A long time ago, before U.S. national team defender Becky Sauerbrunn became … well, Becky Sauerbrunn, she knew she needed an edge.
It wasn’t necessarily going to be anything flashy that set her apart. But as a center back, the quieter edge she found worked out just fine.
“I think that every player that makes it to the national program has something that sets them apart from others – for some it’s speed, or ability to finish,” Sauerbrunn said. “For me, I don’t have any of those other things. So I knew I needed to find something to separate myself from the rest of the pack. I said, ‘Why don’t you be the person everyone can rely on to bring it every single day?’”
For anyone who has watched the women’s national team over the past few years, it’s obvious that Sauerbrunn took that idea for an edge and turned it into reality. She’s been one of the steadiest presences in women’s soccer since even before the 2015 World Cup run – at both the club and national levels.
For the first few years of the NWSL’s existence, its Defender of the Year honors might as well have been earmarked for Sauerbrunn: She won the award with FC Kansas City from 2013-15, becoming the first player to win league honors in three consecutive years.
At the last World Cup, Sauerbrunn was the national team’s rock. She played in every minute of all seven matches, leading a defense that came within a minute of breaking the all-time scoreless minutes record.
Now it’s more of the same for Sauerbrunn in Utah, where she was last year’s club MVP and Co-Defender of the Year.
“You rely on her for everything,” said Sauerbrunn’s club coach with Utah Royals FC, Laura Harvey. “Everyone knows how good Becky is, but I didn’t really appreciate how good she was until I coached her myself. … We rely on her every single day.”
The national team will do the same this summer. Questions have swirled about the U.S. back line, with several injuries and position switches creating plenty of movement within the team’s defense.
But among all the movement is Sauerbrunn – steady and reliable as ever.
That, according to her club and national teammate Kelley O’Hara, is what sets Sauerbrunn apart, of course. But her presence on the field includes a little more fire than she’s given credit for.
“I’m very vocal and loud and you can see it; I’m animated,” O’Hara said. “Whereas Becky, she’s pretty even-keel and steady Eddie. If you do something wrong, or if she needs more from you – it’s not like me, where I’m yelling, like, ‘Let’s go!’ With her, it’s a look. … Everyone knows the Becky look. It’s a staple thing.”
In addition to the “look,” Sauerbrunn has also grown into more of a vocal leadership role during the past few years. U.S. national team head coach Jill Ellis bestowed captain’s honors on her for the last World Cup, and Sauerbrunn had to learn how to really solidify her presence, even if being vocal doesn’t always come naturally for her.
“On the bright side of all those injuries, I’ve gotten to play with a lot of people,” Sauerbrunn said of all the recent back line movement. “To build those relationships, you need to be more vocal, you need to take the time to figure out what makes them tick. It’s something I’ve evolved more over the last four years, taking the time to understand the people around me.”
That, and maybe throwing them the “Becky look” every now and then, too.