with the senior team was amazing, hard work,” said Nairn with a grin that belied her emotion at the thought of it. “It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, soccer-wise. The way they play and the way they train and everything is so intense and it’s a completely different mindset going from the U-20s and trying to survive with the full national team.
“They were my role models growing up and now I’m playing next to them. I think I had a poster of a couple of them on my wall. So I was kind of star-struck at the beginning but they’re just great people, great role models and to be on the same field as them is amazing. I hope to continue doing that in my future.”
For now, the immediate future lies at Estadio Cementos Progreso in Guatemala City, Guatemala, where the U.S. will take on Jamaica at 5:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Jan. 21, broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel and streamed live on CONCACAF.com.
Nairn says she has benefited from her journey and especially by learning how to cope with the sometimes drastic differences in playing for Penn State, to playing with the youth national team, to going in with the senior side. She also knows that as someone who has been through this process before, she has something extra to offer her teammates.
“I want to seem confident so they can confide in me,” said Nairn. “Me and Syd just want to make sure that they know that everything is going to be okay on the field. As long as we stay together, we can win anything. Hopefully, we can win this whole thing.”
Spoken like someone who has been there before.