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Estelle Johnson prepared for World Cup during quick journey to Cameroon national team

Joining Cameroon for the first time in the month before the World Cup presented challenges

Cameroon's Estelle Johnson, right, and Canada's Deanne Rose battle for the ball during the Women's World Cup Group E soccer match between Canada and Cameroon in Montpellier, France, Monday, June 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

For most, earning a World Cup roster spot is a lengthy process. Months, and often years, are spent working on form in the hopes of getting frequent looks from the national team. For Estelle Johnson, the first part is true; a veteran of the United States’ women’s soccer structures, she has established a respectable reputation as a center back. Her journey to this summer’s women’s World Cup as a member of Cameroon’s squad, though, was far from long, though. In fact, the player describes the process as a quick one.

After all, Johnson was only contacted by the Cameroonian Football Federation toward the end of 2018 following the team’s qualification for France. Getting the player onto the national team was not fast to start, though.

Thing got off to a slow start,” Johnson told Pro Soccer USA. “Once 2019 hit, however, things moved very quickly.”

Johnson officially committed to the national team with only months to go until the World Cup, meaning the time frame to have her integrated into the team was a short one. The Sky Blue player was called into the national team for the first time on May 1, earned her first cap on May 17 and picked up two more as the team played its final friendlies before the World Cup began.

It was pretty exciting,” Johnson said of her first cap, a 4-0 loss against fellow World Cup participants Spain. “I just tried to to relax and play my game the way I know how.”

Joining Cameroon for the first time in the month before the World Cup naturally comes with its difficulties. While Johnson and her teammates are working on their on the field cohesion, something that can only come with minutes, the player’s biggest obstacle at this point is communication.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced is the language barrier,” Johnson said. “I can understand French very well, but it’s difficult for me to speak. I’m so out of practice!” Despite that, Johnson says her new teammates are welcoming and that they are already in the process of “forging some great friendships, sisterhoods.”

That she and her teammates are gelling is a positive sign for Cameroon as the team has high expectations for this year’s tournament. The team made it to the Round of 16 in its World Cup debut in 2015, and is very eager to build on that impressive tournament beginning.

We are setting our goals higher,” Johnson said. “We want to continue to move [and] progress so we hope to perform even better than the team in 2015. We have been working unbelievably hard so I know we’ll be ready to go by June 10.”

The team’s first game was a tight 1-0 loss Canada.

Johnson’s journey with Cameroon is ultimately about more than just playing at a World Cup. Though raised in Fort Collins, Colorado, the defender was born in Maroua, a city in the northern part of the country. She spent the early years of her life there while her father worked in agriculture in the region. The chance to play for Cameroon was difficult to turn down because she wanted to get to know the country of her birth a little better.

When the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say no,” Johnson said. “Growing up with an African mother, I am accustomed to a lot of the values but I wanted to engulf myself into the culture and experience of representing Cameroon.”

For now, that experience means beginning Cameroon’s World Cup campaign, and even though she officially has a place on the team’s roster, the occasion is still slightly unbelievable.

Honesty, it’s surreal,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’ll truly hit me until we’re standing on the pitch and that first whistle blows.”

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