Monday, November 6, 2006
Adams earns her stripes with the national team
Of all the notable firsts in last month's U.S. women's national team friendly versus Chinese Taipei, one that might have gone unnoticed was the debut of UCLA star Danesha Adams. Though she didn't score, the talented midfielder/forward quietly contributed, setting up plays for her teammates.
Adams' opportunity arrived because women's national team coach Greg Ryan had kept tabs on her for a while. Back in his assistant-coach days under April Heinrichs, when Ryan was in charge of some of the youth teams, Adams had trained and played for him. He observed her progress from a fast and athletic player to a more skillful one. Adams had come on strong this past year. "Danesha played great over in Russia with the U-20s," Ryan said. "She went to the Nordic cup with Jill Ellis and the Under-21s. We're continuously looking for other forwards who can score goals for us. So we wanted to bring 'D' in and take a look at her this week." Adams first heard of her invitation to the senior camp after the U-20 championships. "I talked to Greg after coming back from Russia," Adams said. "I was surprised. It was really exciting, though I was also a little nervous." However, Adams did not join the senior women right away; instead, she reintegrated with the squad at UCLA, where she helped the team with three goals. The delay was a mutual decision. "We decided I needed rest," Adams said. It might not have seemed like much of a break, since Adams faced off against some the top college competition in the country with the Bruins. It was a comfortable situation for Adams, though, as she enjoys her UCLA family. The camaraderie with her teammates and the coaching staff helped recharge her energy level. In fact, as pleased as she was to enter the ranks of the senior team, her loyalty to UCLA left her a little torn. Adams did not want her squad to be left in any lurch due to her absence. "It's a tough situation," Adams admitted. "I've already missed some games, and I might miss two more. Coach [Jill Ellis] tells me not to worry, to just enjoy the opportunity. It's difficult." As Adams' game has improved, she has taken on more responsibility with the Bruins. "We're doing well," Adams pointed out, proud of the way her teammates pulled through even while many players were away in Russia for the Women's U-20 World Championship. "Five of our starters were missing." While Adams has tasted great success with UCLA, which advanced to the College Cup in her first two seasons, there was also heartbreak, with two straight NCAA runner-up finishes. The first ended in penalty kicks, while last year Portland pounded the Bruins 4-0. The experience matured Adams and made her more determined to contribute. "Some of the girls look up to me," Adams said of her veteran status. "Even when I'm excited to be playing elsewhere, I miss my [college] team. I see myself as more of a leader this year. I'm working on that." Adams also worked on advancing her technical skill on the ball. Youth national team play was a crucial part of that. "I have gotten better playing games," she said, "and also the people that you're around, a different approach, brings something new out of you. I've been around great players. I've grown as a player." It was that progression that prompted the invite from Ryan. The transition to the full national team was made easier by the welcome Adams received from her new teammates. "Everyone was really nice," Adams said. "They all came up to me, saying, 'I'm so-and-so.' On that first day, when I walked in, the first person I saw was Carli Lloyd. I've played with her before, so it was nice to see a familiar face. It just made everything more comfortable." Though she considered her younger teammates peers, Adams was a bit in awe of others, since she had grown up admiring them. "I was a big fan of the players," Adams admitted. "I loved watching the women's team." After a good showing with the senior team in camp, Adams' chance to join her new teammates on the field arrived versus Chinese Taipei. Ryan was pleased to offer Adams the opportunity: "Natasha Kai was a little under the weather this week, and so we had an opportunity not only to bring [Adams] into a camp but to get her into a match. I was really happy." In the second half, Kristine Lilly, the all-time world leader in international caps, with 312, came off the field in exchange for Adams, who was thrilled to earn her first cap in such a trade-off. "Coming into the game for Kristine Lilly is a big deal for me," Adams said. "I've always looked up to her as a player, growing up." The butterflies quickly faded for Adams. "It was good to get out there for the first time, playing with all these great players," she said. "I felt very comfortable. Abby [Wambach] said to me, 'We want to get you a goal; we want to get you involved in this game'. That was a big confidence booster for me. It just helped me out a lot." No goals came her way, but Adams made a good impression nonetheless. "I thought she played very well," Ryan said. "She got the assist to [Megan] Rapinoe on the one goal. She showed a lot of composure for a young player." With her confidence riding high after her first appearance, Adams didn't doubt that a goal was her next milestone: "I know that right now, we're putting all of our chances away. If I get a chance, I want to put it away. That's going to carry us all the way through into the world championship." Wambach is similarly certain of the team's quality, especially with new contributors such as Adams. "We just keep getting better and better," Wambach said. "I think the sky is the limit. Moving forward, we just want to keep getting these players time, getting these players goals, getting experience, getting these players excited." The infusion of youth, many of whom, like Adams, are still in college, has changed the nature of the women's team. "This is a new team," Wambach observed. "These are new faces. People sitting at home need to understand who these people are by sight. We need to have them wrap around the heart of this team. We're going into this World Cup as underdogs. All Americans like a fight." Considering she just earned her first international cap, Adams wasn't sure whether she'd advance to make that upcoming 2007 World Cup team. "I'm not looking that far ahead," she said. It was enough to savor the goal Adams already has realized. "I'm going to remember stepping on the field," she said. "My very first cap. Getting an assist on that day, so it was a great day for me. The girls all signed the game ball for me and I have it. So that's a nice memory for me."
Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet.com. She also writes for topdrawersoccer.com and soccer365.com. She can be contacted at email@example.com