Becky Sauerbrunn interview: The smooth undertones to the Blues’ rock
One of the most revered defenders in the women’s game, FC Kansas City’s Becky Sauerbrunn has come to enjoy a fresh perspective on the sport she loves, and a mellow rhythm provides the perfect backdrop for the amiable U.S. international.
After establishing her reputation with the Washington Freedom back in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), the former University of Virginia standout eventually made a U.S. Women’s National Team starting jersey her own. With an Olympic gold medal and 61 caps to her name, Becky is one of the stellar defensive figures in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) at present.
The FC Kansas City captain has been an integral factor in the Blues’ ascent to 2nd place in the league, helping the side to seven clean sheets so far. She has remained a key player in the early days of Jill Ellis’ reign in charge of the U.S. and her influence on those around her is as strong as ever.
Fans of women’s soccer are always keen to discover the varying aspects of the players’ personalities and as many will know, Becky is certainly one of the most thoughtful of those currently competing at the top level. As affable as she is engaging, the St. Louisan values her time to recharge and music comes into play for her at regular intervals.
Country is a genre loved by numerous players, some of whom have discussed it on here, and Becky is the prime example. Delving deep into discussion on her career, teammates and music, the FCKC number 4 began by sharing some of the artists that connect with her.
“Luke Bryan, Rascal Flatts, Cole Swindell, Craig Morgan, Garth Brooks. I guess I lean more towards guy singers than girl singers, but Martina McBride; you can’t go wrong with her.
“Reba McEntire’s old school but I love her.”
Referred to by some as The Queen of Country, Reba McEntire is certainly vintage and when asked for some of her best-loved country songs Becky went for a mix of contemporary and classic.
“Oh God that changes every week! This week – ‘Wake Up Lovin’ You’ (Craig Morgan).
“Growing up – Garth Brooks ‘The Thunder Rolls’.”
With a love of the game that was sent into overdrive as she watched on television as the U.S. clinched the 1999 World Cup, Becky made her international debut in January 2008. The opponents were Canada at the Four Nations Tournament in China and it was Pia Sundhage’s first game in charge. A 4-0 win for the U.S. came thanks to Amy Rodriguez and Lindsay Tarpley doubles but Becky had a harsh introduction to the senior team as she suffered a broken nose!
Following her first appearances for the side, the ex-Boston Renegades youngster had to bide her time until getting called in again after establishing herself in WPS with Washington Freedom. Her subsequent selection was as an alternate and after grasping her chance she has never looked back or been overlooked since.
Becky’s Kansas City teammate Lauren Holiday and Seattle Reign forward Sydney Leroux are usually the DJs on the National Team but what would be the reaction if some country entered the equation before a game?
“It depends if it’s upbeat country or kind of low, slow-jam type country. (Asked how Kenny Rogers would be received) Yeah that definitely would not fly!”
A 2007 University of Virginia graduate in English literature and composition, Becky’s feeling for country music is obvious but are there any other genres that strike a chord with her?
“Yeah, I’m not really sure what (genre) you’d call it but like The 1975. I also like pop music like Maroon 5; I don’t really think you can go wrong with that.
“Anything that’s catchy I like it, it doesn’t really matter what genre it is.”
A youth career with the U.S. included playing in all six games and serving as co-captain en route to a third-place finish at the FIFA Under-19 World Cup in 2004. Her first major tournament with the seniors however was the 2011 World Cup in Germany. The game action began for Becky as a red card for Rachel Buehler in the quarter-final against Brazil gave her a starting spot for the semi with France.
Playing at the heart of the backline with Christie Rampone, she helped see the team to a 3-1 victory, although the French goal came from her one-time Washington Freedom colleague Sonia Bompastor (more on her later). Buehler was restored to Sundhage’s starting eleven for the final, in which the U.S. were defeated on penalties by Japan, but Becky would be rewarded with a bigger role in the Olympics a year later.
In London 2012, the former Olympic Development Program member came on for Buehler in the group win over North Korea at Manchester United’s Old Trafford before replacing her again in both the semi-final and final. Becky was on the field in the semi, an enthralling clash with rivals Canada, as Alex Morgan scored the winner for 4-3 deep into extra-time’s closing stages. She was also on for the final ten minutes of the 2-1 win against World Cup holders Japan and in the two years since, her role in the team has only increased.
The 2013 NWSL Defender of the Year has been known as ‘Iron Woman’ by her teammates and she will be an incredibly popular scorer when she gets that first goal for her country. However, before she was the remarkably assured professional player she is today, Becky was making her way up as an athlete and also academically.
She had to start somewhere as a music fan too! When we discussed the first tape or CD she ever bought, memories of a Demi Moore film set partly in 1970 came back to her.
“Probably the first one that was given to me was No Doubt and then the first one I bought was probably Aaliyah or the ‘Now and Then’ soundtrack.
“Did you see that movie? It’s a very ‘chick’ movie but it’s based in the 60s and 70s so it’s got that music in it so I enjoyed that.”
