It's been one craaazy month ...
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe will be blogging for espnW as the U.S. women's soccer team prepares for the 2012 London Olympics. This is her debut entry:
February has been a blur.
From Dallas to Cabo to Portugal, it's been a lot of work, and a little bit of play (though even the work part is pretty fun, especially when you win).
We kicked off the month in front of a sold-out crowd in Dallas, where we played New Zealand in a friendly. Thankfully, Big D really showed up for us; we had an amazing crowd there, 20,677 at FC Dallas Stadium, to be exact. (The whole World Cup buzz hasn't let up, so hopefully it's not really a buzz and it'll keep up for years to come.)
The crowd was awesome, but it was freezing cold. It was 30-some degrees and the wind made it feel just bitter. All week, it was 50 or 60 degrees, but then it was absolutely freezing on game day. I had on a hat, two pairs of gloves, hand warmers in my gloves and I still froze. I mean, you still have to wear shorts! New Zealand is a pretty disruptive team in general, and with the bitter wind, it was hard to get into a rhythm. Playing when it's that cold is shocking to the body and psyche, but you've just got to get over that and persevere as much as possible.
To their credit, especially coming from a warmer climate, the New Zealand players managed the weather pretty well; they were out there in short sleeves with no gloves on. But it's probably the best I've ever seen them play. They have a new coach, Tony Readings, and he seems to have done a really good job with them. So, no trash-talking here (although I might have done some if my lips hadn't been frozen; I don't think I was doing any talking at all.) It was a back-and-forth match all the way through, but we rallied to win 2-1.
After that game, I took advantage of the break to head out to Cabo, Mexico (along with fellow soccer studs Abby Wambach, Sarah Walsh, Leslie Osborne, Shannon Boxx, Tina Ellertson and Heather Mitts), for the wedding of Marian Dalmy, one of my best friends and a former teammate on magicJack and the 2007 World Cup squad. It was a beautiful ceremony. Her husband was balling his eyes out -- he was that excited. With the wedding, the pool and two-for-one drinks, I definitely can't complain!
Now, we're in Portugal for the Algarve Cup, which kicks off next week. This is my fourth time in Portugal, and the U.S. has been coming to this tournament for a while, so it's sort of a home away from home. Our hotel overlooks the beach (too bad it's not quite summer here!) and there are these two ridiculously good Indian restaurants we hit up that have a sort of Moroccan/North Indian influence. It's kind of a touristy destination with a lot of shops, and we're only a couple hours from Seville, Spain, so we go there sometimes on a day off and walk around the Plaza de España.
We'll also get some good training in the lead up to the Cup; we're here for a week and a half with two-a-day practices in the beginning, then once a day as the matches get closer so we'll be fresh. We'll also be lifting regularly and doing other cardio work. This is when we're building the fitness we'll rely on in London this summer.
Our fitness will keep improving as we play, but a lot of our success will come from building relationships. Getting that time on the field and just playing with one another helps you learn your teammates' idiosyncrasies about how they like the ball, and they learn your tendencies. When there's a packed crowd, we don't have to speak; you just look at someone and know what they want.
We do spend a lot of time together as a team, which is hugely important in the five-month run-up to London. When you spend three-fourths of your time on the road, you definitely get used to it. Living out of a suitcase can be mundane -- one more airport, same suitcase -- but we're pretty lucky to be able to see the world on someone else's dime!
The long haul until the Games can be kind of grueling, especially being away from our family, friends, girlfriends and boyfriends for so long. I think it's important to take some time to be selfish and take care of myself. I'm a big relaxer. I like to sit around and do nothing or watch TV all day. Playing the guitar is another good emotional release for me; I don't have to be doing anything but sit on my butt and strum (right now, my favorite song is "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver).
But most days are full of soccer and the training that must be done to be our best this summer. Until then, I'll be racking up frequent-flyer miles and learning exactly what my teammates like out on the field.