Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Deaf World Cup Finals
USA vs Russia

From the second we stepped off the field after the game against Poland, our focus has been on one thing: the golden glory of winning the 2nd Deaf World Cup!! Preparations for this game have been carefully thought out and ordered by our trusted coaches and these included ice baths, stretches, team massages, extra loads of carbs, too much water, team meetings and rest.

The mental preparation for this game is a bit tricky, not everyone can do it all the same. It is difficult to be mentally prepared, especially after playing so much soccer and spending what may be considered an unhealthy amount of time together. Some of us had become unfocused, wanting to just take a break from the seriousness. Thankfully, we were able to pull it all together and get ready for Russia.

Coaches Yon and Brian emphasized the importance of representing your country and being the best of the best in the world. Russia wants to rip our throats and claim revenge for all of the victories we have bestowed from them. The image of Russia killing us was not difficult to imagine, for they are an amazing team. Fortunately, we are just that much better. Or at least I believe we are.

Final Score: Russia 0, USA 1!!!
Postgame thoughts

There are really no words to describe this game. It was perhaps one of the most intense games we have had to play in history. Russia threw everything at us, their midfielders were executing beautiful runs, they took many shots at our goalie, and they certainly were not afraid to give us some bruises along the way. Miraculously, we pulled through. I do not believe it was because of our talent, skill or potential because Russia had just as much. I believe it had a lot to do with passion. We have bucket loads of passion and are able to harness it and use it in the games we play.

It was so much fun celebrating with the team. We did it! We have reclaimed our title as World Champions once again. Storming the field with joy and pride, hugging each other and sighing with relief is an incredible moment. One of the best things to do when winning something as huge as this is hugging your teammates with the American flag draped around your shoulders. I kept getting flashbacks from the emotions I had in Taipei when we had won the gold medal. Incredibly, this feeling was different. I can’t put my finger on why there was so much difference, but I am glad there is a difference. Each experience is never similar. This team is nothing like the team in 2009. If anything, I think we are that much better. I can only imagine how much better we are going to become as a team when we compete in the 2013 Deaflympics in Bulgaria.

The World Cup trophy is in a word gigantic. We all took turns posing with it and hugging it. It was all fun, but somewhat meaningless. The more meaningful moments were when we stood on the podium between Germany and Russia, waving our hands in the air and smiling. The conversations I had with other players from Germany, Russia, Poland and Japan were hilarious, challenging, and fun. Those are the moments I will remember better than holding up the trophy. Sure, it was a profound moment but it was not what the experience was all about.

I become a better person when the people I am with challenge me. My team did a fantastic job with that. I thank them for that and hope I was able to challenge them as well. I will miss them as we part ways and return to reality. But like 2009, we are forever connected because of the Deaf World Cup.

The flight back home was long, but in a sense short. There is really no proper way to say goodbye to your teammates, especially when we have gone through so much together in 2 and half short weeks. Miss you all, Deaf World Cup Team USA 2012!

See you all soon

What a Headache

USA vs Poland

With five days (give or take a day) of rest, sightseeing, training, and seeing too much of teammates, we finally faced Poland in the last of the round robin games! Poland has lost to Germany and Russia and defeated Japan. One of the biggest fears I had for the team was a repeat of the Japan game. It was not our best game simply because we had thought nothing of Japan. Germany was our best game yet because we had made it out to be one of our biggest games.

This is Poland’s first appearance in any international competition, so we did not have any idea what to expect from them. Coach Yon spoke to us about the importance of focusing on this game and sending a message to the team we will play in the finals. The more goals, the more intimidating and the better. Assistant coach Brian highlighted the Germany game, telling us that he knew we would win before the kickoff. He said that the emotion on our game faces sent the message and that same face needed to carry over to the Poland game.

Unfortunately, the Poland game was not our best. We started off much too slow and were laid back. We had so many corner kicks and goal opportunities but just couldn’t follow through and finish. Poland’s first and only goal was fired from nowhere and hit the crossbar and somehow barely crossed over the goal line. We didn’t even know it was a goal until a much-delayed announcement from the refs. Probably was one of the most awkward uncelebrated goals I’ve witnessed. I felt terrible for Poland; they deserved something more than that. One of our forwards sustained a head injury from a head on collision with a Polish defender. She ended up going to the hospital for stitches afterwards (she’s fine, has 8 stitches and a wicked battle wound). Fortunately, we pulled ourselves together by the second half and responded with a fury of three goals!

It was not the prettiest game, but we’ll take the ‘W.’ The final score was 3-1, USA. Obviously, the way we played cannot carry over to the championship game on Saturday. When we learned that Russia beat Germany, 5-2, we knew that we would have to completely focus on the finals as much as we can.

