Minnesota freshman goalkeeper Cat Parkhill was among 20 U.S. players selected to participate for Team USA in the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup, which won a gold medal in Chile. Parkhill provided gophersports.com with a diary of her experiences in South America throughout the tournament.
We won the U-20 Women’s World Cup! We are the best U-20 team in the world and we are so proud!
It was an intense game against the Koreans. They were a very different team compared to the others. They ate in silence. They didn’t talk to one another. They didn’t look at one another. They just sat there and ate. Very different compared to our culture. They all had the exact same hair cut and they always wore the exact same polo and long black shorts every day since the first day we saw them. I am not trying to criticize the way they look or they way they dress, but their culture, at least as shown by this women’s soccer team, seemed stifled and strict. We were so much the opposite. I kind of felt bad because they looked like they never had any fun. There was not one time in public that I ever saw them laugh. They seemed to have the desire, but not the heart. They didn’t seem to be a love for the game; it was simply a job. I think that is one of the biggest reasons why we won this tournament. We had the heart.
This tournament was by no means easy. We played worthy opponents that challenged us right from the start and helped raise our level of play each and every game. The teams for the most part were very technical and most teams played the conventional style of their country. There was just that extra something that put us over the edge and made us just a bit better than everyone else. We were playing “the beautiful game” of soccer, moving the ball around, in and out of the midfield and sometimes playing direct; always adapting to our environment. We laid our hearts out there on the pitch. We would win our individual battles, put our bodies in dangerous situations, and then fight to get back and defend after just making a 40 yard run. It was the determination of the players and the team as a whole to win the goal. I know I sat on the bench the whole time and didn’t get to play a single minute, but I learned that it wasn’t about me right now. It was about the team and sacrificing for the team to help reach our ultimate goal. We came together as a team to try and achieve our common goal - the gold medal. We pushed each other so hard in training sometimes that the staff would have to come into the game to slow it down. We were so competitive but yet so supportive of each other because we all were on the same page, all wanting to make our country proud by playing well and winning the gold medal.
Earlier in our trip we went to Temuco to play our game against China. While we were there in a team meeting, Tony DiCicco had us watch “The Road to Redemption,” the story of the USA Men’s 2008 Olympic Basketball Team. It was an inspirational documentary put together by Nike about the “power of one,” as Tony termed it. One episode is about the idea of selfless service to your team and to your country. “The Road to Redemption” talked about the Dream Team and how they became the best because they gave up a bit of themselves, their egos, to play as one to win an Olympic gold medal. It was interesting because there were many parallels to our situation. The US Women’s U-20 soccer team hadn’t won a gold medal in this tournament since the first U-20 World Cup in 2002, just as the USA Olympic Basketball Team hadn’t won an Olympic gold since 2000. Similarly, the US Women’s U-20’s had come together from different backgrounds and different teams to train for the 2008 World Cup in a very short amount of time. It was ironic how much two situations had in common and that in the end we had the same result - a gold medal hanging around our necks.
On December 7, 2008 the USA won the Women’s U-20 World Cup with style and class. We picked up quite a few individual awards, the Golden Ball, the Silver Ball, the Golden Boot, the Bronze Boot, and the Golden Glove, along with the Fair Play Award. It was incredible to see how many individual players on our team alone won those awards, quite an accomplishment. After the individual awards were handed out, Germany went up to receive their Bronze Medals, then Koreans received their Silver Medals, and finally, we, the USA Team got up on the platform and had the Gold Medals placed around our necks. Everything we had dreamed about as a kid kicking the soccer ball around had finally come true; it was surreal. The Koreans were very upset with their second place win. They didn’t even clap for us when we received our medals, even though we were all specifically told to clap for the winners (with the threat of being fined if we did not) in our meeting with FIFA. We all felt bad that the Koreans couldn’t be happy for us or for their own great accomplishments just because they didn’t take first place. We were very happy, though, that we made our country proud and had won the hearts of the Chileans. What an experience. Afterwards we celebrated and went to bed.
All the other World Cup teams left the next day. For some reason, we ended up staying an extra two days. And even though we were all dying to get home, back to our families and friends and school, I have to admit, it was a great time hanging out with my teammates. With those two extra days we had a lot fun! The day after we won the championship game, we went out to the Chilean President’s residence and toured their Parliament and Palace. It was very cool. Afterwards we went back to the hotel and tried to get some homework done but that didn’t really happen. It was the night before Keelin, our team captain’s, birthday so we celebrated that! And any other reason we could find!
