Sandy • A second consecutive Women’s World Cup title. A ticker-tape victory parade for the ages. All kinds of national notoriety and attention.
And Becky Sauerbrunn still can’t believe it.
“I sometimes catch myself thinking randomly at different parts of the day, ‘I can’t believe we won this thing,’” Sauerbrunn said. “I always knew that we were capable of winning it. Actually winning the sucker is a different thing. I’m still kind of riding that high and there are times when it still catches me off guard.”
Sauerbrunn and fellow U.S. Women’s National Team members Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press arrived back in Salt Lake City Tuesday evening, and Sauerbrunn and O’Hara met the news media Wednesday following their first post-World Cup practice with Utah Royals FC.
The World Cup was something of a whirlwind for the USWNT, and much of it had almost nothing to do with soccer. The players were criticized for celebrating the last few of their 13 goals against Thailand in the opening round. President Donald Trump tweeted about Megan Rapinoe’s refusal to visit the White House if the Americans won. The equal pay lawsuit filed against U.S. Soccer before the tournament started will soon undergo mediation.
UTAH ROYALS FC VS. PORTLAND THORNS
When • Friday, 8 p.m.
Where • Rio Tinto Stadium
All the while, the players in the locker room tried their best to focus on the task at hand.
“We tried very hard to put a bubble around the team,” Sauerbrunn said. “And obviously when the president is tweeting at one of your players, it kind of can puncture the bubble a little bit. But I think the team did a really good job of just acknowledging it and then just kind of tossing it away, which we had to do because we had a job to do.”
When discussing how much closer the knockout round felt compared to the group stage, O’Hara admitted that competing on the World Cup stage, while it’s a dream come true for any serious soccer player, is at times not all it’s cracked up to be.
“It’s not super fun all the time,” O’Hara said. “It’s a grind and it’s a lot of pressure and there’s a lot of expectation from myself individually and ourselves, but then from the outside.”
Press, who was scheduled to appear at the news conference but chose not to at the last minute, scored a goal against England in the semifinal round of the tournament. Press served as a bench player for the bulk of the World Cup, but started that game in place of an injured Rapinoe.
O’Hara praised Press for playing whatever role coach Jill Ellis gave her to help the team win.
“I think that’s a testament to her as a player,” O’Hara said. “I don’t think the fact that she wasn’t in the starting 11 is indicative of who she is and what she brings to the team because she’s a huge lift.”
But all that is over now for the three players who helped make soccer history. The new task at is to help Royals FC in its push for the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs — a task Utah fell just short of last season.
Sauerbrunn said coming back to her club team felt almost like reintroducing herself to all her other teammates because the national team had been gone for about 60 days. But once that was out of the way, it was business as usual.
“A couple hugs and then onto the training field for sure,” O’Hara said.
The Royals have been promoting the return of Sauerbrunn, O’Hara and Press for the game against the Portland Thorns on Friday. It is anticipated that the USWNT trio will play, but how much, and whether the three would start or come off the bench is unclear.