I have long held a deep and abiding love for soccer, specifically soccer played by the U.S Women's National Team. When I started playing soccer at the tender age of five, it was for two principal reasons: one, my best friend in the entire world, James, had invited me to his soccer practice, and two, I believed after watching the Lady Nats play during the 2004 Olympics that summer that I was destined to become the next Abby Wambach.
That did not happen, for obvious reasons, but I did play soccer for ten years afterward. My passion for the beautiful game and the women who inspired me to play it was strangely absent off the field. My burgeoning American football fandom meant that I had largely forgotten to follow the sport called football by the rest of the world. The exception was during the World Cup, but I only remember bits and pieces, and they were all centered around the men's team. Chief among them were Landon Donovan's last-gasp goal against Algeria in 2010 and Tim Howard's career effort against Belgium four years later.
I remember the last two games of the 2011 Women's World Cup vividly: the noise I made when thishappened was almost inhuman, and I cried when Japan triumphed in penalties, but like most of America, I didn't know where to go from there, so I let it fall by the wayside in the off years.
Then the 2015 World Cup came around, and I was a convert once again. I read all the coverage, remembered all the player's names, and lived and died with each goal, as did most of the country. And then it all culminated in one of the most joyous experiences of my short, sports- loving life: the World Cup final, or as I like to call it, How Carli Lloyd Became an American Folk Hero.
In the week or so after the final, I was riding a wave of pure joy and adrenaline. These women had reminded me why I loved soccer, and I swore to myself never to lose that passion again, even for a moment. I have kept that promise so far. I've attended a Victory Tour match in August 2015, a meaningless friendly against the Netherlands in September, and am now the proud owner of a Tobin Heath jersey.
All that being said, I am super excited for the 2nd annual She Believes Cup to start on Wednesday, March 1st. Here are 3 reasons why.
1. The Competition
This tournament, played on American soil, invites the best competition from around the world to compete against one another. This is especially important in the years between World Cup and Olympic cycles, as it gives the teams and their fans a closer look at the development of new players and the improvement of old favorites.
This year, the U.S Women have invited Germany, France and England (the # 2, 3, and 5 ranked women's teams in the world), to play them on home turf.
2. The New Players
Jill Ellis is taking this opportunity to further evaluate the deepening player pool at her disposal.
Of particular note is the decision to call 16-year-old wunderkind goalkeeper Brianna Pinto, who played every minute of the U-17 World Championships, up to her first camp with the senior national team. Only time will tell if she truly makes an impact, but her inclusion on the roster throws into further uncertainty just who will fill the role which Hope Solo vacated after being suspended by U.S. soccer.
Look too, for the further development of recent Ellis favorite Lynn Williams, who was named NWSL MVP in 2016 and displays a speed and versatility at forward which could make a fixture on the team in the future if she plays well.
3. The Potential For Beautiful Soccer
I watched every match the U.S. played in the inaugural tournament last year, and while I loved every minute, one goal is indelibly printed in my mind and memory: this beauty from Alex Morgan in the 34th minute to tie the final.
The arrival of the tournament this year brings all the possibility in the world for more fantastic moments like that.
The SheBelieves Cup runs from March 1-7. The U.S. first face Germany at 7pm E.T. Wednesday on Fox Sports 1.