Finally it was the day that we left for home. We slept in until about 10:00, had breakfast, and then had free time. I spent most of the free time packing, trying to figure how I was going to jam-pack everything I had in my bag. I managed to get it all to work, but it was a process and it was probably going to be overweight. I had somewhat planned ahead knowing I would be cramming for space, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Packing took me until lunch time to finish and then we went off to TGI Fridays. We were allowed to order whatever we wanted and the bill was very big. We had a fabulous time. It was nice to go out with the team for the very last time. We were at TGI Fridays for 3 hours. Afterwards, we went to the US Embassy which was right next to our hotel. It was actually a pretty cool place. We had a warm welcome from the embassy staff. Apparently most of the staff had gone to our game against Korea! The attention at the embassy was unexpected but it was also nice. After we had our pictures taken with some of the staff, we conversed with other people from the States which was really nice. It was funny because one guy I was talking to was from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities! He is interning at the Embassy right now while working towards finishing up his degree in Political Science. How cool was that! Anyway, we toured the building and then we went shopping. It was funny because we were all trying to make last minute purchases to buy all the gifts that we had neglected to buy, even though we had had 29 other days to do so! I went to go buy a gift and I ran into another Minnesotan that was from Plymouth. He was down on business testing out medical equipment. It turned out I didn’t have quite enough money for my purchase, so he gave me a few dollars to help pay for it! Now that is Minnesota nice!
We took longer than expected and were really rushed to get back in time for our last team dinner. After dinner Tony held our closure meeting and it ended up being quite emotional. It was so crazy how far we have gotten as individuals and as a team. And it was great how much fun the staff was and how much they contributed to our success on the field. It was an unforgettable experience. We ended on a funny note when Tony preformed his “talent” of singing a song he wrote, because he promised to do so if we won the tournament. We all packed the rest of our stuff and got it ready to put on the van. We left around 7:30 p.m. from our hotel. When we got to the airport, we said our good-byes to Louis, our fantastic bus driver and a great supporter of our team. We checked in, got on a plane, flew for 4 hours, stopped to refuel and started to fly again for another 11 hours. It was a long flight but I have taught myself over the years to sleep as much as possible on planes.
We landed in L.A. and said our good-byes to each other. Most of us were crying or tearing up. We had just spent a month of our lives together going through what can’t help but be one of the highlights of our entire life, one we will be talking about for years. It was emotional when we came together one last time and said a team prayer to close up our journey. Then we departed to go our separate ways. Now I am on the plane reflecting about my experience with the team. I can’t express enough how much I have learned from this. It is crazy how much you grow as a person, how much you grow as a soccer player. It is really incredible. I could go on for pages, as I have done in my journal, about all I have learned, but what I want to share with all of you is the power of one. The power a team has when they are all working to achieve a common goal and have put away their egos. It is truly amazing the power that it has, the selflessness, the idea that when you get on that field, you would do anything for one another. That is a team. It is truly an indescribable feeling.
Thank you all for reading and following my blog! I hope you have gained some insight into how life at camp really is!
I want to say thanks to everyone for making this possible! I couldn’t have gotten to this point without the strong support from the U of M coaching staff and players! My list of thanks could go on for a while because I have learned so much from so many people and all have helped to contribute to my success on and off the field!
Thank you so much for supporting me in this once in a life time opportunity!
“The journey is the destination!” (Dan Eldon) - As my wise and awesome photography teacher from Eastview, Mr. Gustafson, would tell me!
In one part of the gathering area near our hotel, there were mimes and Brazilian fighters/dancers. Apparently the story behind the fighters/dancers is that when the Portuguese took over Brazil, they banned the Brazilians from fighting so the Brazilians figured out a way to teach each other how to fight by making it look like they were dancing. We watched the “dance” for a little while then we headed right on back to the coolest hotel ever!
The next day - game day. Today went even faster than last game day because our game was at noon! Sweet! So we got up at 8:00 and had breakfast before our pregame talk. Then, we went right back to our room to chill and watch some television because we only had about 45 minutes before we had to be ready to go. We hopped on our bus, and we were there after a short 10 minute ride. Our bus driver, who is the coolest bus driver ever, if I may say so, gave us a hand off the bus. We quickly changed and sat for 30 minutes or more to finally have our pre-game meeting and then we sat for another 20 minutes before we warmed up in our little room. After a short warm-up, we headed outside to use the field. We jogged back inside the building again and sat again for another 10 minutes. We were all instructed to take water out to the field and to start drinking because we all needed to stay hydrated, but I think more or less they wanted us all ready for the drug test after the match. Every game, FIFA picks four players from each team to be eligible to take a drug test after the match. Then two out of the four are selected 15 minutes before the game ends.
