She expected the phone call, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. She anticipated the tears, but they still rolled down as she stared up at the wall of her bedroom, plastered with medals and Youth National Team memorabilia. In the summer of 2016, the young goalkeeper saw it all coming, like a slow roller towards the net, but stood helpless to stop any of it.
As her teammates, her second family, the U.S. Under-15 Girls’ National Team, prepared for the biggest tournament of their young careers, Julia Dohle would stay at home in Scarsdale, New York. They would have the opportunity to represent the USA at the 2016 Concacaf Girls’ U-15 Championship. She would not have the chance at that tournament, or at any other international competition in the foreseeable future, all through no fault of her own.
Born in Germany, her family lived in the small town of Gütersloh, two hours from Düsseldorf, until the age of eight, when her parents moved to the United States for work. At the time of the 2016 Concacaf Girls’ U-15 Championship, Dohle didn’t yet have an American passport. Though she had lived in the USA for almost half her life, and her family fully intended for her to gain citizenship, the lack of a passport meant that Dohle couldn’t compete for the National Team in officially-sanctioned matches like Concacaf competitions and World Cup tournaments
“I felt like an American,” Dohle said. “It was definitely hard as I was a part of this team and we’re all one big happy family. To be cut off, for something that I can’t control, just a piece of paper, it was hard.”
In her time with the U-15 GNT, Dohle crossed paths with goalkeeper coach Jill Loyden. A former netminder with the senior Women’s National Team, Loyden invited Dohle to start training privately with her. In the depths of her disappointment, the two came together to set a new goal for Dohle to chase: a spot on the 2018 Concacaf Women’s U-17 Championship roster, passport willing. The fifteen-year-old decided not to waste time wallowing and resolved to set her eyes on a tournament that seemed much further than two years away.
While her teammates rolled to the Concacaf U-15 title and then kicked off the U-17 cycle, Dohle logged countless hours on the grind with Loyden and training on her own. Doubts lingered and difficulties festered, but when low moments came, Loyden would pick up her pupil’s spirits via text.
“460 days until World Cup qualifying.”
“300 days until World Cup qualifying.”
In the meantime, she waited on her citizenship. She would wait for two years, plus an extra six weeks, for the chance to represent the USA on-field in major international competition. As she waited, Dohle did everything she could to ready herself for her return.
“You have to be driven, you have to be focused, you have to work hard to even be here,” Dohle said. “It takes a lot mental toughness to keep working without having the short-term goals like making the next training camp.”
After moving to the USA, she made the switch from tennis to soccer as her primary sport, and her talent blossomed. She became a regular with the U-15 Girls’ National Team when then-head coach Mark Carr found out about her passport problem. Ahead of the Concacaf Girls’ U-15 Championship in Aug. 2016, Carr called Dohle to let her know that she couldn’t join the team until she resolved her citizenship issue.
“It was hard because Mark said, ‘You’d be here with the team, you definitely would be good enough, but we just can’t invite you back until you’ve got your citizenship.’” Dohle said. “It was tough because I knew it was going to be a while until I would get that passport. The fact that I was in with the U-15s a lot gave me something to look forward to. I knew what it was like to go to a camp and represent your country. Seeing all the players getting their first caps and representing the country at the U-17 level, that was just extra motivation for me.”
For Dohle, there never was a question of “if” she would get another call-up, in her mind, it was a matter of “when” she would get another chance with the USA. In the aftermath of Carr’s call, she steeled herself to be ready whenever that call-up would come, rededicating herself with help from Loyden.
“It’s unfortunate that you can't go play, but this is an opportunity,” Loyden said. “This is an opportunity to focus on yourself, your development, improving every day. This is a potential opportunity for you to develop the mental side of the game and grow some resilience in you. And when you go back, you're going to be even more prepared because you'll have the character that has withstood this really difficult circumstance.”
In the interest of developing Dohle’s mentality, Loyden threw the young ‘keeper right into the fire with an invitation to Sky Blue FC training. A former pro herself, and formerly the NWSL club’s goalkeeper coach, Loyden knew that the experience would prove invaluable.
“She was so scared. She was nervous. Super uncomfortable, but it was exactly where I wanted her to be,” Loyden said. “Super uncomfortable at a level that's higher than what she has played at. That's quicker than what she's played at. That's more intimidating than what she's ever played at. And to see her rise up to the occasion was awesome.”