As the Virginia Cavaliers’ only three-time NSCAA All-American, Becky then became the only player to feature in every minute of the first two WPS seasons, breaking her sequence in the third year of the league due only to international duty. Current and former teammates have paid tribute to her on so many occasions in past interviews on here and as those who have observed her regularly will testify, she is a measure of consistency at the back.
Becky has admitted that she is somewhat uneasy with the tag of ‘performer’, though she accepts that is what she and her counterparts are viewed as. When her role has been reversed to spectator and she has been in attendance at music shows, there have been some notable artists on stage, as she recalls.
“The Fray I really enjoyed seeing in concert. I’ve been to see Dave Matthews (Band) and then I’ve also been to a Taylor Swift concert where I think I went deaf for two months afterwards.
“My first concert was probably Backstreet Boys.”
Talented vocalists are dotted around the women’s game and there was a college teammate Becky remembers in that regard. The midfielder played alongside her and current Kansas City defender Nikki Phillips in the aforementioned Under-19 World Cup in Thailand. Becky also picks out two contrasting members of the U.S. Women’s National Team when it comes to singing prowess!
“There was someone in college, Jen Redmond – she had a beautiful voice. She no longer is playing; I don’t think she played professionally after college.
“Abby (Wambach) thinks she has a good voice but it’s horrendous! Megan Rapinoe – beautiful voice.”
U.S. keeper Ashlyn Harris was a recent interviewee on the site and she shared how midfielder and three-time Olympic gold medallist Heather O’Reilly started performing her well-known version of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ in their University of North Carolina days. Boston Breakers’ O’Reilly featured on here herself last year and Becky gives her own opinion on that Slim Shady rendition, also responding to my question of whether ‘HAO’ replicates the explicit version or tones it down for her teammates!
“Oh yeah, gosh my ears are still bleeding from that! It’s super-memorable when she does it because veins are popping like she’s gonna pass out.
“She censors herself and it’s usually like the first part of it and I don’t think there are any cusses in that first part. She does it very sparingly because it kind of has to be a special occasion.”
The inaugural season of the NWSL last year saw Portland Thorns take the big prize but it was FC Kansas City who made a clean sweep of the individual accolades. Lauren Holiday was named MVP as well as taking the Golden Boot award, while Nicole Barnhart (Goalkeeper of the Year), Erika Tymrak (Rookie of the Year), and Vlatko Andonovski (Coach of the Year) were also winners.
As mentioned, Becky was crowned Defender of the Year as the Blues came 2nd in the regular season, although they were ousted in the play-offs by Portland in a 3-2 result after extra-time. This season, the good work has continued as the team are in 2nd place heading towards the final stretch of the campaign.
The 1-0 win over Portland last Saturday (28th June) was FCKC’s sixth in a row and their eighth game unbeaten. Lauren Holiday got the goal and although she chooses some of the songs in the locker room it is a player who this week turned 24 that was in charge of the playlist at the time of the interview, as Becky explains.
“Right now it’s Merritt Mathias’ iPod. It’s a mixture, we were just listening to ‘Am I Wrong?’(Nico & Vinz), and then she throws in some Drake, Rihanna, some rap and stuff.”
In her time with the Washington Freedom, Becky was an integral part of the side as they reached the first round of the 2009 and 2010 WPS play-offs. In between those seasons was a very productive loan spell with Røa IL of Norway’s Toppserien in which she helped the team to league and cup success as well as the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.
Scorer of the Freedom’s first WPS goal, a header from a Sonia Bompastor cross, Becky stayed with the organisation as they became magicJack and relocated to Boca Raton, Florida. In magicJack’s solitary WPS season in 2011, the team reached the Super Semifinal and Becky’s teammates that year included three players she would enlist the assistance of in this next scenario.
Asked which of her career teammates she would record a cover of a song with, she went for a mix of alluring vocals, a lack of fear, and a genuine appreciation for artists and genres.
“Oh gosh, man this is rough! There’s a lot of layers to that question.
“I would have to have people that didn’t have any fear. Pinoe (Megan Rapinoe) would be a good one, Meghan Klingenberg because she’s not scared of anything so would be fun to have.
“Probably Jill Loyden because she’s got a really good ear for music; she gives me CDs’ worth of music. I don’t even know what song we would sing… probably something like Paramore, something a little rocky.”
Before WPS folded, Becky was signed to play for Sky Blue FC for the 2012 season. As it transpired, she represented D.C. United Women in the USL W-League and would of course join up with FC Kansas City as the NWSL came together for 2013.
After the largely positive work from the team last season, it has continued in the same vein this time around for the Blues. Becky has missed only two of their 16 games, as she has been with the National Team, but she has played every minute she has been available.
As massively important as it is, being accomplished on the field is only part of the responsibility for a player and Becky emphatically fulfils the ambassadorial side too. She shared with me what she enjoys about FCKC as a club and as a Missouri native what she likes most about Kansas City. This came after she expressed her welcome to the U.S. as I explained I was over from England for the first time!
“I think being part of a city that really enjoys soccer. It’s got a rich history with Sporting Kansas City (Major League Soccer) and you’ve got the indoor men’s team, the Missouri Comets (Major Arena Soccer League), but also the youth in the area.