We sang our National Anthem and then politely listen to Argentina’s. Then it was game time! We start off our match against the Argentineans (who are cheap nasty players that dive a lot, I believe they might even be worse than the Italians!) I guess the Argentineans haven’t quite mastered the acting yet, because the refs hardly called any of there fake falls. They actually got less calls than they should have. They dive so much the refs just assumed they were faking it. Anyway, it was a hard-fought battle, I mean there ended up being six yellow cards total. Four of them were the Argentineans and then we had two. We managed to pull off a W with 3-0 score! It was a wonderful way to end our second game - now we just need to beat China to win our pool!
After the game the non-starters have to run or do some type of fitness. So an hour after we ate we all went to the gym right down the road and ran on the treadmill for 20 minutes, did some core work, and completed the workout by cooling down on the elliptical. What a day!
We were all extremely pumped to go to our next hotel in Chillan. It felt that the World Cup Experience had really begun. We were finally going to be in the city of our first game. We left Thursday morning, hopped on the bus and drove from Santiago to Chillan. It was about a five hour drive, probably the shortest five hour long bus ride I have ever been on.
We finally got there after only watching two movies and we were greeted by the nearby locals. It was so much fun! It was weird being treated like celebrities! We then quickly checked into our hotel room, got upstairs and chilled until we had lunch/dinner before we went to training. The hotel is small. It is only one level and we are practically the only ones on the floor in the hotel, so we own the floor and I feel like we are all living together in one big house. The hotel is part of a mall. It is like a big indoor shopping mall with different stores and the hotel has its own little section. Another perk to our sweet little hotel is that we have an unlimited supply of Coke products such as PowerAde, orange juice, water, pop, and PowerAde water. I absolutely love this place. It is in a nice little town where you can walk around and there are markets within a block of the hotel. The people here are so excited to host a World Cup! When I walk into town with my National Team jersey stuff on, people wave to us and they all want to take pictures with us!
Training here is a lot of fun too! We did have to run fitness one day, but that was not all that bad and I really liked the way it was designed. The gist of it is that you are always running alongside someone and encouraging them to finish off the fitness. It was actually a good team bonding session. I can’t say that was my favorite one, but it was a good way to start cheering everyone on to keep going and push ourselves to the max.
The final days prior to our first World Cup game were fun. We got to explore the town a little bit. We went to the market and looked around. We saw fun, cute jewelry and other fun little things. Anyway the local people are so nice here in Chillan. I don’t feel that I have to be as careful as I did in Santiago. In Santiago we couldn’t wear flashy earrings or headphones or anything that looked valuable because apparently they will just rip it off your ear - kind of scary.
The day before our first match was very chill. We had a session to go over what could happen in the game and other different scenarios. It was fun to have the locals watching our practice. They would sometimes yell out,” I love USA” or “I love you!” It was really funny and it was nice to have a crowd that was respectful. They would even applaud when we did something well and say “Ohh!” if we did something not so good.
We went to the stadium after we had lunch. It was so cool seeing the stadium from afar and then when we got closer, I felt truly that the World Cup was here. We got to walk to our locker room and see the warm-up practice area. The grass was perfect. Then it was time to actually walk out onto the pitch. It was a surreal feeling to actually walk out into the stadium where we were actually going to be playing. I even took a picture of the grass so you can see that it is very similar to the grass in Minnesota. The grass had never been played on before. The stadium was built just for the World Cup!
Game day. That is when the real fun begins! With our game starting at 3:00 p.m., it was relatively short wait for game time. Usually when the game is later in the afternoon you feel like you have to wait forever for it to come.
When we got to the stadium we went straight to the locker room. We were greeted by many journalists and camera crews. It is still weird being treated like we are celebrities. When we got to our locker room and we had all of our gear laid out with our name and number on the back. It was so cool! Name and number on the back of our jersey! How sweet is that! We put on are warm-up gear and had our final pregame meeting. We warmed up in this small room in the building and then we got a certain amount of time on the field to warm up. When we walked out to the stadium, it was fairly full, although there seemed to be less people at our game than the previous one. It was a real “wow” feeling coming out onto the stadium field. We had our quick warm-up and then got back into building. It was weird because right as we got back in our equipment manager explained to us that we couldn’t take pictures out on the field because FIFA does not allow it.
