The site was QEII Park in Christchurch, New Zealand. The date was Nov. 13, 2008. The event was the semifinal of the 2008 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and the combatants were the USA and Germany. The time was the 81st minute.
A long shot from U.S. midfielder Amber Brooks flew over Courtney Verloo’s head and hit the upper right corner of the crossbar. In an instant, the instinct of a goal scorer took over and Verloo started to flow towards the net. As the ball fell into the middle of the penalty area, a U.S. player took a swing at it and a German defender tried to clear, but the ball bounced fortuitously to Verloo, who showed composure and class by pounding the ball home from six yards out.
The goal gave the USA a 2-1 victory against a talented German team and a berth in the championship game of the first-ever FIFA World Cup for U-17 women. It was perhaps the most important goal of Verloo’s career thus far and one she will remember fondly, but now she’s in Germany with the USA for the 2010 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup as a different player with a different role and looking to build upon her success of two years ago when she scored four goals in New Zealand.
“It was hard to lose in the championship game (the USA fell 2-1 in overtime to Korea DPR), and I’m still upset it happened, but of course we’ve all moved on and we are ready to try to win this one,” said Verloo. “It was an amazing experience even though we didn’t win it all and I’m so glad I was able to go through it. It’s worth it all to come back and see what happens this time.”
Tall, strong and swift, with a blond ponytail flying behind her as she storms down the flanks, Verloo is an impressive physical specimen, but she needed a re-charge of body and mind to make a run at this World Cup.
She went from New Zealand straight into her senior year of high school, then into an intense academic and athletic environment at Stanford where she played for one of the best college soccer teams in recent memory. Verloo scored four goals with six assists as Stanford went on an undefeated regular season and playoff run until falling in the NCAA title game.
Although she was a key reserve on the team and played in all 26 games, she could not consistently break into the starting lineup. There was no shame in that for a freshman as Stanford’s three-woman front line of upper classmen featured MAC Hermann Trophy winner Kelley O’Hara, U.S. U-23 international Christen Press and Lindsay Taylor, a trio that combined for 53 goals. But the season took its toll on Verloo.
Even though she felt like she improved and gives credit to her teammates – and especially her fellow forwards -- for helping her become a better player, following the college season, she could not muster the motivation to join the U-20s.
“It was a hard transition for me,” said Verloo of her jump from high school in Tualatin, Ore., to college in Palo Alto, Calif. “I was far from home, and we had a really strong team, which is awesome, but it was tough for me to get playing time. I was tired and I needed a break. I feel bad saying that because there are a lot of girls who go through the same thing, but I needed to go home and I needed some time away from soccer.”
After watching the USA qualify for the 2010 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in January of 2010, she started to get the soccer itch back. She had enjoyed her rest, but she missed the team, the competition and the thrill of going for a World Cup. Despite some nervousness, she mustered the courage to email and then call to U.S. head coach Jill Ellis asking for a chance to get back in the team.
“I just told her that I knew the girls had been working hard and that I didn’t expect anything, but if the opportunity was there, that I was ready to take it,” said Verloo. “Jill is pretty easy to talk to and I just wanted her to know that I could totally commit myself to the team. If I hadn’t taken that break, I’m not sure I could have been at my best right now. You just can’t go into the national team half-heartedly. That’s not fair to yourself, your teammates or your country.”
Ellis gave her that shot and like she does with a perfectly weighted through ball, she’s latched on and ran with it.
“It was actually refreshing that I had an email from her after we came back from CONCACAF qualifying,” said Ellis “She has a lot of talent and a lot of experience and I wanted to have her in our group. I understand that players have to go through certain things and you have to understand as a coach that sometimes kids have been through a long haul.”
Verloo is now looking forward with relish to her second World Cup as well as getting back to Stanford this fall and having a better sophomore season.
“Playing with this team has made me a better player,” said Verloo. “I think I probably have more confidence after making this team and I want to bring that back to school. I’m really glad I’m here. Being in Germany and being at the World Cup is worth everything you go through to get here. I love my teammates and this is not something a lot of players get to experience.”
Once, or twice.