She hails from a suburb of Sacramento, but globetrotting U.S. defender Stephanie Lopez has left the soccer fields and Oak trees of Elk Grove, Calif., far behind. Currently in Japan with the U.S. Women’s National Team for two matches, she also captains the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team and will be joining that team in Germany immediately after the matches in the Far East. A veteran of the team that finished third at the 2004 FIFA U-19 World Championship in Thailand, she will represent the USA at the 2006 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Championship in Russia this August. In the coming months, she will be training with the U.S. Women’s team in Residency Camp in Carson, Calif., and be involved with more camps with the U-20s leading up to the World Championship. Yes, it will be a busy summer for Lopez, but she was able to fit ussoccer.com into her schedule to answer 11 questions ranging from her goals for the U-20s, her cracking the full National Team at such a young age, and how she’s really not so shy and quiet. Well, she is..and isn’t.
ussoccer.com: You have been a busy girl over the last few months with school, the U-20s and the full WNT. How have you managed to balance all that?
Stephanie Lopez: “Sometimes I wish I could do a better job with everything, but the only way I think I can really get through it all is to focus on whatever I am doing at that moment. When I am with the women’s team, it’s hard to think about the 20s, but mentally I think I just have to focus on the task at hand and not worry too much about what is coming up. When I am with the U-20s, my focus will totally be on that team.”
ussoccer.com: You haven’t spent all that much time with the U-20s this year. Are you worried about getting enough time to really blend in with the team before the World Championship?
S-Lo: “I don’t necessarily worry about blending in with the U-20s on the field because they are such a talented group of players, but I do worry about getting to know the girls off the field and understanding the team dynamic and the identity of the team. Being the captain, I feel a heavier burden to have a more mental responsibility for the team and be more of a leader and of course, I can’t do that role justice unless I am with the team. I know that when I get with them, everything will come together on the field, but I look forward to spending time with the U-20s to really become part of the team.”
ussoccer.com: Speaking of a crazy schedule, you are heading to Germany right after this trip to join the U-20s for several games. Did you ever think you would literally be flying around the world for soccer?
S-Lo: “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I would have to tell people at school I was leaving early and they would ask me where I was going. I was pretty embarrassed to tell them I was going to Japan and then Germany right after that. It sounds pretty ridiculous, but it’s a great opportunity and I’m excited to be representing my country with two different teams in two different parts of the world.”
ussoccer.com: You are the youngest player on the roster for the two matches in Japan, and in fact, made this 18-player roster as a 20-year-old. Have you thought about how cool it is to be at the highest levels at such a young age?
S-Lo: “Yeah, I have, but every time I come in with the women I am taken aback by what a surreal situation it is, and I hope I never take it for granted. It was always a far off dream for me and I can’t believe it’s actually a reality and I am living in it. I want to always work hard to stay here and never lose the feeling of pride and privilege to be among these players.”
ussoccer.com: You played every minute of every game at the 2004 FIFA U-19 World Championship in Thailand, so you bring some great experience into this year’s U-20 world championship in Russia. What lessons will you try to give your younger teammates?
S-Lo: “That tournament seems like such a long time ago and I know I’ve grown so much since then. One of the main things I realized from that tournament, coming away unsatisfied, is that nothing is ever going to be given to you. Even when you are wearing the United States jersey, nothing is ever easy. Even though I feel we are the best team in the world, nothing short of our best will be enough to win the World Championship. Also, being with the women’s team, I’ve learned so much from their work ethic, their relentlessness and how hard they work on defense. I hope that will show as part of the U-20’s identity in Russia as well.”
ussoccer.com: You won an NCAA title with the University of Portland last Fall. Can you describe that experience of going undefeated and winning it all in such convincing fashion?
S-Lo: “Maybe I can’t. When I think about winning, it’s hard to think that anything could top that experience. I know it was college and not a world championship, but the closeness of that team and what we accomplished in such a dramatic fashion was really just a special time in my life. I think what makes it stand out in my mind is that we were able to completely dominate teams. Not that it was ever easy, we had to focus every game, but on the international level it will never be like that because the competition is so fierce. At Portland, we just had a special group of players and were able to really put together some great soccer.”
ussoccer.com: There are two players from that Portland team who are just breaking into the full National Team in Megan Rapinoe and Angie Woznuk, also both teammates of yours in Thailand. Can you describe the qualities that those two bring to the field?
S-Lo: “When you see those two on the field, you just know that they are special. They are both such different players, but both bring amazing offensive abilities. I always want them to be on my team. I played with Meg for three years in club before college and before Thailand and she’s just fearless and has so much spark and creativity in her game. She has an amazingly ability to take over games when she wants to. With Wozzy, in Thailand and last season, I continue to see her ability to control the tempo of the game. I am excited to know that she will get her chance with the full National Team and I know she’ll make an impact there also.”
ussoccer.com: How about you…what do you think your positive qualities are as a player?
S-Lo: “Definitely different than Meg and Wozzy. Well, I guess I can have some offensive spark sometimes, but mainly I think that I’m a player who plays simply and with composure. I pride myself on not letting forwards get behind me but that gets harder and harder at the full international level. I guess that’s it because I really don’t like to talk about myself.”
ussoccer.com: Your family is a big part of your support system. Do you ever think about how many times your parents drove you to youth games and how they have gotten you to where you are today?
S-Lo: “My family is amazing. More than the soccer player, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for them and for that I am extremely grateful. My parents were always selfless and made so many sacrifices for my soccer throughout the years. That’s truly remarkable and definitely helped me immeasurably in getting to where I am today. I hope one day I can be a parent like that.”
ussoccer.com: You seem to always have a book with you when with the National Team. What topics are you into right now?
S-Lo: “Right now, I am just so excited not to have to read textbooks as I finally finished my school work for this year. So after the burnout of reading hard books, I am just into some simple mind candy like the Nicolas Sparks book I finished today. I am kind of sappy so I am always up for a good romance novel.”
ussoccer.com: You have been described as shy and quiet. Do you think those words fit you?
S-Lo: “I guess so. I don’t necessarily like the limelight and I prefer to blend into the background, but I think in the right situation with the right group of people that my confidence comes out more and I’ll speak up a little more. But when I am just finding my place in a team, I tend to be more passive and just soak it all in.”
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