Hopefully we will be able to play with heart and desire. I think we were missing those elements in the game. The most important thing right now is the fact that we have made it through round robin games and have finally made it to the Deaf World Cup final!

Stay tuned for a live feed of tweets via @USAdeafSoccer and we will play to dazzle the country of stars and stripes! #goingforgold #USDWNT

Every Team's Got a Few Nuts

The team is coming together very well. We have such a diverse team of wonderfully weird women. One of the things I have always enjoyed about this team is the fact that none of us is alike. We have been able to bond well and have become more like a family. Some of us strive to become teachers and educate America’s future, some of us dream of becoming coaches to continue their love of soccer, some of us hope to become part of the medical world, and some of us are just beginning our journey of finding the self.

The hotel we have been staying at has slowly become our nest. Personalities have emerged, silly games and inside jokes formed, and just plain weird bonding occurred. Sometimes when we’ve been cooped up in our hotel rooms for too long, we gather together and feed off of each other’s energies. Often times, we’ll escape to the gigantic mall that happens to be right next door to our hotel! Conveniently, the best ice cream and Turkish waffle dessert is within walking distance. That’s not even the best part – there is a small carnival type amusement park right outside my window. We have gone on the rides too many times and have experienced adrenaline highs. some more than others…

On our days off between the Germany and Poland games, we have gone sightseeing around Ankara – fantastic sights! Bargained for scarves, Turkish delights, rode the spinning ride one too many times, taken at least 2 ice baths a day, given each other massages, downed chocolate milk like no other, laughed, cried, had dance parties, supported each other and so much more. This team is one of a kind, much unlike the team that competed in the 2009 Deaflympics in Taipei. We learned how to use personal diversity to our advantage. We are looking forward to defeating Poland and going to the finals! We definitely can’t wait to wear that bling around our necks when we come home

One of the best team bonding experiences we’ve had thus far is watching the US Women’s National Team take on France in their opener at the Olympics in London. We piled up in my room and yelled at the TV, jumped up and down screaming for our girls. Such a great time, wish we could do that for the entire Olympic tournament; it would be so much more fun!

Welcome to American Soccer!!

USA vs. Germany
Pregame thoughts

Due to the humbling lesson we learned against Japan, we looked at the Germany game as the most important game of our lives. We trained harder, mentally prepared ourselves for brutal beatings and body slams. We know that Germany is out for blood for we had shut them out, not once, but twice in Taipei. Germany had three years to let their anger ferment. I am positive they will do everything they can to make it to the finals, just as we will.

Our coach has emphasized the importance of defeating Germany as our number one priority. We do not want another “Japan game” where we underestimated them and nearly jeopardized our playing level. Tonight’s meeting consisted of last minute reminders and most importantly, the power of a team coming together. We do not get much time to train together, so the ability to come together in a short amount of time is absolutely crucial to this team. I believe we will be able to come together and accomplish a victory!

Final score: 8-0!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Postgame thoughts:

Dominance. Confidence. Teamwork. Athleticism. Passion. Conquest. Those are words describing the game against Germany. We absolutely blew them out of the water from beginning to end! It is not often when a team is able to immediately know that victory is almost guaranteed the second they step on the field. We felt it collectively and were able to channel all of our energy into this game. We worked hard and put those balls in the back of the net like a moth to a flame. It was unbelievable how well we worked together. It was as if something had clicked and everything arrived. It was our game and we were proud to work together. We aimed to make everyone back home proud.

Germany is a team with the best sportsmanship. They were respectful and gracious every second, especially at the final whistle. High fives and ‘good games’ were not enough. We took the time to hug each player and thank them for their enthusiasm. They are a great team and I look forward to seeing them again in Bulgaria next summer.

Lesson learned, Let's Move On

USA vs Japan
Pregame thoughts

After defeating Russia, Japan seems to be a small obstacle on our road to glory. Indeed, every game is crucial and should not be overlooked. However the victory against Russia has given us a boost of confidence. I know we are going into this game thinking it isn’t going to be the toughest game of our lives. I look forward to seeing how our team rises to the occasion and become a better team. It seems that with each game, we are able to learn more about what we can do and the potential of our talent.

One of my fears is that we will overlook or underestimate Japan’s abilities. It always happens to the best of us. The underdog has shocked the world before and it wouldn’t be the first time. I know we will be able to come together, become a better team, and hopefully stay grounded throughout the game.

Final score: 4-1 USA
Postgame notes

The game against Japan was very nerve wrecking. Our team definitely underestimated them and it showed on the field. It was not our best game. Japan’s lone goal was the result of a defensive miscommunication. We thought a Japanese player was offsides, she clearly wasn’t and took advantage of that. She had a breakaway and it was painful to watch. The goal helped put things into perspective for us. We buckled down and scored our last goal at the 91st minute.

