In Her Own Words: Shannon Boxx & the WNT Dream

As Shannon Boxx ends her brilliant 13-year international career as one of the world’s all-time great defensive midfielders, she knows she will miss the camaraderie and the competition, but she will keep with her some valuable lessons of what perseverance can accomplish.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I’m certainly finding that out with my daughter, Zoe. But it’s also true of a soccer player.

I didn’t make the National Team until I was 25 years old, which is late for this team (many of my teammates got their first caps as teenagers!), so it was a long journey just to pull on the U.S. jersey for the first time.

But as I look back on my career for both club and country, it’s very clear that I am a product of all the people who have supported me along the way. I can’t thank my teammates and coaches enough for helping me accomplish everything I did as a player, all the way back to my youth team, the Torrance Waves.

Growing up, my club coach was Sam Tanaka. He was a “soccer dad” but did an amazing job of teaching us everything we needed to know at that age. My understanding and passion for the game certainly grew over time, but the base was definitely established back then, and I know he helped me become the player I am today.

A crossroads in my career came in the fall of 2002 when I was traded from the WUSA’s San Diego Spirit in my home area of Southern California all the way across the country to the New York Power. It was a shock to the system in many ways.

Craig Bennett is an athletic trainer who was treating me for a minor injury at the time I was traded. He told me that I should be on the National Team, which was always my dream, but I told him my major problem was fitness. He said, “we can fix that.” From then on, I started training with him, got fit, got mentally in a good place and had a great season with the Power, which eventually led to the opportunity to make the 2003 Women’s World Cup Team.

Jim Herkiemer helped me recover from some major and minor injuries and was instrumental in helping me figure out how to change my training and weight lifting to manage my Lupus. As a result, I got stronger and agile and confident so that I could keep playing. He is a really great friend who helped me tremendously on the field.

Also, I owe a debt of gratitude to physical therapist Shawn Dailey, who helped me come back from having my baby, which was no easy task!

I of course couldn’t have done this for all these years without my family. Thanks to them for all the years of traveling and missing events in their own lives because they always understood how important my career was to me. My aunt and uncle are coming to my last game, and they’ve always been so supportive, as have my cousins, my brother, and of course my mom and my sisters. My sister Gillian also won Olympic gold medal winner (1996 in softball!) and have identical Olympic rings tattoos on our ankles so we’ll always have that to share.

I definitely would not have played this long without my husband, Aaron. I met him in 2008 and I was starting to think about retiring and getting a “real job.” He told me, “Retire? You are doing what everyone else wants to do!” That Olympics might have been my last year (remember I was hitting 30), but he helped me fall in love with soccer again and told me he would support me as long as I wanted to play. This summer, he took nine weeks off from work to take care of Zoe as we prepared and played in the World Cup. He’s been my rock. And he’s about to see a lot more of me! 

A special thanks to Jill Ellis for giving me the opportunity to get healthy and fit after the birth of Zoe. Many coaches would have written me off but she didn’t. And of course, thanks to all of my teammates who were always supporting through me through the comeback and never for a moment let me believe I wouldn’t make it back to the field. They will always be a part of my family.

I have been fortunate enough play with several generations of Women’s National Team players. I look back fondly on being a part those 2003-2004 teams with the early pioneers playing at the ends of their careers. They taught me how to be a leader and how to act on and off the field. This current group of awesome players has kept up the tradition and has made me feel young. In fact, being around them makes me forget how old I am!

They gave me so much support when I announced publically that I had Lupus and I’ll always be grateful for that.

As I come to the end my career, I do realize that I will never be able to replicate these experiences again. Yes, you’ll have a team environment at your next job, but it won’t be like this. It won’t be battling and fighting and sweating next to your next best friends to achieve some truly great things, like being crowned the best in the world. They always have your back and you always have theirs. It’s pretty cool.

