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20-year-old Tierna Davidson makes World Cup debut, notches two assists

Ten seconds: That’s really all the time Tierna Davidson allowed herself to savor her World Cup debut Sunday. The U.S. took down Chile in group play 3-0 and Davidson played all 90 minutes at left back

PARIS, France — Ten seconds: That’s really all the time Tierna Davidson allowed herself to savor her World Cup debut Sunday. The U.S. took down Chile in group play 3-0 and Davidson played all 90 minutes at left back.  

But it took 24 years – longer than Davidson has been alive – for a player as young as her to make a U.S. Women’s World Cup starting lineup. The 20-year-old is the first since Tiffany Roberts in 1995 to start a World Cup match for the U.S. And she’s only the sixth player younger than 21 to do so, joining the likes of Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Roberts and Holly Manthei.

“I think maybe the 10 seconds before the game started,” Davidson said. “I was looking around, and the stadium was packed, and there were a couple of chants kind of echoing throughout, and I was kind of like, ‘Oh, wow.’ But then after that, I was like, ‘game time.’”

Davidson’s nonchalance is part of what has built her into the kind of player who can make a World Cup debut at 20 years old.

“She’s a very calm, cool customer,” said U.S. head coach Jill Ellis.

But the defender’s left foot was also responsible, at least on a secondary basis, for two-thirds of the U.S.’s scoring on Sunday. That kind of versatility can be tough to keep off a field, too.

Davidson alternated taking corner kicks with forward Christen Press on Sunday, notching two assists in the process. Headers from both Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz came off Davidson’s service from the corner.

It was the first time in nine months Davidson has marched to the corner flag for this team. She only found out a few hours before Sunday’s match against Chile that she would be doing so again.

“I was a little bit unsure exactly because I hadn’t taken a corner kick since September, so I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just put it up there for Carli and she will get her head on there, put it in there for JJ [Ertz] and she’ll get her head on it,’” Davidson said. “Big credit to them, because we have such fantastic aerial presence and they really commit to what they do. So me putting it just outside the goalkeeper’s range was all I really had to do for them to score.”

That ability to take an active role in the team’s set pieces, even as a defender, is just one reason she’s 20 years old and playing significant minutes in a World Cup.

“I mean, those balls she played in – she’s got one of the sweetest left foots I’ve ever seen,” Ellis said. “I think her distribution on the ball – she can open up a game with the left foot and obviously her set pieces.”

When Davidson found out she would be taking some of the corners Sunday, she wasn’t even sure she would take more than a couple.

“My mindset was like, ‘If it goes well, great,’” she said. “If it doesn’t, Christen can just take them.”

Breaking a smile, she continued: “It went OK.”

It was a far cry from what Davidson would have expected for herself, even a few years ago: Growing up close to Stanford, where she eventually played her college soccer, Davidson used to go up to players like Press and Kelley O’Hara for autographs.

Fast forward to Sunday, and she was trading corner kicks with one of those players instead.

“I can’t say at that point I [expected this],” Davidson said. “I think also when you’re very young you have a very warped idea of age, and so I think when I was like 10, and someone else was in college, I didn’t even think those ages were close enough to play together. It really is a special experience to play with the players I used to look up to.”

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