“Soccer is one of the major sports so it’s fun having that support. People know us so that’s been really enjoyable going places and them noticing our logos and stuff and asking us questions.
“I’m from St. Louis, so it’s not a far cry from home for me, but Kansas City has really cool pockets: downtown’s fun, there’s a Power & Light District that has a lot of restaurants. Good music goes through Kansas City and the barbecue’s phenomenal so if you’re a foodie there are a lot of places to eat.”
Turning 29 last month, Becky highlights the moment in her living room as a 14-year-old when she watched Brandi Chastain sink the winning penalty for the U.S. in the World Cup final on home soil as pivotal in securing her affection for the sport. There is no understating the importance of that afternoon of July 10th 1999 as 90,185 gathered at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for the game with China.
As she took in the pictures unfolding, Becky wanted to one day sample what the likes of Briana Scurry, Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm were feeling. She speaks of the emotion that flows through her every time she wears her nation’s jersey and cites her achievements with the team when reflecting on what her years in the game have taught her.
“I think for my own personal journey through the game, I’ve definitely had ups and downs. I think it’s shown a lot about me and what I’m willing to put myself through in order to follow what I love, and I love soccer.
“I’m really passionate about it and I’ll play until literally my body will not let me play any longer. For me, it’s been really reaffirming to work so hard and care so much, day in, day out, and be reaping some of the rewards for that.
“Playing for the National Team and in the World Cup and Olympics – those are things that I never really thought for myself. To actually be here now and to have played in those things and won a gold medal, all those things leading up to that point have been completely worth it.”
Naturally, the perspective we gain over time is not possible to have without experiences for better and for worse. Although she would likely always be mentioned in a discussion about the best defenders in the game today, it would be wrong to think it has been a purely seamless journey for the former Ladue High School student.
If handed the opportunity, here is the advice she would give the teenage version of herself as she took her early steps on the way to making a career in soccer.
“I would probably say not to take things so hard. I’ve always been one to take a lot of responsibility for things when it wasn’t really my place to take responsibility, so I would have told myself to probably lighten up a little bit more.
“Crap happens, you’re gonna lose games, sometimes you’ll be responsible and sometimes you won’t be. What’s important is how you respond and how you play that next game.”
As her roommate on team trips, FCKC goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart knows all about Becky’s habits and quirks when she is not on the field wearing the captain’s armband. Becky has dedicated plenty of time to promoting healthy lifestyle choices and giving information on injury prevention through her work with Signature Sports Medicine, and recuperation between games is a priority for her.
Aside from that, she details how she prefers to make the most of her downtime.
“I love reading, love seeing movies, love listening to music obviously. I could spend hours on iTunes cruising through the little blips that they have of each song.
“Most of my time away from soccer is trying to recover from soccer so I like to do things that are low-key and enjoyable. (Asked if coffee shops are a regular haunt for her) Oh, I would drink coffee the entire day if I could!”
In each of the interviews on here, whether it is a male or female player taking part, the person is asked to put themselves into a fantasy team of five players and to select four of the best they have ever played alongside to make up the line-up. I have been running the site since 2011 and I brought this question in two years ago. In that time, no player has been chosen quite as often as Becky.
Players to have named her in their team on here include Megan Rapinoe, Lori Lindsey, Anita Asante, Julie Johnston, Kristie Mewis, and Leigh Ann Robinson, to name but a few. Fans, pundits and suchlike debate the game on a constant basis and assess the ability of players, but hearing thoughts from teammates can often paint a much more intriguing and revealing picture.
It is a ringing endorsement of Becky’s attributes and her manner that those she has worked with express such regard for her. With so many who have chosen her, I let Becky know that she could never select them all in her team in return, so she needn’t worry!
Here was the selection she put together and after she gave her choice of striker (another who chose Becky) I asked for an insight into the Chicago Red Stars player in question, from a social point of view, as she is one of the deepest thinkers to have featured on here.
“For goalkeeper, I’m gonna pick Jill Loyden just because I know that she will get on anyone’s ass no matter who they are and tell them what to do. She’ll keep talking and talking so she’s important to have in there.
“A defender next to me – dang, this is rough! I’m gonna pick Sonia Bompastor from France, she’s recently retired; I played with her on the Washington Freedom.
“She’s a leftie, she’s got great service, she’s an amazing defender and she can do practically anything. I don’t think I’ve ever played with a more well-rounded player than Sonia.
“I would have Christen Press somewhere up top, so I don’t know if she’d be a starter or on the bench, just because she’s phenomenal in small-sided games. She’s one of the most difficult people to defend against.
“It’s funny because she’s into meditation and she loves yoga, so there’s a part of her that’s very focused and Zen. Then she’s also like goofy and happy-go-lucky and you get her talking and you’re just so caught up in her excitement that you can’t help but share it with her.
“(Midfielder) I would say Homare Sawa – I would definitely have her somewhere in there. This is so hard because I don’t wanna hurt people’s feelings by not saying them!
“I need like a Pinoe (Megan Rapinoe) or Tobin-esque (Tobin Heath) midfielder as well to give some of the creativity. Lauren Cheney (Holiday) I would put in there.
“They would all split time!”
Follow me on Twitter: @chris_brookes
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