A monthly feature about a U.S. Men’s, Women’s or Youth National Team player who demands that bright, shining spotlight.
“The Skipper Has Won It!!!”
It was the first practice for the U.S. Women's National Team in Charleston, S.C., before facing Iceland on Feb. 16, and Lindsay Tarpley found herself in a familiar position. Her team in the USA's impromptu five-on-five tournament had made it to the championship game, and after the eight-minute match, the score was tied. It was now a situation where the first team to score a goal was declared the winner. As we know it in major championship matches, it was sudden death overtime, or “golden goal” territory.
To start the training session, the U.S. team had jumped into the thick of things with the infamous "beep test," a fitness and endurance gut check that sends lactic acid coursing through the veins and sparks a war of attrition between the legs, lungs and brain.
Tarpley had done well, hanging tough with the U.S. veterans to record a more than respectable score, and in fact, was the last woman standing in her heat. But that was more than an hour ago, and three intense mini-games had since concluded, played on a 50-yard field where no one can hide on offense or defense. Her legs were tired, as was her mind, but she'd been there before.
Tarpley let a pass from the left side run across her body and smacked a left-footed shot from 16 yards out that skidded past Siri Mullinix and into the right corner to end the game, and the tournament. She got hoots and hollers from her teammates and numerous pats on the back. Her reward: a cold squirt bottle of Gatorade.
The last time Tarpley scored a golden goal, the stakes were a bit higher. On September 1, 2002 at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, Tarpley achieved a feat so rare in the world of soccer that even historians would be hard-pressed to put together a list of those who have done it. As the captain of her country, she scored the winning goal in a World Championship Final, in sudden death overtime no less.
The massive crowd for the 2002 FIFA Under-19 Women's World Championship Final was awash with Canadian flags and the noise was unlike anything the young U.S. players had ever experienced.
"She did a lot behind the scenes to keep the team focused, and she always had a positive attitude no matter what the situation," said midfielder Lori Chalupny, herself a star for the U-19s and a freshman teammate of Tarpley's at the University of North Carolina. "That kind of attitude really helps a group of young players, especially in the kind of pressure environment we were going into."
This was a special group of players though, and in the end, their captain would lead them in the final moment of their two-year journey to the world title. After a scoreless 90 minutes, the game went into overtime and in the 109th minute, substitute Megan Kakadelas received a pass from Leslie Osborne in the left side of the penalty area and curved in a cross on the ground. Heather O'Reilly, making a hard near post run, kept the ball alive as she crashed into a defender and it rolled across the goal to the cutting Tarpley, but she had her first shot attempt blocked. The ball somehow squirted behind the defender as Tarpley went into the tackle and she pounded her shot into the net from close range to end the game, eliciting these immortal words from the TV announcer doing the worldwide broadcast: "The skipper has won it!"
Almost 50,000 fans, there to cheer on a team that had become the darlings of the country over the previous two weeks, went silent. But the TV announcer did not. "A golden goal for the golden girl!" he screamed, as the bright-blond Tarpley and the rest of her teammates raced around the field exuding unbridled joy and collapsed in a mass of screaming, crying, sweaty soccer players.
Since that moment, life has been traveling at a hectic pace for the Kalamazoo, Mich., native, who went straight from Canada into her freshman year at UNC. Tarpley somehow found the energy to become UNC's leading scorer, the ACC Freshman of the Year, and Soccer America's Freshman of the Year, not to mention U.S. Soccer’s 2002 Chevy Young Female Athlete of the Year.
"In the past few years I've been living out a dream I've had since I was little," said Tarpley. "The quality of people that have positively affected my life has been wonderful and I feel really lucky to have had life changing experiences at such a young age."
Tarpley was called into the training camp with the full U.S. Women's National Team in San Diego at the beginning of the year, earned her first cap against Japan on Jan. 12, then made the Four Nations roster, where she earned two more caps, and her first-ever start against Germany, playing 90 minutes in what was essentially the championship game of the tournament. Not only that, but she played at outside midfield, a new position for a player who has played primarily forward her entire youth career.
"It's been a big commitment, and keeping up with school has been a real challenge," said Tarpley. "But I look at the people around me, and the experience that I am gaining at such a young age, and nothing can compare to that. I just have to learn how to balance everything and take things in stride."
At 19 years of age, Tarpley has accomplished things that millions of young soccer players across the country will only dream about, but the reserved Midwesterner knows there is much more out there.
"I'm just trying to learn as much as possible from the veteran players," added Tarpley. "They have paved the way for all of us and I am going to take every moment I get on and off the field with them to learn as much as possible. They have been so accepting and welcoming to the young players, and that has really helped our transition. Our goal, someday, is to hopefully play the game like them, but also emulate them as role models for young girls across the country."
As a leader of Generation Next who holds a special place in U.S. Soccer history, she’s already doing just that.
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (Off-season MLS Pick-ups)
2) In Threes (w/ U-19 WNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris)
3) Desert Island Discs (w/ WNT midfielder Tiffany Roberts)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ MNT midfielder Ben Olsen)
5) Mark That Calendar (On to the Algarve...)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ WNT, U-21 WNT forward Lindsay Tarpley)
7) FAN Point/Counterpoint (Who will save the Fire in 2003?)
8) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (Algarve Cup Trivia)
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