We finished it with a practice shootout. One of the girls, Dominique Bond-Flasza, was missing all of her kicks. As we were walking away from the field, she grabbed my arm: “Can you give me the ball?” I watched her go back to the spot by herself and bury a kick in the corner of the net.
Back at the hotel that night, I had an even stronger feeling about the penalties. And about how we should play it with the goalkeepers. We’d been starting with Sydney Schneider all week, which had left our other keeper, Nicole McClure a little upset.
I kept telling her that she was going to make an impact. She just had to wait her turn.
That night in the hotel, I told Loren: “We might have to get Nicole ready five minutes before the game’s over. I can just feel it.”
And that’s how it happened in the game (above). After 90 minutes, the score was 1-1. We took the lead five minutes into extra time, but 20 minutes later Panama tied us up. That’s when we made the rotation: Syd off, Nicole on.
My phone was buzzing in my pocket, with people who thought I was crazy.
“We don’t want to go to France just to show up. We want to go and get some results”
After four penalties it was 2-2 – no one was missing. But then it happened: Nicole saved two in a row.
Our final penalty fell to Dominique.
As she stepped up to the ball, a camera guy stood right in front of me. I couldn’t see a thing. But moments later, my assistant coach, Big Hubert Busby, was jumping all over me. Then I knew. We’d done it.
Back in the locker room, the players all started singing the national anthem. The footage from it went viral back home. It showed how the team all came together for a common goal. How everybody had busted their butt to get to that point.
I didn’t have to teach these players anything about battling, though. For them, it’s like having breakfast in the morning. They’ve had to battle for everything all their lives. They don’t need me to yell and scream at them to compete. Knowing that makes life a lot easier for me in tough games.
Throughout our whole journey, I think they also saw the effort that we as a staff were putting in and wanted to reciprocate. We’re volunteers. We don’t get paid; it cost us to do this. We put our own money and our own resources into it. And, over time, they started to pay us back. Started getting good grades. Started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Started to realise that we could do something special here.