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Becky's Back

When an injury opened up a spot in the USA’s pre-World Cup qualifying training camp, Becky Sauerbrunn was a last minute call-up. After an excellent training camp, and with just two career caps, she finds herself in Cancún, Mexico, as part of the U.S. squad attempting to qualify for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

When she got the call, Becky Sauerbrunn was standing outside a movie theater in Rosslyn, Virginia, about to head inside to see “The Town” staring and directed by Ben Affleck.

She never made it to her seat. Or even the popcorn counter.

On the phone was U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Pia Sundhage, inviting her to training camp in Atlanta, a camp that had already started.

Seems there was an injury and Sauerbrunn, just days off a very successful season for the Washington Freedom in which she played every minute of every match for the second year in a row, was next on Sundhage’s list.

The conversation went something like this:

Pia: “Becky, we’ve had an injury, would you like to come to camp?”
Becky: “I would love to come to camp.”
Pia: “That is a good answer. Here is (U.S. WNT General Manager) Cheryl Bailey.”

And with that, Ben and the bank robbers would have to wait. Bailey had made her a flight for early the next morning.

Saurerbrunn rushed back to Potomac, Maryland, where she was living with her host family during the WPS season. She had the early flight and nothing packed.

Such is  in the fast-paced, -, on-the-razor’s- world of U.S. Women’s National Team call-ups.

Sauerbrunn, who was one of the USA’s captains at the 2004 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cup in Thailand, had experienced her first senior team call up at the beginning of 2008 and actually started Sundhage’s first game in charge of the United States. That came at the Four Nations Tournament in China, where she played against Canada and China. But since then, she had not been back.

“Throughout the WPS season, I always hoped I would get called in and I always felt the disappointment that I didn’t,” said Sauerbrunn. “But by the time Pia called me for the last camp, the roster had been set, the camp had started and my mind was on offseason rest.”

In fact, Sauerbrunn was just a few days away from heading for Delaware for some much-needed R&R. (Yes, there are some nice beaches there). Those plans were also on hold.

When Sauerbrunn arrived in Atlanta, the U.S. team was five days deep into a 20-day camp after which Sundhage would pick the roster for Women’s World Cup qualifying. Sauerbrunn knew it was still a long shot to make that squad, but her foot was in the door, and she wasn’t going to let it close.

“Coming into camp, I had no expectations, probably because no one had any expectations for me,” said Sauerbrunn. “I knew I was an alternate, but I was going to play my butt off and see what happened.”

What happened was Sauerbrunn, despite not getting to play a minute during the USA’s two exhibitions matches against China, impressed enough during her two weeks of training that she was named to the roster for the 2010 CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying tournament.

“It’s always a goal to get called into the national team, and I always held out hope,” said Sauerbrunn, “But while I am extremely happy playing in the WPS, I can’t say I am content, because I’ve always wanted the honor of playing for my national team.”

The USA’s camp had moved from Atlanta to Philadelphia and following the final practice, which came three days after the USA’s 1-1 tie with China at PPL Park, the USA’s team bus pulled into its hotel at Penn Landing. As just 24 players out of the 30 who were in Atlanta had traveled to Philly, Sauerbrunn knew it was between her and one or two other players for a place on the qualifying roster. But Sundhage had not given any indication which way she was leaning.

Sundhage got up at the front of the bus, thanked the players for their hard work during a great camp, and read off the roster. She started with goalkeepers and then moved to the defenders…

“Buehler, Cox, Krieger, LePeilbet, Mitts, Rampone….and Sauerbrunn,” said Sundhage.

“I was kind of just looking down and then I heard my name,” said Sauerbrunn, a former All-American at the University of Virginia. “I glanced back at Yael (Averbuch) because we were talking earlier how we just wanted to know. A moment later, her name was called and we shared a glance again. I had a few emotions, mostly surprise and elation, but mainly surprise that somehow I got on this roster.”

Sauerbrunn has been on of the most consistent players in WPS during its first two seasons, helping the Freedom to two playoff berths while not missing a minute of action. She’s a prime example of how the league can give players chances, or second chances, at the highest level.

“Becky is very smart and tough,” said Sundhage. “She’s a good defender in one-on-one situations and she steps in well to win passes. She can also read the game very well and can play herself out of trouble.”

With the standard three substitutes allowed during qualifying matches, Sauerbrunn doesn’t know how much playing time she will get, but she plans on being ready if called.

“I want to play well enough in training to make sure Pia considers giving me some playing time during the tournament,” said Sauerbrunn. “We have seven really good defenders, but being a newer player, I want to do my part and earn people’s respect on the training field or if I get into a match. I’ve made this qualifying team, but I’ve learned never to take anything for granted. It’s extremely fun to train with these players and it’s great to see quality, but it’s even more fun to see it consistently day in and day out.”
After returning home from camp during the players’ break before leaving for Mexico, she eventually did see “The Town” at that movie theater in Rosslyn.

“It was really good,” said Sauerbrunn. “Suspenseful, thrilling and entertaining.”

Sort of like her WNT career since she took that call outside the theater.