For a fifteen-year-old Dohle, it’d be hard to find a bigger confidence boost than playing well against WNT legend Christie Rampone and Australian star Sam Kerr.
“I was pretty nervous,” Dohle said. “Every single rep I felt like I had to prove myself, prove that I could be there. One time I did save Sam Kerr’s penalty. I basically got up and I was like, alright, I’m done playing soccer.”
Of course, it was really just the start. Sky Blue players couldn’t fathom that Dohle was still in high school.
“I’m like, ‘Yeah, she can’t even drive yet, and she’s keeping all of your shots out of the back of the net,” Loyden said.
Each time she returned to sessions with the NWSL side, she felt more and more confident. If she couldn’t come into National Team camps, to train with some of the world’s best professional players served as a solid substitute.
“Having to communicate with players like Kelley O’Hara, that’s obviously something that you have to overcome as a 15-year-old girl,” Dohle said. “Not going into camp, it’s not only that I wasn’t able to have those kinds of experiences facing other countries, but I was also missing a lot of great training. Playing with Sky Blue helped me stay at a high level.”
As Dohle continued her training, Carr stayed in contact, both about her fitness and her passport. In February of 2018, the day that she had waited for finally came. Her parents had passed their interview to become American citizens, and she officially regained her eligibility for the U.S. National Team.
Almost right away, she got a text from Carr. “Please call as soon as you can.” The U-17 WNT had an upcoming camp in Argentina and Dohle’s citizenship had arrived just in time for her to join the team in South America.
“We all met in Houston at the airport and I had basically seen none of my teammates for two years,” Dohle said. “They were like, ‘Oh my god, Julia!’ I think that really helped over the past two years, but also that camp, was so inclusive. It was like I hadn’t been gone at all.”
After so much time in limbo, Dohle stood primed to represent the USA for the very first time in Argentina. The moment arrived when she received the call to start the second game, against Chile at the Copa Provincia de Buenos Aires.
“Mark came up to me before the game, he hugged me and said, ‘This is what we’ve been working towards for two years,’” Dohle said. “I was in tears a little bit because I was just super excited. I remember we walked out and they played the National Anthem. At that moment, all the hard work I’d done had paid off.”
Dohle locked down the net for the 17s against Chile, a 1-0 shutout victory to clinch the tournament title. But she still had to fight for a spot on the roster that she had worked towards for more than a year. At the final U-17 camp before qualifying, Dohle made the final cut for Concacaf qualifying.
As heartbroken as Dohle had been before the U-15 Championship, she enjoyed a moment of euphoria as she reached the goal she and Loyden had set out nearly two years before. But like in 2016, she didn’t dwell too long on the emotional aspect.
“There were moments of just pure joy and happiness. She could breathe,” Loyden said. “She’s been grinding and grinding for two years and now, wow, this is my dream come true. She’s celebrated a little bit, she’s happy and excited, but as soon as we got back home to New Jersey, she was back to work and thinking to herself, ‘How can I best prepare myself for this qualifying tournament?’ I think she was more prepared than she had ever been and I don’t think there’s anything else that she could have done to be more prepared.”
Following two years away from the team, Dohle’s moment finally arrived at the Concacaf U-17 Championship in Nicaragua. After the USA rolled to a 4-0 victory over Costa Rice to open the tournament, Carr pegged Dohle to start in net for the USA in its second game against Bermuda. She would march out on to the field and stand with her hand on her heart for the National Anthem in a World Cup qualifying match. She would play in the tournament that she had dreamed about for so long.
Until she didn’t. On the morning of gameday, Carr announced that Concacaf had cancelled the Women’s U-17 Championship. Civil unrest in Nicaragua made it too dangerous to continue the tournament. While the team never sat in harm’s way, Dohle’s big-time debut was once again postponed.
Six weeks later, the time for Dohle and the U-17s arrived once again. Back on home soil, she played the entire match against Bermuda on June 6, and even though she allowed a goal, more important was the journey to get there. The long road back to the U-17 WNT has now brought Dohle back to South America. Her commitment over the last four years earned her a spot on the U-17 Women’s World Cup squad in Uruguay.
“I think facing that adversity definitely shapes you,” Dohle said. “Everyone has their own thing, their own story. Being cut off from that group, it really showed me that I can go through anything. It showed me that if you really put all your hard work into it, if you believe in something, if you really go 100 percent every single day and work as hard as you can for what you want, that you can be able to achieve it. Every night when I go to sleep, I look forward to stepping onto that field and hearing those National Anthems.”