Lauren Cheney – 007 Spy Mode

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.

 

Love My Boston Breakers

It’s always tough for a sports fan to see their favorite team lose in a big game. What makes it even tougher is when that sports fan is you. I just watched my beloved Boston Breakers fall to magicJack in the Women’s Professional Soccer Playoffs. I’m not from Boston, I never lived in Boston, and the only thing I know about Boston, being from New York, is that everyone in New York is supposed to hate everything that comes out of that city. I could never hate that team though. I became a Breakers fan a couple years ago and with the players they have had coming through there, it just gets better and better for me. With WNY Flash joining the league this year they have become a second favorite. With talent like Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair, Brittany Bock, Ali Riley, Caroline Seger, and Ashlyn Harris, it’s hard to not take notice. They’re also as close to a hometown team as I have, since I am from Syracuse, NY before moving to Los Angeles.

But let’s get back to Boston. I think they were an underrated team this year. Let’s start with my all around favorite player who has been my favorite player for about 4 years, Leslie Osborne. She’s a central midfielder for the team who takes on a defensive or holding midfield position and is also their captain. She is a straight up baller on the field. She’s quick, she’s smart, and she’s vocal. She conducts her team and leads them through the game controlling the pace and the possession. I love watching her play because she is that person on the field who holds everything together. If I knew anything about building a house, I would say she is whatever makes that house stay together and not fall down and crush you in your sleep. But I don’t, so let’s go with this instead; she’s like the nail in the wall holding up a painting. Yeah, that sounds good. You might not always see the nail doing all of its great work back there holding up the painting, but it’s there. It is the only thing keeping that painting on the wall for everyone to see. Without the nail you would just have a blank wall and a painting sitting on the ground. That’s no fun. That painting is going to get ruined, nice job. She provides all the work to let other players shine and win as a team. I’m not saying she doesn’t get to shine as well, because she is so strong and well rounded as a player she definitely gets her time in the spotlight too. But the holding midfielder sometimes does go unnoticed for all of their hard work. So from now on, when you’re at someone’s house and you see a beautiful painting hanging on the wall I suggest you take a look behind it and make sure you comment on what a good job that nail is doing to hold up the painting as well. Don’t be rude.

I took notice of Alex Morgan about a year ago and as soon as I saw her play I said to myself that she is the future of women’s soccer in the US without a doubt. I still stand by that statement. I also want to throw two other names in there as well though in Lauren Cheney and Kelley O’Hara who both play for Boston. Lauren Cheney had one of the best first World Cups you could ever ask for from a player. Everywhere you looked she was there. She was playing a different position from what she is used to, playing an outside midfield spot, but you would never know it wasn’t her primary position. Normally a forward or an attacking central midfield, Cheney brings that flexibility to her game where she can do just about anything. This World Cup convinced me of it. If Pia Sundhage told her to go out there and play left midfield while covering right back and also making a few saves as a goalie from time to time all while juggling rubber chickens on a unicycle for comedic affect, I think she could have done it. Scratch that, I know she could have done it. She is a player who if you take your eye off of her for one second she will burn you. It might take you awhile to find her, but once you do you will find you’ve been burned. O’Hara is the other player I will put in that category of the future for the sport. The first time I saw her play was when she was playing for Stanford against North Carolina in the championship in 2009. UNC is my team for college so I was cheering them on but couldn’t help but notice this feisty little leprechaun running around creating a mess for UNC to deal with in the midfield and up top. It was an unfortunate end to see her getting a 2nd yellow in the game but I looked forward to hopefully seeing her go pro. When I saw her on FC Gold Pride the next year I was super excited for her. Without a doubt one of the most fun players to watch. She’s quick on the ball and is just a little troublemaker. The kind of trouble maker who makes defenders want to bang their head against the wall. She covers a lot of ground weaving in and out, disappearing and reappearing it seems. I also read that she is a beast on the fitness level, killing all the fitness tests. I have so much respect for someone like her who really prides herself on her fitness to benefit her game, which it has clearly. But I also read somewhere that she likes putting water on her cereal. Cereal is one of my top 3 foods and that just seems almost sacrilegious to me so I may have to deduct a point for that. But water on cereal or not, she is still my favorite little leprechaun.

Out of the whole squad of extremely talented players on the Breakers those would have to be my top three. This year I have also become a fan of Taryn Hemmings, Alex Scott, Jordan Angeli,and Meghan Klingenburg too. This is all still without even mentioning players like Stephanie Cox and Rachel Buehler from the US Women’s National Team. And of course former player, and the amazing legend in women’s soccer, one of my all time favorites, Kristine Lilly. The talent is endless on this team. Also, I cannot stop writing until I mention Kelly Smith as well. If we are talking international players she is at the top of my list. Christine Sinclair and Caroline Seger would hold high places as well but watching Kelly Smith play is just pure enjoyment. She has a determination in her eyes and a focus that makes you think if she stares at you for too long she will burn a hole through you. Hope Solo is the queen of the intimidating eyes and the stare down, for sure, but Kelly Smith just has a laser focus in her eyes that shows in her play. She is a phenomenal addition to the Breakers and I absolutely love getting to watch her play and make defenders cry as they realize they just cannot keep up with her absolute brilliance.

It’s sad to see them out of the playoff race but I am just grateful for them putting on show after show for us of the beautiful game. These girls really do show us the beautiful game too. They don’t show us the dark side of flopping and diving and dirty plays. They show us the skill, the determination, and the class of world class athletes who just flat out do work. And as much as I say I see the future of women’s soccer in Morgan, Cheney, and O’Hara, I also have to say that although I believe they are the future, they are also very present. No doubt they will be leaders for our country in years to come but they are already making such a sizeable difference to our nation and the sport that it almost seems false to say “future”.

So I’ll continue watching the WPS playoffs without my Breakers, and cheer for Morgan and WNY to take home the final. But for now I am going to go hang a new painting and could use some help so, Leslie, if you’re reading could you come help me hang it?