Tierna Davidson tried her best to keep her cool. The level-headed 19-year-old defender is not one to get overly excited, but now it took all she had to remain calm. U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis had just revealed the starting line-up for the USA’s January 21 friendly against Denmark.
Right there, projected on the screen during the team meeting was the formation, and her name, “Davidson” was right there between WNT veteran Kelley O’Hara and 2017 NWSL Defender of the Year Abby Dahlkemper.
“The day before the game, we had our scouting report meeting. Everyone was reading the lineup quietly and I was just trying to keep it in. Like ‘Oh my god, that’s my last name up there!’” Davidson said. “I tried to let it sink in. ‘You’re going to play, you’re going to be on a field with thousands of fans in the stands. You’re going be on a field with people you’ve looked up to for years and years.”
One of Davidson’s ultimate goals was to earn her first cap. Her dream was set to become a reality under the sunny San Diego skies in the same stadium that featured Mallory Pugh’s debut two years earlier.
January 2018 has seen Davidson rise to the occasion. Her performance with the WNT during the team’s annual January training camp impressed enough to alter her trajectory. What was supposed to be a one-week stay with the WNT before joining the Under-20 Women’s National Team for the CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship turned into a full stay at the senior team camp.
After the first few training sessions in Los Angeles, Ellis pulled Davidson aside. If she continued to play well in practice, Ellis would keep her in camp for a scrimmage the day before the USA headed down to San Diego. If she played well there, she would keep Davidson for the match against Denmark.
“That was the best news that I could hear,” Davidson said. “It was really just an unbelievable feeling. I have this opportunity, and if I take it and run with it, I might be able to stay for the game. At that point, it was just head down, let’s work. Show that you’re deserving of being here.”
And so her flight from January Camp to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago for U-20 World Cup qualifying was pushed back as she proved herself worthy of that first cap. Davidson ended up playing all 90 minutes in the 5-1 win against Denmark, earning her first career WNT assist on Julie Ertz’ game-winning goal. She had a solid, if not excellent, game in the center of the U.S. defense alongside the 24-year-old Dahlkemper, who grew up in the same hometown (Menlo Park, Calif.) and attended the same high school (Sacred Heart Prep), even though the duo had never met before a WNT training camp earlier this year.
The day after her dream debut, she finally made it to Trinidad. Davidson is now sharing the lessons learned with her U-20 teammates as they aim for a fifth-straight CONCACAF Championship.
“Tierna is a huge player for the U-20 team,” U-20 WNT head coach Jitka Klimkova said. “Experience with the WNT is absolutely something special. If you can play and can compete at the level of professionals, and then come to us and inspire everyone to compete the same way, that can be something absolutely special. She can raise the level of everyone around her.”
Davidson was a member of the U.S. team at the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Championship. At just 17, she played all but 14 minutes of the tournament and earned Best XI honors. She unfortunately had to withdraw from consideration for the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup due to academic commitments, but her Youth National Team experience has served her extremely well in her rise through the ranks. She helped Stanford to the NCAA Championship last fall before finally earning her first cap last week.
Several players on the current U-20 roster have earned the opportunity to train with the senior squad, but Davidson is the first to be capped. Despite several spells training with the U.S. team, the nerves were still palpable when she stepped on the field in San Diego.
“I was thinking ‘Can we please just start this game?’” Davidson said. “I was completely nervous for every moment up until the start of the game. Once you start the game, it’s just a game. I’ve played in many games before, this might be at a different level, but this is just a game. I know how to do this. Take a deep breath. Connect your first pass, connect your second pass. It was just winning each moment, doing my role as best I could.”
As she stayed with the senior team, the U-20s battled through their first two group stage matches. Klimkova opted to save a roster spot for Davidson despite her early-tournament absence. She finally arrived in the Caribbean on Jan. 22 and took the field for the USA’s all-important semifinal match against Haiti on Jan. 26, playing a major role in anchoring the back line while helping the USA qualify for the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in France.
“She’s inspiring to everyone around her,” Klimkova said. “Everyone is impressed with her. It’s natural from her behavior. If she says something, it’s always on point. Everyone is listening to her. Everyone believes what she says. Everyone follows.”
Though she joined the U-20s late for this tournament, she has served as an important leader for the team during the cycle. With all of the experience now under her belt, she’s become even more confident leading the way.
“Being an older player, I have more responsibility to be a leader,” Davidson said. “I’m more confident as a player. When I was with the last U-20 cycle, I was one of the youngest players there. I was not confident to tell people where to go, tell people to shift. Now, I’m more confident in my communication. Those intangibles are where I’ve really grown.”
After weeks of training at the WNT’s rapid pace of play, she hopes to help bring a similar tempo to Trinidad. She was impressed with the senior team’s speed of communication as well, and now, as a more vocal leader, she hopes to introduce the same urgency of talk on-field.
“I really would like to carry over all the advice that some of the older players gave me,” Davidson said. “That energy that was given to me, I want to bring it here to finish out this tournament. If I can bring that, if everyone’s at their highest level, we’ll definitely be able to outplay teams here.”
A first cap marks a career-defining milestone. The uniqueness of Davidson’s journey comes in that she gets to take her experience at the senior level and immediately share it with her age-group peers. She’s now out to help take home a fifth-straight CONCACAF title with the players she grew up alongside.
“This team is a puzzle that I already know I fit into,” Davidson said. “It’s exciting to go back and play with people that I know. I feel more comfortable with this team. I’ve known the players longer. I know where they’re going to be, I know where they want the ball and I know their personalities a little bit better. I’m trying to bring all of the experiences I’ve had into this camp to try to give this team the best result they can get.”