Is she a forward? Is she a central midfielder? Is she an outside midfielder? Is she an exotic breed of athlete unusually good at everything she is tasked with? Yes, yes, yes, and most definitely yes. Lauren Cheney is the exotic animal I am speaking of. The 2011 World Cup was the first of her career and her performance blew all expectations out of the water.
Over the past couple of years I have become enthralled with Lauren Cheney’s play. She plays with a sense of knowledge, composure and talent. If the team finds themselves behind in a game Cheney never seems to lose her cool. Some young players put into those situations (for that matter, veteran players as well) will start making bad decisions. But Cheney seems to play at her best in these situations. She keeps her head in the game and continues making solid choices. Somehow she makes you feel excited and calm at the same time. She is an engaging exciting player to watch. But when you watch her circulating around the pitch you have an overall sense of calmness knowing she is controlling the game. Nothing seems to phase her and that is exactly what you want from a central midfielder (or outside mid or forward, or whatever she decides she is that day). I don’t know how she does it; but it kind of freaks me out. She’s the most exciting / calming player to watch. It’s the only time I ever want to jump around cheering and also kick my feet up and sip on a cup of Trader Joe’s chamomile tea at the same time. Her voice is actually very calming as well now that I think about it. She should do relaxation tapes. (Yes, I just said relaxation tapes. Totally representin’ some cassette tapes.) Lauren, if you’re out there we need to talk. You + me + my 1996 cassette tape recorder = GOLD.
Next I need to talk about her shot. In my piece on Heather O’Reilly I mention Lauren Cheney when I speak of their “cringe-worthy shot”. They both have a shot that no one can rival as far as I am concerned. Cheney has an ability to release a shot so quickly that if you blink you will miss it. You don’t even have to blink to miss it. In fact if you blink you have probably already missed two of them. If she has the ball at her feet and is within 40 yards of the goal, no goalkeeper is safe. If I were a goalkeeper and saw Cheney 35 yards out with hunger in her eyes I would just run for the locker room. There are only two options at that point; she is either going to score on you embarrassingly easy or take your head off with her shot. One of the best examples I can give is in an international friendly they played against Mexico earlier in 2011. It was in stoppage time in the 92nd minute, the game still tied 0-0 and after a series of passes from Heather O’Reilly to Abby Wambach, Wambach laid it off for Cheney. She took a couple touches around a defender and then from around 30 yards out cracked a shot that makes me sick when I watch it. As the ball hit the inside of the net on the far post the crowd erupted and Cheney had scored the game winner. That shot to this day gives me chills and forces me to make a ridiculously embarrassing face because I cannot contain myself. The way she took control, stepped over the ball, took aim and just released that ferocious strike is something she can do on the drop of a dime. And when she does it, it’s one of the most beautiful things in all of sports. Some people weep over the site of a beautiful sunset. They can’t control their emotion seeing such beauty. Normally I would point and laugh at those people, but Lauren Cheney has showed me the light. I understand now what that feels like and what a true thing of beauty is; it is Lauren Cheney’s perfect shot. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still laugh at those who cry at sunsets, but I can understand where they’re coming from now.
Aside from her breathtaking shots Cheney has a lot to offer all over the pitch. And I do mean all over. In the 2011 World Cup she was not a regular starter for the US yet. But head coach, Pia Sundhage, in her infinite wisdom and vision saw something in Cheney and decided last minute to start her in the left midfield position. Cheney, being a forward or sometimes an attacking central midfielder was about to show the world what a sensational and versatile player she is. From the first moment she stepped on the field to the last; she was nothing but consistent, fierce, composed and skilled. The thing that impressed me most was her involvement in everything. It was like she was in some sort of 007 / Charlie’s Angels spy mode. Every time you thought you knew where she was or what she was doing she would pop up somewhere else. With her athleticism, endurance, and knowledge of the game she was able to be everywhere she needed to be and then some. I think at one point I even heard some 007 Bond music playing in the background as she snuck up on defenders and darted around the field like a top secret spy. I was waiting for her to start doing some spy moves; somersaulting behind other players, popping up at the opportune moment to release fire on goal. If we needed her help defensively, we had it. If we needed her help offensively, we had it. If we needed her connecting the defense to the offense, we had it. I think at one point she was even up in the booth giving commentary in the middle of a play before jumping back on the field to send in a cross just to rub it in that she is in fact supernatural and can do it all. If Pia Sundhage had asked her during the World Cup to play left midfield while covering right back and also making some saves in goal from time to time – all while juggling rubber chickens on a unicycle for comedic affect she could have done it. There is no doubt in my mind that whatever she is tasked with she can do with poise, composure and beauty.
When I look to the bright future of women’s soccer in our country I look mainly at four names (although the list doesn’t stop here; as we have many talented, young athletes who will be sure to wow us for years to come. Tobin Heath, Amy Rodriguez and Ali Krieger to name a few). But my four I am closely watching are Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Lauren Cheney. We also have a stacked list of players with more experience who still have long careers left of the beautiful game as well. But out of the newer players I see Morgan leading us in the scoreboard. I see O’Hara leading us in connecting plays and being the work horse that never gives up. I see Becky Sauerbrunn taking over for the remarkable Christie Rampone when she retires as our steady central voice of reason in the defense. And I see Lauren Cheney leading us in controlling the pace of a game; knowing when to sit back and connect plays and when to step up and take the game into her hands and make magic happen. (And also to put immense fear in goalkeepers everywhere, of course)
Lauren Cheney is not only a phenomenal player but she has a phenomenal story behind her as well. Cheney is an inspiration and has an indisputable major success story. On and off the field she is a wonderful human being. On top of that she underwent open heart surgery at 3 years old. Now at 24 she is an Olympic Gold Medalist and vital part to our National Team. Her heart has been through a lot but each time she steps on the field she puts every ounce of that heart into how she plays and leaves it all on the field. Inspirational is not a powerful enough word for Ms Cheney.
There is no doubt in my mind that Lauren Cheney is going to lead us to ample victories in years to come and be a main asset to our US Women’s National Team in every major competition. There is no doubt in my mind that Lauren Cheney will also someday put a hole through a net from her blistering shot. Her composure, her shot, her versatility and her skill on the ball are all things of beauty and cannot be replicated. If they could be, I would advise looking into cloning.
Thank you, Lauren for being a true hero, a role model on and off the field and a brilliantly skilled athlete for us to marvel at. All this talk has gotten me pumped up so I am going to watch some YouTube videos of her highlights. Anyone who wants to go weep at a sunset be my guest…but I’ll be here weeping at the beauty that is Lauren Cheney’s play. And will most likely do so curled up in the fetal position unable to move from the severe cringe-worthiness. If no one hears from me for a few days please send help. Thank you.