I want to especially thank Christie Rampone. We’ve literally seen her kids – Rylie and Reece - grow up in our National Team family. I remember the first time I changed Rylie’s diaper. I put it on backwards. So, thanks to Christie for teaching me so many valuable lessons about soccer, life, leadership and motherhood. We started the friendship at the New York Power and we’ve bonded for life. Even though I will be on the West coast and she’ll be in New Jersey, we’ll always be best friends.

It will be fun to tell the stories of my soccer career to my kids. I will tell them that it wasn’t easy and it was at times a rollercoaster, just like many things in life, but in the end it was worth every minute. Even being a starter all those years, you are always working to keep your spot, and then making that transition to the role of being a support player was a new challenge. But I like challenges, and hopefully I’ve met all mine with a positive attitude and mental toughness. These are all good lessons. Ones that I will pass on to Zoe as I tell her the great stories about all the teammates I played with, all the places we went and all the wins, and a few losses, we experienced together.

Thanks for everything.


US Soccer

In His Words: Zack Steffen on Taking the Next Step for Club and Country in 2018

On Tuesday, Dec. 18, U.S. Men's National Team and Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen was named the 2018 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year, becoming just the second player in the award’s 35 year history to earn the honor in his debut year with the senior team.

The award caps a year in which Steffen tied an MNT record for appearances by a goalkeeper in their inaugural campaign, earned his first MLS All-Star selection, won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and was named to the MLS Best XI team. Last week, Steffen was transferred to defending Premier League champions Manchester City, which he will join during the summer window in July 2019. 

In his own words, Steffen describes the importance of family, the thrills of the National Team experience and the wild ride in Columbus this year, and how it all adds up to him being ready to take the next steps …

My family is a big part of my life. I was 19 when I went to Germany, and it was tough not having them around. It just didn’t feel right. So when I joined the Columbus Crew, it felt like home right away. Over the last two years, they’ve made it to just about every home game, and that’s exactly how I wanted it to be – to have a career that I could share with my family and have them next to me while I began this ride.

One of the best life lessons my parents instilled in me is that there will always be ups and downs…both in life, and in soccer. But you have to learn from them, and when you’re going through them, you have to stay humble and stay grounded - no matter what.

And that’s the thing about me – when there are downs, I get over those quickly. You have to as a goalkeeper. You keep playing and you make the next play. I believe that mentality has helped me have some success early on, which has humbly led to a few accolades this year. What an honor it’s been to receive these.

Coming into this year I wanted to build off 2017. I gained a lot of confidence in my first full year in MLS, having a good season with the Crew. I wanted to come in and not take a step back, to start playing well right off the bat, and to work and grow from there.

I was honored to be called in to the Men’s National Team’s January Camp. We were playing Bosnia and Herzegovina, and even though the plan was for me to come on at halftime, it seemed to happen too fast. I had to warm up in 12 minutes and at the same time I was telling myself to go out there, play my game and enjoy it. I was nervous. My heart was racing, but I was about to make my debut for the national team, so I was also really excited. And fortunately for us, we were playing well so I did not have much to do.

Our season with the Crew began not long after. Gregg Berhalter and the coaching staff did an excellent job of keeping us focused amid the uncertainty on the team’s future in Columbus. They kept us updated on what was going on with ownership and all that, but at the same time they did a really good job of reminding us that we couldn't control any of it  and that our job was to put quality out on the field, work hard every day, and if we did that good things would come.

So that was my focus during the season – to enjoy it, to work hard, to learn, to push myself and try to stay consistent. I wanted to become a leader for the team on and off the field and try to improve my game in each area that I could.

That was also my mindset with the National Team. We knew it was a transitional era for us, but Dave Sarachan and the coaches did a great job incorporating youth and starting this process for us. A lot of us “younger guys” got time and played against quality opponents, whereas we might not have gotten the same opportunities in another World Cup year. The biggest thing we can take away was our performances and seeing the gap there is - how comfortable some of those teams were on the ball, knowing what to do with the ball and when, and learning from all of our experiences.

And personally, that game against France just before the World Cup gave me the most confidence with the national team, knowing that I could play at that level.

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MNT Dec 18, 2018