Now it is GAME TIME! We got out and then we listened to France’s National Anthem, then we listened to ours. It was a very powerful moment to sing our National Anthem while at the pitch. It was such an honor being there to represent our country. It was an unreal feeling.
The game was intense and we played beautiful soccer. It was so much fun to watch! We ended up beating France 3-0. We finally went home after a long day’s work and sat down and ate.
After dinner I started my homework and didn’t get too far. My roommate, Tiff and I went walking around town. The town is beautiful. The roads are mostly made out of brick. We literally walked a block down the road and there was this nice park with a little market set up with booths full of jewelry and trinkets and things. What was most fascinating about walking around town was to see how different the Chileans lifestyle is compared to ours back in the states. It is vastly different. Their attitude about soccer here is extremely different compared to the states. I was asked by five or more people if they could take a picture with me and Liz. They even asked Tiff, our sports psychologist, to get in the picture as well. They are so excited to have us here and they have been nothing but nice to us.
On a different note, the advisement here for the World Cup is crazy. We see these big bulletin boards with female Chilean soccer players promoting the World Cup. There are even decals on the back of the city transit buses back in Santiago. There are commercials supporting it on TV. There are highlights of the World Cup games every night. They even have the games on TV here. They have interviews and everything with the girls. Alex, a player on my team who scored the first goal in the France game, was on the front page of a paper. She was shown in color and covered the entire page! It is so different that women’s soccer is actually getting this amount of publicity because there is no way that this was happen at home.
Today I started off with no alarm and waking up to my roommate, Liz, telling me we needed to get up and our wake up call didn’t come. Normally I would use my phone and/or an alarm clock, but they don’t have a clock in our room. Time isn’t a big concern abroad in Chile. When I went to Argentina it was the same thing there. It’s a big culture difference.
After breakfast we had team building session. We broke off into teams of five and had a fun little trivia scavenger hunt around our hotel in Santiago. It was nice to get out and see a little bit of the culture. I loved the weather today during the scavenger hunt. It was cool and it a bit drizzly at times but I liked it better than yesterday’s heat. Another thing we have to be concerned about when we are in Chile is that an ozone hole is over where we are so more UV Rays and other rays come through. So for pale skin like mine, we are talking sunscreen galore for me. Otherwise, I will be bright red!
Day one of the adventures of USA Women’s World Cup started off uneventful. I departed from Minneapolis airport at 10:20 a.m. and had a layover in Denver before I eventually ended up at the LAX airport. Everything went smoothly, didn’t lose any luggage and didn’t forget anything in the back seat pocket of the chair in front of you on the plane. It was a decent flight in, I didn’t sit by any peculiar strange people, nothing too exciting.
I was picked up by our Team Manager/administrator/Mom at the airport and got into the gas guzzler SUV and reunited with some teammates. In the SUV I was chit chatting with some fellow teammates and we started to talk about sandals. And that was when I realized that I did forget to pack something. So I then went with our team manager and bought fake crocks that were two sizes too big but they do the job.
We got to the hotel (in L.A.) and unpacked at dinner and had a team meeting. It was pretty straight forward and to the point. Tony Diccico, our head coach, explained what the plan was for the next day and that he will tell us about the lineups in the morning for the game against Korea. We all went back to our room and I did math homework and chit-chatted with my awesome new roomie and then went to bed.
That sleep didn’t last very long. Our sports psychologist knocked on our door at 11 p.m. and came in to explain to us that we were leaving a day earlier than expected because there was a miscommunication about what days the flights were... In turn we ended up not playing against Korea at all. We left the next morning and headed to Chile.
The first flight was 10 hours and then we had to “refuel” which was actually getting on another plane which was another few hours of fly time. We finally got here at 6:00 a.m. We were all exhausted.
We got to the hotel had breakfast and afterwards went to our rooms and crashed. We were so tired and lucky for us we got to have a training session at 2 p.m. So we only got to nap for a few hours.
Training was okay; it was a nice light quick session. We trained with the Adidas balls we are going to play with and that was different. They are very different from the Nike balls that we normally play with.