After receiving a late call-up to the U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team for this World Cup cycle, Brittany Basinger (pronounced BAY-Singer) had to find her way quickly. With the support of her coaches, family, friends and teammates, she has made her way to Azerbaijan for the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
Sometimes you have to take a step outside yourself to find out who you really are. Does the fuel to make that leap come from intense self-belief that you will find success? Or do you need a firm push to start that trajectory toward your full potential? For U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team defender Brittany Basinger, it was both.
The United States is a massive country filled with soccer players from all corners of the 50 states and everywhere in between.
An invitation to a U.S. National Team training camp is an achievement in itself. To keep getting call-ups is even more difficult. To earn a starting spot and make a Women’s World Cup Team is rarer still.
In January of 2012, none of this was on the mind of a 16-year-old Basinger, who was too busy playing high school basketball, being a normal teenager, playing lots of soccer and looking forward to college at Penn State, where she has committed for the fall of 2013.
But you never know who will be watching and when your chance will come. For Basinger, a thundering outside back from Purcellville, Va., her shot materialized when U.S. Soccer Development Director Jill Ellis went to see the FC Virginia club team coached by her brother, Paul.
Ellis was intrigued by Basinger’s willingness to attack from the back, her Ali Krieger-esque physique and what seemed be a no-fear policy into the tackle.
Ellis chatted with her brother, who called Basinger after she got home from the club tournament and asked her a simple, yet loaded question, “What do you think about trying to play for the U-17 National Team?,” he said.
“Of course I told him I was interested,” said Basinger, but then came the difficult part. Venturing out of her comfort zone and down to Florida for a training camp in February where she would join twenty-plus girls she didn’t really know except by reputation. All that she knew was that they were awesome players.
“A couple of days later I received an email inviting me to camp,” said Basinger of U.S. head coach Albertin Montoya selecting her for her first U-17 event. “At first I wasn’t sure what to think. I played with these girls at the U-14 I.D. Camp in 2009 and never got called back up. I was small back then and the players were really, really good. I was scared and nervous about playing with them but excited about the opportunity and told myself I was going to make the best of it.”
Her dad, Jeff, tried to calm her nerves, telling her that the girls would welcome her, that she was going to play soccer, which is what she loves to do, and that she was going to be fine.
After her first practice, she wasn’t so fine. “I was terrified!” said Basinger, who was as anxious about fitting in socially as she was about trying to keep up with the best players in the country in her age group.
So, like any teenager would do, she grabbed her cell phone and started making calls.
She called her coach: “Work as hard as you can and you’ll be fine,” he said.
She called her dad: “Make sure you always stay positive with yourself, and if you make a mistake put it behind you and move on,” he said.
She called her mom: “I love you! Have fun,” she said.
She called her grandparents: “We’re proud of you! Keep doing what you do best!” they said.
She texted her three best friends and club teammates -- Sarah (Hardison), Aubrey (Fletcher) and Charlotte (Ratcliff), who all told her: “Stop freakin’ out! You’re freakin’ us out! You will be fine! You are a stud!”
She then called her future college coach at Penn State, Erica Walsh, a veteran of the national team program’s coaching ranks, who gave her a great piece of advice.
“Coach Walsh told me to play one-touch so my play would be faster and I could play simple, and she said everything would be good from there…and so it began,” said Basinger with a smile, as she reflected back on her now long-gone rookie anxieties.
“It’s just not in my nature to give up on anything, so I powered through it. I was going to give it my best shot,” said Basinger.
In Basinger’s first camp, the USA squared off against the German U-17s in a pair of friendly matches. If ever there was a tough first test for a newly called-up player, the Germans would be it.
“My parents though it was the coolest thing ever that I got to play for the USA against Germany, and they told me that even if things didn’t work out from there, I could still train and get better and have the experience behind me to build on,” said Basinger.
But a funny thing happened on her way to membership in the “One Camp Club”: she started getting comfortable, and that comfort led to better play, and that better play led to validation from her teammates. Instead of being caught in a downward spiral, Basinger was on her way up.
“I will always be thankful to all the girls because they were so welcoming, and that really did help me play better,” said Basinger, “I remember I was coming off the field and Morgan Andrews told me that I had played really well. I was so shy at that time that I wasn’t really talking to anyone, but hearing that from her, one of the players I knew, the captain, a girl who had a whole bunch of articles written about her, that really was great reassurance that I was doing something right.”
She did well enough at the Florida camp that she was invited to travel with the team to a tournament in La Manga, Spain, in March, and once again a teammate was there for her when she most needed it. Fortunately for Basinger, that teammate – her roommate on that trip – was Gabbi Miranda, a perennial nominee for the “Nicest, Sweetest Kid in America” award.
“Going on an international trip was scary,” said Basinger. “I didn’t know anyone that well yet and it was a long trip, but Gabbi really helped me get to know everyone, put me at ease and showed me the ropes. That’s when I started feeling comfortable on and off the field. In our second game over there against England, that’s when I really felt like everything was going to be ok and I was able to play my game.”
“IT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A TANK”
And that game has been impressive for the U.S. U-17s, giving the team a tremendous physical presence at right back and a player who loves to get forward.
“I love the physical part of the game. It makes me feel like a tank,” said Basinger, whose curly, bouncing blond locks – usually bound tightly in a big bun on top of her head – and cherubic smile belie her propensity to run over opponents. “I love big hard tackles, especially when I win them, and I love the personal duel. If every player on the field can win her one-on-one challenges we’ll be a lot better off as a team.”
The right-footed Basinger has benefited from the fact that she plays left back for her club and right back for her country, giving her the chance to develop both feet, which is valuable not only in giving the USA versatility, but in crossing from the right flank and cutting inside from the wing if necessary.
“I love getting into the attack because playing defense can get boring in that you never get the glory,” said Basinger. “If you can cross a ball for a goal you really feel a part of it and can join in the celebration. I know whatever cross I send in, Summer Green or Midge Purce or any of the forwards are going to finish it.”
On the USA’s recent tour of eastern Europe in July, it was actually Basinger that got into the scoring rhythm herself. She tallied the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over Austrian club champion Luz Graz and then scored the first-goal against the full Slovenia Women’s National Team in another 2-1 win.
Although to hear her tell it, they were typical defender goals.
“On my club team I am always on the goalkeeper for corner kicks, and my team always makes fun of me because the only goals I get are those shots from two feet away that hit me and bounce in,” she said. “For one of the goals in Europe, I was on the back post, and the ball bounced to me in mid-stride and it hit my knee and went in. The other was one of those two-footers.”
Of course, a goal is a goal, and as everyone knows – especially right backs – you take them as they come.
POWERFUL TOOL: SELF BELIEF
When Basinger looks back at her first camp, she almost finds it hard to believe how far she’s come.
“It was just a matter of believing in myself,” said Basinger. “I’m sure every girl has a similar experience coming into the national team, something so new, so fast and so tough, and everyone has to find their path to being the best they can be. I’m just so glad I had such a great support system from my coaches and my family and my teammates. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Now as Basinger prepares for some of the biggest games of her life at the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan, she is no longer afraid of anything. In fact, she wants to soak in all the emotions as she now knows how to turn them into positive energy on the field.
“It’s almost like I’m dreaming,” said the kid who eight months ago had no idea she’d be playing in a World Cup. “I don’t feel like it’s quite real yet, and I guess I’ll feel it when we get on the field for the games. Midge (Purce) and I were talking about it when we arrived in Cyprus (for the team’s pre-tournament training camp). We were talking about actually being at a World Cup and we were just getting goose bumps. I never thought I would be playing in a World Cup.”
Fortunately, a lot of other people did.