Stephanie McCaffrey had some experience playing with the Under-23 WNT in 2014 and early 2015, but getting a shot with the senior squad was a much bigger jump. She got her first taste of action with the full team at the 2015 January Camp when she was called up from a U-23 camp. After camp, the team shifted its focus toward the Women’s World Cup and McCaffrey embarked on her first professional season in the NWSL.
“I remember the first time I got the call to join the National Team my heart just dropped,” said McCaffrey. “It’s every young player’s dream to get a shot to play with the National Team and I had decided to not go oversees in hopes that I would get the call. Even though I got released from camp in January and I wouldn’t be in consideration for the World Cup team, it was rewarding because I kind of had done enough in [WNT head coach] Jill’s [Ellis] mind to get a second look.”
McCaffrey’s effort indeed paid off and she found herself back with the team a few months after concluding her first professional season with the Boston Breakers when she was called in for the October matches at the end of the USA’s Victory Tour. After not suiting up against Brazil in Seattle on Oct. 21, Ellis informed McCaffrey that four days later in Orlando, she would be in the match day squad.
“The only information I had gotten from Jill was that I would be on the bench,” stated McCaffrey. “Obviously when you’re on the bench as a player, your two responsibilities are to cheer for your teammates and help the players on the field, and be ready to go in. I just kept those things in mind.”
The U.S. went into the locker room with a 2-1 lead when McCaffrey learned she would make her long-awaited debut.
“We walked in the locker room at half and Jill just said, ‘McCaffrey will go for Tobin on the right,’ and I remember I was excited, I was nervous, I was anxious, but I kept telling myself to be confident because the one way to not play the way you can and to end up disappointed is to play scared,” said McCaffrey. “I had a lot of older players coming up to me and telling me, ‘remember why you’re here, remember what your strengths are and you’ll be fine,’ that really helped.”
The vote of confidence from her teammates proved to be a positive thing for McCaffrey who immediately made her presence felt on the field, controlling the right flank and running at the Brazilian defense to create serious danger. The game went into stoppage time and she had done her job. It was almost over, first cap in the books.
Then something incredible happened. Megan Rapinoe worked her way down the left flank and hit a perfect far-post cross.
“We were in stoppage time, we were up 2-1 against a really good team, so my first instinct was to kill off the game and remember my defensive responsibilities,” said McCaffrey. “I remember Pinoe got the ball in the corner, and I specifically remember she looked up and their defense was shifted over heavily so the back post was open. She played a great ball over the goalie’s head into the open space of the back post and I just kind of busted it as hard as I could to that open space and didn’t get tracked. I had the easy part. It was a tap-in because the service was so great from Pinoe.”
The whistle blew almost immediately following her goal and the stadium proceeded to play videos to honor Lauren Holiday and Lori Chalupny as it was their final game with the WNT. At that moment, McCaffrey’s mind wasn’t on what she had just done, but instead it was focused on spending time with two women she had long admired.
“It didn’t sink in until I sat down in my locker after the game,” she said. “I can’t believe that just happened.”
McCaffrey became the 18th WNT player to receive her first goal in her debut match, following fellow forward Christen Press.
She went on to play in the final four Victory Tour matches last fall and was invited to her second January Camp to begin 2016. This time around, after camp ended, she wasn’t released but instead included on the 20-player roster set to continue Olympic Qualifying on Feb. 13 in Frisco, Texas. Although it was a much different ending for her this January Camp, it was once again, just the beginning.
Ever wondered what a day in the life of a U.S. Women’s National Team player is like? We followed WNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris to get an inside look at a day inside WNT training camp, a day that included a weight session and on-field practice.
After a grabbing a quick coffee, the busy day starts early for Harris and the WNT, as they are headed to a weight lifting, the first of two trainings sessions that day.
“The bus ride is always total shenanigans with the people I sit around with. Usually that group is Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger. It’s just fun and good vibes heading into our workout.”
First stop of the day: weightlifting. The WNT usually spends about 90 minutes at the gym, and each player has a specialized workout sheet that is tailored to their needs.
“At lifting I usually spend time on my shoulders and continue to strengthen my back; things I need as goalkeeper. Every day I hit the ground, so I have to make sure my arms are strong. Shoulder strength and shoulder stability are key to make sure my arms are moving well and to prevent any injuries.”
As the team exits the gym, several fans await them by the bus and most players, including Harris, stop to sign a few autographs and pose for a few selfies.
“It’s always just really cool to stop and have a chat with the younger generation after or before training sessions. They’re just awesome.”
“Our van leaves the hotel about 45 minutes before the field players whenever we go to the training. I always have a pre-training and pre-game routine of taping my fingers and hands. It’s a personal preference and to be honest, I’ve always done it. Being at training earlier helps us get some good stretching in, stay focused and it allows us to nail down techniques and work individually and collectively as a small group before we jump in with everyone else.”
For afternoon training, Harris, along with Alyssa Naeher and Jane Campbell, as well as goalkeeper coach Graeme Abel, all pile into a team van and head to training earlier than the field players to spend some time working on their technique and specific areas before the rest of the team arrives.
“Alyssa and I have very good communication and no one has a better view or can critique one another better than each other. If we see something we tell each other and help each other out.”
After training, the players all cool down, chat with each other, hydrate and reflect on the session they just completed.
“We tend to immediately grab our protein shakes. We talk about the day, what we saw on the field, what we can fix, what wasn’t good, what was good and we just overall critique the game in every way we can to become better.”
“Once we’re back in the hotel, it’s all about treatment. Like true professionals, we must take care of our bodies and be responsible to get the treatment we need. Our bodies take a beating from all the impact at training so we take care of it to do it all over again the day after.”