June 14, 2007
(www.ussoccer.com) Stephanie Lopez was pegged as a future national team player since she played every minute of the 2004 FIFA Under-19 Women's World Championship for the USA, and captained the squad at the 2006 FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship. With a goal of just making the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup Team, the 21-year-old was recently thrust into a more prominent role after Heather Mitts' knee injury in mid-May. Now Lopez is working for a starting spot. She took a few minutes to relax as the USA prepares to face China on Saturday, June 16, at Cleveland Browns Stadium (5 p.m. ET on ussoccer.com's MatchACCESS) to speak with ussoccer.com's Center Circle on her role with the WNT, her growth as a player and why she's ready for the world's stage.
ussoccer.com: You are one of the youngest players on the U.S. National Team, with one college soccer season remaining for the University of Portland. What are the differences between your role as a college senior and team leader at Portland and your developing role as a young WNT player?
Stephanie Lopez: "Sometimes I have to remind myself that it is still the same game. When going back to Portland, and trying to take on a leadership role, sometimes I feel an added pressure knowing that I am on the Women's National Team. My teammates and my coach at Portland have been great with reminding me just to have fun, be who I am, and lead in the subtle ways that I do. We have a great team at Portland and I just lead by example. With the national team, it's a matter of just finding my role, finding my niche, and just trying to find better ways to help our team to succeed."
ussoccer.com: You played in the FIFA U-19 World Championships in Thailand in 2004 and captained the U-20 WNT at the FIFA World Championship in Russia in 2006. How has playing in those tournaments prepped you to potentially start at the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup with the U.S. WNT?
S-LO: "It is great to have had that experience and I know what that world stage is like, even though it was not at the full national team level. Having those experiences gives me a lot of confidence to go into a tight game and tight situations like a World Cup. My experience in Russia has especially prepared me because going into penalty kicks and having to fight to beat other countries is far different than in friendly games. I know the World Cup is going to be a different level of play, but I think the past couple of years have really prepared me for it."
ussoccer.com: Heather Mitts recently tore her ACL in the May 12 game against Canada. How do you see your role changing with the WNT backline and the entire team since Heather's injury?
S-LO: "It was a very sad thing when Heather tore her ACL. We were all really shocked and saddened. She was a great personality on our team, always being very positive and welcoming to the younger players and encouraging on the backline. It was great to have her back there as an experienced veteran player. Without her I think our backline gets even younger with players like me, India Trotter, and Marian Dalmy as outside backs. We have been working very hard for the past two years for all of us to be able to step in and play in that role, so I think with all the defenders and our goalkeepers behind us, we are going to do great. Obviously we are going to miss her, but I think our backline is so deep that it should be a smooth transition."
ussoccer.com: You have played in the U.S. National Team programs since you were 14, starting on the U-14 Girls' National Team Identification Camp in 2000. Looking back, how do you view the accomplishment of being one of the few players from that I.D. camp to reach the top U.S. level and be playing for the full WNT seven years later?
S-LO: "It is definitely weird to think back that far, to see the process and road I took to get here and all the players who haven't reached this level. I definitely feel very blessed and I know there have been a lot of people to support me and to get me into this position. I have experienced a lot of growth since seven years ago. I try to look at my position as, `This is where I belong now, and this is what I am doing.' It is cool to know that I have had the background with the Youth National Team programs. I think our national team has gotten so good because of the development with the youth players and I am so proud to be one of them."
ussoccer.com: You now have seven years experience with U.S. Women's Soccer and 18 caps with the senior team. What insight or advice can you give to young players hoping to enter the U.S. National Teams programs as youth players?
S-LO: "The Women's National Team is definitely a different level and I have definitely experienced that. I think a lot of the players would agree with me that a huge part of being a soccer player and being a successful athlete is having a balanced life, being passionate about your sport, but also taking care of yourself and being sure not to get burnt out. Always finding ways to keep the game fun is obviously a big part of it. Make soccer something you will still love when you get older."
ussoccer.com: As a flank defender, making runs forward is part of the job. With two assists in 2007 thus far, when you are on the field, how do you balance being effective both defensively and offensively?
S-LO: "Defense and offense are two very different things. Sometimes they are compartmentalized as a defender. Our coaches have been working our backline really hard so our defensive side and positioning is so natural that we don't have to think about it when getting into a tackle or into shape. Hopefully I can just be more purposeful with when and how I get forward and how I support play. As I have gotten more playing time, it has gotten easier and easier to combine with the midfielders and defenders and find ways to give them balls where they can score. That is the fun side and it just kind of flows naturally, you can't force it. It is a balance, and it is definitely a work in progress."
ussoccer.com: While growing up, your family took in foster children. You have mentioned in past interviews that over 80 foster children have been cared for by your family. What aspects of this experience have shaped your contributions as a person and player to a team?
S-LO: "While growing up my mom and dad took in foster children, the majority of those being foster babies, most of them under six months old. When they are that young they can't take care of themselves and my mom, having all the kids around, needed a lot of help. I think she really instilled in all of us a mentality to look after other people and to take care of other things, not just yourself. She instilled an awareness within me of others needs and I know even now as a teammate I need to do that better. I have a desire to do that and to love when teammates make that everyone is doing well on and off the field. You can always get better at doing that and being a more experienced player and teammate".
ussoccer.com: Your major at the University of Portland is Psychology. If you were not a soccer player, what professional field would you enter given your major?
S-LO: "I think with having foster children in my family growing up I always liked listening to different problems and issues. I knew that there was hurting in the world. I entered Psychology in order to help that. I might do something in counseling, but I realize with my major, that it is such a broad field. I can do so much with it. I would probably want to get my master's and find something where I can specialize with young kids or maybe teenagers to help with hurting people."
ussoccer.com: What is your favorite sport, other than soccer, to play and why?
S-LO: "I played basketball for four years. I definitely love the contact of it and flair to it. I also played two years of volleyball my freshman and sophomore year in high school. It is always fun to spike a ball."
ussoccer.com: You have been involved in Residency Training Camp for the past few months. You've work hard on the field, but you do get a lot of down time. How do you spend it?
S-LO: "I just realized my various roommates and I don't talk about soccer when we get home. Now soccer is a profession for most of the players and we kind of spend our down time away from soccer by hanging out and probably watching TV, now that school is done. Most of the time, we are just trying to recover physically from training."
ussoccer.com: How do you think your teammates describe you as person?
S-LO: "Probably quiet, sweet, and mature. Hopefully not boring, there are definitely different sides to me."