In the game of soccer, there are different coaching theories and philosophies, many takes on tactics and formations, various styles of play and players with different qualities. But this much we knew as a cold, hard fact about the Beautiful Game: scoring goals ain’t easy. In the world of forwards, those who can’t score are subject to stinging criticism and often a change of club where perhaps they can regain their “scoring touch,” while those who can consistently find the net are worshipped as some of the world’s most revered sporting gods, rewarded with massive wealth and the adulation of millions. ussoccer.com’s Center Circle dug into the psyche of the U.S. Women’s National Team forwards currently at the Algarve Cup in Portugal and asked them, besides the requisite speed and strength, what qualities a goal scorer needs to have and why it’s so darn hard to put that ball in the net.
Abby Wambach is one of the best goal scorers in the world. Her 68 goals in 87 games is the best strike rate in U.S. history. She led the USA in scoring in 2006 with 17 goals.
“You have to want it. You have to know and believe that eventually it will happen, that the one great chance will come. Every goal scorer goes through a slump now and then, but they always know in their hearts that scoring goals is what they were born to do. It’s something that you can’t teach, you can’t learn, you just have to be good at it. The fact is that the outcome and the course of the game probably won’t change unless you do your job. You can’t relieve the pressure of the game for your teammates unless you get a goal and every goal scorer thinks that that responsibility is riding on their shoulders. You have to be able to deal with that mentally.”
Kristine Lilly has scored more goals (118) than any woman in the history of international soccer besides Mia Hamm. She has scored five goals in Women’s World Cup competition and four in Olympic Games.
“Composure is key. So often you are in the box and you feel like four people are coming after you so you have to rush. People are yelling at you to shoot or pass, you have defenders coming at your legs, but you have to relax before the shot and not freak out because you have more options than you realize. The other thing is that you have more time than you think sometimes and when you watch tape of yourself afterwards, you realize that. You also have to stay focused the entire match. Early in the game, you need to be precise, but later in the game you need to be even more precise because time is running out and you don’t know if you are going to get another chance. You have to go in thinking whether it’s the first or the 85th minute, that you will stay composed and not rush every time you have a chance to shoot. Sometimes, you can be calm enough to get a ball in a dangerous position and find someone who is in an even more dangerous position to create an even better chance.”
Lindsay Tarpley has scored two of the most important goals in the history of the U.S. Women’s National Programs. She scored the “golden goal” that won the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship and also the opening goal in the 2004 Olympic gold medal match as the USA defeated Brazil, 2-1. She has scored 13 goals for the U.S. Women’s National Team, four goals for the U.S. U-21s and 24 in 26 internationals for the U.S. U-19s.
“It’s the final element to the game that has many elements. You can do everything right on the field, play exceptionally well, the defenders and midfielders can do their jobs, but if someone doesn’t score, you are going to tie or lose, so there is a tremendous amount of pressure to help your team win. It’s a job that has to be done. They always say that the best forwards in the world have bad memories. I always laugh when I hear that because it’s so true. It’s tough to finish, but sometimes it’s over-analyzed. I think the forwards who score the most goals get to a place where they are just finishing and they are not worrying or tensing up when they get into those positions.”
Natasha Kai was the leading goal scorer in the country as a sophomore at the University of Hawaii with 29 goals and was the leading scorer for the U.S. U-21s in 2004 with 12 goals. She scored in her first two caps for the U.S. Women’s National Team and so far has racked up seven goals in her first 22 caps.
“You only get one or two chances in a game so you have to be so focused. You need to be prepared for whatever ball comes at you and you have to find a way to finish it. At the top level, you will never get more than five chances a game probably. Sometimes as a whole team, you will only get five. Some people think because we sometimes score a lot of goals that it’s easy. Brah, are you kidding me? It’s always a tough thing to do no matter who we are playing. I get so happy when I score because I like to celebrate. I like to celebrate with the fans and my teammates. For me, scoring is like a reward. We work so hard that when we get one, you shave to show some flava flav.”
Heather O’Reilly scored her first international goal at the senior level when she was 17. She has scored nine goals for the WNT and 18 goals in 18 U-19 internationals. She was the Offensive MVP of the 2006 NCAA Final Four as she led UNC to the NCAA title.
“I think it’s definitely one of the hardest things to do in the game. A lot of things need to fall into place perfectly to score. It has to be a good ball and good run, and you have to stay onside. I think for me, as a front runner, it takes a lot of energy, but also a lot of composure, and I’m still trying to sort that out. You have to have an intensity to do the work to get into position to score, but then you have to be able to flip a switch and be super calm when your chances come. It’s like at the moment when you are moving the fastest, you have to be the calmest. It’s not an easy thing to do and I guess that’s why forwards make the big bucks.”