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11 Questions with Natasha Kai

Natasha Kai started her National Team career with a bang, scoring a bushel of big goals for the USA, but played just seven minutes in the 2007 Women’s World Cup and struggled with her fitness and form at the beginning of this year. She has bounced back strong to score two goals at the Algarve Cup and four so far in Olympic Qualifying, helping the USA to a berth in the Beijing Games. Kai took time out from giving her teammates hip-hop lessons (and resting her body for the CONCACAF championship game) to answer 11 questions for ranging from her thoughts on the tournament in Mexico, to playing alongside Abby Wambach and her favorite food (you will be surprised). It has been a bit of a interesting qualifying tournament, playing Mexico in front of a sold-out crowd then qualifying for the Olympics in a dust storm. What have been your impressions of the games?

Natasha Kai: “The Mexico game was an amazing crowd. I have never played in front of so many people cheering against you. We found a way as a team to take that and use it in a positive way. It pumped me up to see so many people and we were able to score three goals. We could have put a few more in, but we got enough to win.” You went through a tough period where you didn’t score a goal for a while, then missed the January trip to China as you were sick. How did your rebound?

TASH: “February was kind of hard for me. We were in camp for two weeks and I was having a rough time on and off the field. I had a couple of talks with Pia and my self-esteem was down and I had no confidence. I could feel everything slipping away. I also had a few talks with Abby (Wambach) and Christie (Rampone), basically saying that if I didn’t get my act together I wouldn’t be playing any more. I knew I wanted to be a part of this team and that this team could go far, so I just pulled my act together and I’m still here!” You’ve scored some big goals this year at the Algarve Cup and at Olympic qualifying. What do you need to do, besides keep scoring, to keep yourself at the level you want to be?

TASH: “I just need to keep my confidence up and do the work to keep myself in shape. It’s about being more professional away from the team, whether it be taking extra rest that my body needs, putting good food into me or doing extra fitness. I didn’t have a lot of experience playing at a high level before I came on the National Team and my teammates have always been awesome helping learn as I go.” You recently got your 19th tattoo, some stars on the back of your neck that look a lot like the stars on the U.S. uniform. This MUST be it for the tattoos, right?

TASH: “Of course…NOT. I don’t have any immediate plans, but I can’t promise I will stop. Right now, I don’t have any ideas so I am taking a little break with my body. I am really happy with all my tattoos right now.” Can you talk about playing with Abby Wambach on the forward line and how you have complemented each other?

TASH: “First of all, I respect Abby a lot. I look up to her on and off the field. Playing next to her gives me confidence on the field. We both feed off of each other’s confidence. Before this year, we hadn’t play a heck of lot together, but these last few weeks, we’ve got a lot of playing time and we are getting really comfortable with each other. We are scoring goals and doing a lot of things right. It’s all coming together.” You just might be the best dancer on the U.S. Women’s National Team and have been the hip-hop mentor for some of the players. Who has made the most progress in “breaking it down”?

TASH: “I think there are a few people in the race. In my eyes, I think surprisingly the old ladies, I mean team captains, have had the most improvement. Christie Rampone has improved a lot and Kate Markgraf has her own little funk going on. Some of the younger girls are really good, like Lauren Cheney and Tobin Heath, but Tobin hasn’t really let loose yet.” Now that the team has qualified, can you talk about what it means to you to represent your country in an Olympic Games should you be named to the final roster?

TASH: “For me, it would be an accomplishment that I have dreamt about since I was a little girl. When I was five, I told my dad that I was going to play on the soccer team for the Olympics and that was even before I started playing when I was seven. But everyday I get the chance to put on a training jersey, it reminds me why I’m here and makes me grateful and excited to be a part of this amazing team.” We know you have three brothers, two sisters and two nephews. Do you get in trouble when you go back to Hawaii and you don’t have gifts for all of them?

TASH: “I love my family. My family is the most important thing in my life. They are not as fortunate to travel the world like I have, and when I travel, I want to bring them back a little piece of where I’ve been. But if I bring one person something, I have to bring all NINE (including her parents) something. They tell me I don’t have to, but they appreciate it and it’s something I enjoy doing.” You are excellent in the air scoring with your head. How do you think you developed that quality?

TASH: “I actually played basketball and volleyball and did the high jump in track, so doing those sports helped me with my leaping ability. My style is to go hard into fifty-fifty balls in the air. I’m not afraid to get roughed up or knocked around and I think that has definitely benefited me getting to crosses and head balls. If the Women’s National Team ever comes to Hawaii to play a game, where is the first place you would take your teammates?

TASH: “I would take them to my dad’s work at the Polynesian Cultural Center which is the number one tourist attraction in Oahu and my dad is the ambassador there. It is broken up into all the different Polynesia islands and you can experience the culture each one. My dad is the M.C. of Hawaiian luau and I guarantee you they would eat well.” Speaking of the luau, what is the first thing you will eat when you get back to Hawaii?

TASH: “The first thing I am going to eat is a grilled cheese sandwich, because that’s my favorite thing in the whole world. Then I will go buy poke, which is raw fish, ahi tuna actually, with Hawaiian seasoning. You eat it raw and it’s THE best ever.”