Japan fought hard for the ball throughout the entire game. Sometimes I caught myself wondering if they wanted to win more than we did. Every battle for the ball was physical to the maximum. Most of us sustained battle wounds in the most odd places. Despite the height advantage we had on them, Japan continued to fight until the last second of the game.

I have utmost respect for Japan. Their attitudes before, during, and after the game were sportsmanlike. Their coach wore a full black suit and probably was sweating profusely. He managed to maintain his posture the entire game. While we were cooling down and stretching, he walked over and congratulated our win, complimented several players for their notable talent and hopes to see us next summer in Bulgaria for the Deaflympics. I look forward to seeing them again for I have the highest respect for them.

Did the Cold War Ever Really End?

USA vs. Russia Game
Pregame thoughts

According to history, the Cold War officially ended in 1991. Since then, Russia and the United States have formed an amendable and diplomatic friendship. However, the Cold War exists in the world of Women’s Deaf Soccer and it has not ended. Nor is the end near. Since the beginning of Women’s Deaf Soccer (2005 AD), Russia and USA have always exchanged intense fury on and off the field. Our games against Russia have been dubbed as ‘the epic game of the tournament.’

Russia has more resources when it comes to their Deaf Soccer program. Players on their team train together for a year at a soccer academy. They are paid to train and are given bonuses for extraordinary performances. Whereas the US Women’s National Deaf Soccer team does not have much funds. We are expected to train on our own. Our training camps together are few and sparse. Players are required to pay out of their own pockets for training camps, flight, food and hotel on top of fundraising $5,000 to go to international tournaments.

Clearly Russia has the upper hand. They won the last Deaf World Cup and are walking around Ankara as World Champions. Guess what? Russia has never beaten our team! We have faced them twice and both times Russia was unable to finish the job. We definitely have the mental advantage, but the question is do we have the soccer advantage? This team has never practiced as a full team until now. I must admit that makes us nervous, but I think it gives us motivation and determination to do our best.

Final score: 1-0 USA victory
Postgame thoughts

Many of our rookies had a bit of a shock when facing Russia in the first few minutes of the game. Seeing the stun in their faces reminded me of how I felt when I first saw the Russian soccer team at City Hall in Taipei, Taiwan. They give off a serious, intimidating vibe.

The first time we finally laid eyes on Russia this year was at the opening ceremonies. We had arrived a bit early and were sitting down, interacting and hanging out with each other. Most of us were smiling, laughing, and dancing along with the Turkish music booming over the speakers. The mood was delightful and light until they showed up. Once we saw a band of girls in white shirts with ‘Russia’ emblazoned on their backs, the atmosphere changed dramatically. Veterans exchanged looks and awkward smiles and waves. Rookies acknowledged them and stood quietly while veterans discussed game strategies.

This was the first game USA played against Russia since 2005. Their determination to kill us was obvious, but not enough for them. Our team was able to band together and hold our lone goal to the final whistle. The game was definitely not our best game, but it was good enough. We were able to hold off the Russian offense and maintain our game. We are expecting to see Russia in the finals, should be a good game. Perhaps the ‘epic game of the Deaf World Cup 2012.’

Until then, we can only improve and we will! See you then Russia.

A Blessing in Disguise

Women’s soccer does not get as much media attention as men’s soccer does, which means our successes often falls through the cracks of life. Our victories are shared among other female athletes who know our struggles. About a week before I set off to meet the National Deaf Soccer Team, I received news that we did not have uniforms for the Deaf World Cup. My head dropped and my heart sank. We needed to fundraise about $2,000 in order to buy uniforms.

Ironically, it was media that helped make this possible. A few teammates and I worked hard spreading word out to people through the traditional word of mouth, text messaging and facebook. While all venues were helpful, I must say that it was Twitter that really put us on the map. The tweets and retweets spread like wildfire and before I knew it, I was communicating with a CNN reporter who showed great interest in our team. She, among many people, graciously donated so we could represent the United States of America with style. I was able to personally thank her when I came to New York City before taking off for Turkey with the team.

She suggested I send her update videos of the World Cup and she would try to get us media publicity on CNN. I could not believe the generosity and willingness to help our team.

The rising attention has been overwhelming and very exciting. We are looking forward to developing our women’s soccer program into a much stronger and well known organization. Support goes a long way with this team, whether it is words of encouragement to monetary to high fives. We appreciate it all and hope to continue receiving it all.

Because of the sudden fury of media support and attention, we are able to move forward as a team. In Taipei, we had to wear ill-fitting men’s uniforms which made us the laughingstock of women’s soccer there. We did not complain, instead we channeled our frustrations and anger into our soccer and were able to win gold! This time around, we have amazing uniforms and such great training gear to help us play soccer with style.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for being wonderful people and for reminding us why the United States of America is such a great country. We will do our best to make you proud. GO USA!