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U-20 WNT Forward Danesha Adams' Road to the National Team

Danesha Adams is one of many talented young players on the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team who may use this FIFA U-20 Women’s World Championship as a stepping stone to greater things. She certainly has the athletic tools, but is working hard on the other aspects of her game as well. As the USA prepares to open the tournament against the Democratic Republic of Congo, in this Center Circle feature, Adams talks about the hard road traveled, her soul-searching on the journey and why perseverance almost always pays off. In short, it doesn’t matter how fast you are if you can’t navigate the bumps.

Danesha Adams is fast. We’re talking the kind of speed that makes defenders quiver. It’s the kind of speed that creates time and space on the ball because no one wants to get too close for fear of being laid to waste where everyone can see you. She’s got the kind of explosiveness that makes a defender think, “Oh, I’ve got you,” and then when she dives in for the crunching tackle, she’s sliding at nothing but air.

And it’s the kind of speed that could make the United States one of the most potent and attractive attacking teams at the 2006 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Championship. But for Adams, a midfielder/forward for the U.S. U-20s, her speed can be a double-edged sword.

“It’s fun being fast, because sometimes people don’t know how fast I am and I can really take advantage,” said Adams. “But sometimes it’s not fun because people say that I’m just fast and that’s all I have in my game. Speed is great, but that won’t allow you to get to the highest levels. You need to be able to play soccer, too.”

Adams has worked hard at that transition over the past two years when she entered UCLA and became an important player for the U.S. Youth Women’s National Teams. She was tagged with that dreaded word “potential,” which is code for “she could be really good if…” Hoping to lose that tag, Adams has focused intently on proving that her game consists of more than her blazing speed. Pushed hard by UCLA head coach Jillian Ellis, who also coached her on the U.S. U-21s, and U-20 head coach Tim Schulz, she feels like she is finally getting her game to a level where she can make an impact every time she hits the field.

“It definitely was a hard process,” said Adams on her transition from a talented youth player, to college star to a player who can make a difference in big time international matches. “When I first met Jill, she was on my case from the beginning. But my favorite quote is, ‘Never ride a player who has no potential,’ from Love and Basketball. She told me, ‘I am not just riding you to be mean. There is a different level of soccer inside of you, but you are not there yet.’ And I know that’s why Tim has pushed me hard as well.”

Adams knew she had physical tools, but that it was her mental game that needed the most maintenance, and perhaps, that is one of the most difficult things for a player to improve.

“Little things were impacting my game negatively, mostly mental stuff,” said Adams, who nevertheless scored 12 times in her first season for the Bruins. “As a freshman, I know I was very weak mentally, but as the years have gone by, that side of my game has definitely improved. It was painful in the very beginning, but once I realized why my coaches were getting on my case, it was for the better. I feel like with my mental growth, I’ve also learned how to play the game better. When I was younger, I just ran past people, but now people lay off me and I have to learn how to be stronger on the ball and beat people through savvy as well.”

Still, Adams’ speed, and her speed alone, led directly to a unique experience in 2005 when she was drafted to play…well, run…for the UCLA softball team.

Adams, who had played softball in high school, was at a UCLA softball game when Ellis came up with a novel and unique idea, especially for a soccer coach.

“D, you could do that,” she said, looking at the pinch-runners that entered the games for the less fleet sluggers.
Ellis mentioned that to UCLA softball coach Sue Enquist, who called Adams one day and asked if she would like to be her pinch-runner. Enquist had done Ellis a favor the year before Adams arrived on campus, allowing her catcher to be the back-up ‘keeper for the soccer team after injuries had depleted the roster, so Ellis gave the green light.

Adams never had an at-bat, but did score the go-ahead run to advance the Bruins to the 2005 College World Series, where she also appeared.

“I hadn’t swung a bat in years, I didn’t even try,” she said. “But I really enjoyed the experience. I wouldn’t mind doing it again, but this year was just too crazy.”

But back to soccer. This tournament will be Adams’ coming out party at the international level. If early indications mean anything, that could mean trouble for the USA’s opponents. Adams played in her first Nordic Cup with the U-21s earlier this summer and led the team with five goals, including a hat trick against Norway to send the USA to the final. She scored 18 goals in 32 matches with the U-20s leading into the World Championship, and scored against the Brazilian U-20 team, the German U-21s and the full Women’s National Team in scrimmages earlier in the year. She also scored three times on German Women’s National Team goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg, no small feat against the mammoth German net-minder, when the U-21s played her club side earlier this year.

As a sophomore at UCLA, she tore teams apart while scoring 21 goals, including a memorable four-goal performance against Virginia in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament on the way to NSCAA Second-Team All-America honors. With 33 goals in just two years, she has a chance to break Traci Arkenberg’s school record of 71.

Adams has seen time at both forward and flank midfielder for both UCLA and the U-20s and may be deployed by Schulz in both spots during the World Championship. While she has her preference for a position, she’ll be happy just to be on the field contributing.

“I like forward better,” said Adams. “I’m more of an offensive-minded player, it’s just more me and I’ve been playing it all my life. Jill tried to make me into a flank player to give me more space and help me develop more one-on-one ability. At forward, I have less defensive responsibility, but it’s good for me to play midfield because defense is one of the things I need to work on the most.”

Like almost all the players on the U-20s, Adams has goals of playing for the senior U.S. team and hopes a good performance in this World Championship will be a means to that end.

“I really think it’s the mental game part of the game that I need to hurdle,” said Adams, who grew up in California but moved to Ohio as a high school sophomore, only to spend every summer in California playing club soccer, and flying in during the school year for major tournaments. “I think physically I can hang with those girls, but mentally, I have to be stronger, more consistent and realize that I can do it and not give up on myself. And obviously, my fitness has gotten a lot better since my freshman year, but I can still improve that, too. I want to be a 90-minute player.”