Lauren Cheney brings new leadership to U.S. Women’s Soccer
By Kevin McSpadden
Abby Wombach and Hope Solo are two of the most decorated players currently playing on the U.S. Women’s soccer team. They are the faces of the U.S.A. women’s soccer team, and Wombach is on the short-list of the best players in the world. That said, Lauren Cheney is also distinguishing herself as one of the best players in the world.
Former UCLA Bruin Lauren Cheney is a playmaker. When Cheney has the ball, good things happen. Because of her abilities, Cheney’s teammates make a conscious effort to include her in the play whenever she is on the field.
In terms of pure athleticism, it’s hard for any player in U.S. Soccer to match Cheney’s physical tools. Whether it is scoring, assisting or initiating the offense, Cheney uses her athletic talents to consistently make incredible plays.
An example of Cheney’s playmaking happened on September 22, when the U.S. women beat the Canadian team 3-0 in Portland, Ore. Cheney made an excellent through pass to Alex Morgan, which lead to a Wombach header, giving the U.S. team a commanding 2-0 lead late in the match.
After the game, both Wombach and Morgan gave Cheney credit for helping create the goal because of her excellent play on the pass. This is the type of athleticism that makes Cheney so valuable to the team. It does not show up in the stat-book, but only an elite player could have made the pass that Cheney pulled off in Oregon.
Cheney has been a highly regarded, multi-talented player her entire career. Similar to a top baseball prospect, Cheney got her call-up and exceeded expectations. The World Cup was Cheney’s call-up to Women’s soccer stardom, and she performed beautifully.
Cheney’s performance was extraordinary because she was moved from forward to outside-midfielder right before the tournament started. This was a move designed to get Cheney on the field.
U.S. Women’s soccer coach Pia Sondhage was making the calculated risk that it was more important for Cheney to play an unfamiliar position than to have her sit on the bench behind the incredibly deep American forwards.
The move to get Cheney starter’s minutes was not a surprise. Cheney had become an impact-maker and had no shortage of success before her breakout performance in the World Cup. Her ability to switch positions and play so admirably is a testament to Cheney’s playmaking abilities.
In college, there were signs that she would be in the spotlight. Cheney is the all-time UCLA goal scorer, tallying 71 during her time as a Bruin. Not to mention, she holds the career record for game-winning goals with 28.
Stats like these imply that Cheney plays her best during the most crucial moments. Even in her Pac-10 college days at UCLA, Cheney was a player who could be counted on to make a play when the team needed her.
Cheney also understands that UCLA gave her the tools that led to her becoming such an important part of the U.S. program. Cheney is aware of the opportunity that playing in the Pac-10 provided her. She gave advice to current Pac-12 women’s soccer players stating, “They have the best environment, they have everything offered, they have the coaches, great players around them and they should take full advantage of that.”
Professionally, Cheney’s talent was noticed early on in her career. In 2007, she was named the United States Soccer Federation’s young female athlete, which goes to the top player in the U-20 age division. And for the early part of career, Cheney looked like a player waiting to break out.
Considering that before the World Cup Lauren Cheney was a rotational player, it is impressive that she is sixth on the U.S. women’s active career goals list, scoring 16.
This year, Cheney is the third leading scorer on the team with five goals. Only behind Abby Wombach’s seven netters and Carli Loyd’s six strikes. She has been a consistent goal scorer all season.
Coach Pia Sondhage saw Cheney’s consistency and was hoping that her knack for playmaking would benefit team USA in the 2011 World Cup. Coach Sondhage was correct in giving Cheney the opportunity because Cheney played outstanding for the entire tournament. Cheney’s goal against France in the World Cup stood out because it gave Team USA a 2-0 lead and was critical in the American’s victory.
The international soccer community took notice of Cheney’s breakout performance. She joined Hope Solo, Shannon Boxx and Abby Wombach as the Americans who earned a spot on the World Cup all-star team. Based on the high level of play that made Lauren Cheney a World Cup all-star, the decision by Sondhage to play her really paid off.
Cheney tells a great story that shows the significance of her position change and the uncertainty a big move like that creates. She remembers asking Abby Wombach the night before the first World Cup game, “Am I good enough to play outside-mid?” Wombach responded, “I honestly don’t know, but you better make the best of it.”
That is exactly what Cheney did, she made the best of it and it turned out to be her coming-out party on the international soccer scene. “I wouldn’t say I was the next best thing at left-wing, but I played my role and did what I could.” Humbly said for a World Cup All-Star.
Cheney has always been a big-game playmaker, but now she wants to be a leader on Team U.S.A. This summer she performed under the brightest lights, on the biggest stage, and succeeded tremendously. Her first experience as a full-time starter, on a stage as large at the World Cup, has been a valuable experience – and key to Cheney’s ascension into a leadership role on the team.
One way Cheney is hoping to become a leader is to leave an imprint on every game. “I want to be an impact, I got a taste of scoring and playmaking in the World Cup, and I want to continue that,” said Cheney about her personal goals on Team USA. If she continues to play the way she has recently, there will be many games ahead in which Cheney makes an impact.
The newest goal for the American team is to take home the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London, England. There was a palpable excitement in Cheney’s voice when she was asked about the experience of playing in London in 2012. “London in general is exciting,” she said. “It is a great, great city.”
As the U.S. women work towards the Olympic Gold, Cheney believes she can use her World Cup experience to become a leader in London. She stated, “Having [the World Cup experience] under my belt, and playing 90-minute games, I’ll be able to bring some sort of leadership into the Olympics.”
Cheney is stepping into a new role on the U.S. women’s soccer team. She has always been an exceptional athlete and a talented playmaker, and she now hopes to become a player that her younger teammates seek out for advice. Cheney is carving out a leadership role on Team USA because of her recent top-level play, and her teammates are willing to follow.