Sarah Killion is a Midwesterner who embodies the qualities which are representative of her home state: Indiana. She’s industrious, humble and friendly, and won’t be outworked.
Fort Wayne, Ind., is the headquarters for numerous major companies spanning the auto, insurance, communications, health care and manufacturing industries.
In short, the people of this Midwestern city of just over 250,000 know how to work. So it’s no surprise that U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team defensive midfielder Sarah Killion calls Fort Wayne home.
On the field, the wiry yet graceful Killion is not about flash or recognition, she just does her job. And that job, as a holding midfielder for the United States, is to do the “dirty” work for her team.
“When we first started watching Sarah, we saw this gangly player with more legs and arms than anything, floating around the field, but as you watch the game, you can quickly see how much she impacts the game,” said U.S. head coach Steve Swanson. “She’s a distributor, and we need her to distribute the ball, find the space, solve pressure and she does a great job of that.”
You could watch an entire match and perhaps you wouldn’t notice Killion that much, but all game long she has that engine going, doing the things a team needs to win: directing the spacing of the midfield, winning balls and keeping possession while moving the ball in a productive way around the field.
It’s a role she’s happy to play, even though like all players on the U.S. Women’s National Team, she was used to playing a different sort of game during her club career.
“Back in Fort Wayne I had bigger roles,” said Killion. “I was more looked up to and more of a leader, but when I moved to California (to attend UCLA), it was more about doing my job for my team. I’m surrounded by so many good players (in college and for the USA) that it makes me better and it made me see that playing a one-or-two touch ball is better than trying to make something happen on my own.”
That philosophy basically defines Killion on the U.S. team as she’s always making the simplest yet most productive decisions with the ball. She tries to be a role model of consistency to her teammates and consistency at the highest levels of soccer is an extremely valuable trait.
“I just want to be a good example by being a positive person,” she said. “I want to always be on time, follow rules and do the right thing. There’s never a reason to be out of line.”
“She’s our anchor in the middle,” said Swanson, who says Killion has grown quite a bit in her defensive abilities during her time in the national team program, becoming a better ball-winner and more of a presence in the center of the field. “I call it the pivot player, the player that really keeps the ball moving from one side to the other while looking for penetrating balls when it’s on. With our style and the way we play and how we want to possess the ball, she’s an integral part of the team.”
Killion generally plays deeper than the USA’s pair of attacking midfielders – Morgan Brian and Vanessa DiBernardo – both of whom are among the most skilled young players in the country. She’s willing to let those two maestros weave their magic while she just gets them the ball in the best positions possible. Still, like any defensive-oriented player, she has a hankering to get forward more, and may have the leash taken off a bit when she gets back to college soccer with the Bruins.
“I feel like I have a very stable role on the U.S. team,” said Killion. “I need to try to control the tempo of the game, be a strong defensive player in the midfield and move the ball around. It’s a bit easier for me in that position and the job responsibilities are a little simpler. Going forward takes more creativity and I’m the kind of person who takes a while to get comfortable enough in an environment to let that creativity come out of me. With a year of college behind me, I’m hoping to have more of an attacking player and I’m looking forward to that.”
For now, her talents will be utilized in front of the back line on the U.S. team, a role she honed while one of the youngest players on the Fort Wayne Fever in the USL W-League. It’s a long way from the fields of Fort Wayne to the U-20 Women’s World Cup, but Killion has relished the journey. So far she’s played all but 18 minutes of the tournament.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience as far as playing a lot and dealing with the crowds, and the nerves and speed,” said Killion. “But the way I see it, it’s still the same game I was playing in Fort Wayne growing up playing two-on-two and that’s what I keep reminding myself. Still, it’s been amazing and the best soccer experience I’ve had.”
It’s always a good thing to love your work.