While it does have a bit of a poetic ring to it, the preference of U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team forward Madeline Dahlien would be that you not call her by her given name. Maddie, Mads, MD and Dahls will all work better for the 18-year-old out of Edina, Minnesota.
But whatever name you choose, it was surely not known in the world of international youth soccer prior to a few days ago. The 2023 Concacaf Women’s U-20 Championship in the Dominican Republic is just her second-ever event with the U.S. Youth National Teams, and at this tournament she’s earned her first international caps and scored her first international goals. Boy, did she.
After not playing in the USA’s opening game of the tournament against Panama, she made her first-ever start for the USA, against Jamaica in the second Group A match, and promptly scored a hat trick in her first cap, spawning one of the better soccer Twitter headlines in recent memory: “That’s a Hattie for Maddie!”
Her goals came in three distinctly different fashions, showing creativity in her finishing that is the mark of a talented striker. Her first goal came on a darting run to the near post to bury a full volley, her second when she leapt high to snap home a header and her third was a slick finish with the outside of her right foot via a breakaway after timing her run perfectly to get behind the Reggae Girlz defense.
Dahlien’s first camp with any U.S. Youth Women’s National Team came this April when she attended the combined U-19/U-18 WYNT event that overlapped a few days with the U-20 WYNT camp. For the 46 players who attended both camps in North Carolina, it was essentially a selection event for this World Cup qualifying roster. She impressed enough during the week that she made the final squad that would travel to the DR, just one of four players from the younger age groups to do so.
“I’m really grateful for this experience, it’s been amazing,” said Dahlien, whose eyes have been opened a bit wider since leaving confines of her home state. “One of the best parts of making this roster is getting to know these girls and playing with players from across the country. Getting to compete with such high-caliber talent every day is awesome. The players are so hard-working at every practice, and they push me every day, but at the same time everyone is super supportive. Also getting coached by such great coaches helps me add tools to my toolbox, so I can not only grow as a soccer player but also as a person.”
While Minnesota has long produced talented youth players, and the advent of Minnesota United FC in Major League Soccer has made Minneapolis-Saint Paul an exciting and up-and-coming market in the American soccer landscape, few female players from the Land of 10,000 Lakes have made the full National Team. Of course, there is the legend that is goalkeeper Briana Scurry (175 caps from 1994-2008), but also midfielder Jena Kluegel (24 caps from 2000-2003), who like Dahlien is a North Carolina Tar Heel, and midfielder Holly Manthei (23 caps from 1995-1997), who was a member of the USA’s 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup Team. Kluegel and Manthei wore their countries colors before Dahlien was born in 2004 and she was just four when Scurry hung up her gloves.
Minnesota happens to be one of the ancestral homes of the U.S. Women’s National Team. The USA’s first-ever domestic match was played there in 1985, and the USA’s first nine home games were in Blaine, Minn.
Dahlien appreciates that history and is hoping to inspire a new generation of female players in Minnesota.“I love being a Minnesotan,” she said. “I feel like Minnesota gets a bad rap for having terrible weather and not much to do but growing up I found it to be really fun. My family loves water sports and a lot of my childhood was spent at lakes, on the water and at our family cabin. It’s a really beautiful state. We have a lot of competitive players, and I feel like more and more players are getting chances in Youth National Team camps.”
One of the finest female athletes to come out of Minnesota in recent memory -- with full props to UConn hoopster Paige Bueckers -- Dahlien was voted Ms. Soccer and Miss Track in Minnesota as a high school senior in 2021. She was hotly recruited in both sports but chose to focus on soccer in college (even though collegiate track is not off the table down the road). She played in 26 games as a freshman for the Tar Heels but started just five while scoring four goals with three assists, and she calls her rookie year a great learning experience.
“It was a bit of a roller coaster,” she said. “Coming to UNC, which is such a great program, I didn’t expect to play a ton, but you always still want to make an impact. The start of the season was hard for me, I wasn’t playing much, but once I started getting my feet under me, I started a few games, then I went back to being a game changer (reserve). So, I had different roles, but it helped me to learn about adversity. Coming out of Minnesota, I started every game, played almost every minute, but it was great to have to earn minutes. It was a fun season. We lost the National Championship, but I got to do some things I had dreamed about like playing for an ACC championship and an NCAA championship, and now we want more.”
At 5-foot-9, she possesses true speed that unfurls into a graceful and powerful stride, honed on the track where she was the Minnesota state champion in the 100, 200 and 400 meters as a junior. As a senior, she won the 200 meters and long jump state titles and came within tenths of a second of repeating her triple in the sprints. Pair that kind of height and athleticism with an aesthetic skill set and Dahlien has been nothing but trouble for defenses in the Dominican Republic.
She’s even had two goals called back on VAR reviews and has played right wing, center forward (where she’s showed an ability to play back to goal) and left wing, an impressive feat for any forward, never mind a teenager. Still, she knows she has much work to do to become the player she wants to be.
“Growing up, obviously I was pretty fast, so I was able to blow past girls without too many technical demands,” she says. “So, I want to keep growing the technical part of my game, and the higher level you get to, the more the tactical part of the game comes into play. I want to be a student of the game, continue to grow in that area and be able to implement game plans the way our coaches want us to.”
If her soccer career was a 400-meter race, Dahlien would just be approaching the first turn, but with the natural athletic abilities and winning mentality that she’s displayed so far, a dazzling kick to the finish line just might be in the offing.