Today, Saturday, July 9, I traveled down to Chicago with my family to attend the United States Women’s National Team game versus the Republic of South Africa. I’ve always wanted to go to a USWNT game and this is the closest that they have ever played to the Milwaukee area. When I first heard that the US would be playing at Soldier Field, I immediately asked my parents if they would be up for going, and luckily my dad is also a soccer fanatic, so this was the perfect excuse for a family trip to Chicago.
Today’s game versus the Republic of South Africa was the second to last game before the USWNT departs for Rio and the Summer Olympic Games. Their last friendly match before the Olympics is to be played in Kansas City on July, 22 against Costa Rica.
The USWNT is currently ranked number one in the world, meanwhile, the Republic of South Africa is ranked 52nd in the world. The US did not have much knowledge about RSA prior to this game—the RSA only qualified for the Olympics for the second time ever this year. With that being said, this game was critical for each of the players to show their skills as they each vie for a position on the Olympic Team. Head Coach Jill Ellis is to release the 20 woman roster on Sunday.
Enough about the stats though, let me tell you a bit about my experience in Chicago today. The day began with my family and I parking in a lot next to the Marriott Blackstone Hotel. When we stay overnight in Chicago, we normally stay at this hotel, as it is only a short walk away from Soldier Field. (I’ve attended my fair share of concerts at Soldier Field and therefore the Blackstone has become a favorite place of mine to stay.) This is important because we made a quick pit stop in the hotel for a bathroom break before walking over to the stadium, and who do we happen to see, but the Republic of South Africa National Team loading up onto the bus to head over to the game. They stayed at the Blackstone and it was funny to see a few stragglers sprinting to make the bus. Almost late to their own game!
From there, we walked over to Soldier Field through Millennium Park. There were families and many, many young girls decked out in their Team USA jerseys filling the pathway to the stadium. Once inside Soldier Field, we found our seats near the midfield line in the 12th row (shout out to my mom for these fantastic seats!).
The pregame warm-ups began with the goalkeepers from both teams coming out first. Then the rest of both teams came out a few minutes later. The USWNT warmed up directly in front of where I was sitting which was amazing to see. Especially since it was Carli Lloyd’s first game back since being out for her knee injury. Megan Rapinoe also was on the sideline but did not warm up with the team.
Crystal Dunn scored in the first half to put the US ahead. While the second half brought many chances, especially once Carli Lloyd was put in, the scored ended 1-0 with a US win.
With the 1-0 win, Hope Solo posted her 100th shutout and became the first goalkeeper ever, man or woman, to do such a thing. She was recognized for this amazing feat after the game. As a goalkeeper myself, this made the game even more special to be there for. After they recognized Hope, the team made their way around the field, waving to the fans and signing a few autographs. During this time, a few of the South African players went up to Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg, and youngster Mallory Pugh to take photos with them. It was so cool to see the young South African players asking for photos and to see that they were as awestruck as I was to see these great USWNT players.
Needless to say, today was quite the experience and I am so thankful to my parents for taking me to the game. It is a day that I will never forget and will most definitely stay with me as the United States Women’s National Team makes their Olympic run in Rio at the end of this summer. Today also reminded me about how hard work and dedication can take you anywhere you want to be whether it is in school, a job, or a sport. As I continue to play club soccer this summer, this game will stay with me and push me to play at my highest level just like the women of the USWNT do every day.