By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Their college careers did not overlap, but they’re teammates now at the highest level of their sport. UVa women’s soccer coach Steve Swanson beams when talking about Lori Lindsey and Becky Sauerbrunn.
“They’re both ambassadors of the school,” Swanson said.
Lindsey, a midfielder, and Sauerbrunn, a defender, are members of the United States team at the Women’s World Cup in Germany. Lindsey’s final season at UVa was 2001; Sauerbrunn’s, 2007.
“As talented as they are as players, they’re both such giving people,” Swanson said. “They’re both extremely appreciative of what Virginia has offered them in terms of the education, the degree and the program. I think they feel very strongly about the University of Virginia, both of them. They’re the kind of people that would always come back and support the University in so many different ways.
“They get back down here all the time … I stay in very good contact with them, and they’ve obviously been very supportive of the program.
The U.S. opened World Cup play Tuesday with a 2-0 win over North Korea. Neither Lindsey nor Sauerbrunn played in the opener, but Lindsey has been mentioned as a potential starter for the United States’ next Group C match, against Colombia in Sinsheim. (ESPN will broadcast the game, which starts Saturday at noon Eastern.)
Lindsey, 31, is the fourth-oldest player on the U.S. team. She’s made 19 appearances for the U.S. national team, but this is her first World Cup.
“The interesting thing about Lori is, I think there would have been many a player that would have opted out and quit,” Swanson said. “I think it’s a tribute to Lori’s perseverance, certainly her talent, but it’s also a tribute to how conscientious she is about her fitness. She’s an older player on that team, but I think she’s physically as fit as any player on that team. She’s always worked hard at it. It’s nice to see someone who’s put in all the time that she has, and has all the experience that she has, finally make her first team. It’s exciting for all of us.”
Swanson, whose first season at UVa was 2000, said he has always believed Lindsey “was talented enough to be on the team. I think soccer is one of those things where you have to be patient, your opportunity has to come, and then when the opportunity comes, you really have to take advantage of it. And it’s a slippery slope, you know. If the opportunity comes and you’re injured or you’re not ready, it might not come back for a little while.
“Lori has kept growing as a player, and that’s a tribute to how hard she’s worked. But when her opportunity came, just before the Olympics, I think, in 2008, Lori really started to establish herself with the team.
“She didn’t make that 2008 Olympic team, but she was in the mix and got into subsequent camps from that.”
Lindsey, who has a sociology degree from UVa, plays in Women’s Professional Soccer for the Philadelphia Independence. Sauerbrunn, an English major at UVa, plays for another WPS team, magicJack. She’s made eight appearances for the U.S., but this is her first World Cup, too.
“I owe the WPS so much,” Sauerbrunn, 26, said in a video interview posted at the ussoccer.com. “The only reason I feel that I made it here was just because I had that platform to play and to learn and to grow, and having the national coaching staff being able to come to games and see me week in and week out.”
To have two former Cavaliers on the World Cup team, Swanson said, is “a big deal. There’s obviously not a lot that make that roster every four years, so the fact that there’s two from Virginia, I think, is nice.”
The U.S. coach is Pia Sundhage. Sauerbrunn, in her interview with ussoccer.com, said, “I had been in with Pia in 2008, and she had let me go. I went back down with the 23s, and I hadn’t had any communication with her for 2½ years, really. I just really thought this World Cup wasn’t in the cards for me.”
But when an injury sidelined a U.S. defender before a qualifying tournament in Mexico, Sauerbrunn recalled, Sundhage “called me in at the last second.”
“An opportunity presented itself,” Swanson said. And so began Sauerbrunn’s journey to Germany.
“That first initial camp I had absolutely to nothing to lose, and when you have nothing to lose, it’s a sense of freedom when you’re playing,” Sauerbrunn told usssoccer.com.
“After that, after I made that first roster, that kind of changes, and all of the sudden you do have something you can lose. You can lose your spot.
“It’s really one training session at a time, one camp at a time, just showing well, doing what you can, showing you’re a good teammate on and off the field.”
Swanson and his assistants, Ron Raab and Kerry Dziczkaniec, traveled to Cary, N.C., in May to see the U.S. national team beat Japan 2-0 in a friendly.
Another former UVa great, Sinead Farrelly, was with the U.S. team then. Farrelly, an All-American for the Wahoos as a senior in 2010, wasn’t selected for this World Cup, but Swanson says her time is coming.
“I think Sinead could be a focal point of that team in the future,” Swanson said. “I do. I think she’s special.”