It’s just a game. A saying that I do not like to hear, but from a spectators perspective it is all they may see. 11 vs. 11. At the end of 90 minutes there is a winner, a loser, or sometimes neither. It looks so easy. The object is simple, score more goals than the opponent. It is fun for a fan or spectator to watch and enjoy, but for athletes there is more to what you just see, and it goes far beyond being just a game. For me it is my job, my love, and here in Russia, to an extent, it is my life. It is a game played with passion and it takes sacrifice. Therefore, it is not just a game. It goes much deeper than that for some; for me.
From the outside looking in I can see why many can say this. From where they are standing they think they can see everything. They see where people should go, where the ball should go, a bad touch, or a missed opportunity. My first game of this season I got to see for myself. Sidelined due to a minor quad injury, I cheered my team on from the stands, but cheering wasn’t enough. We lost that game 3-0 and it wasn’t the ideal start to the season we were looking for. Soccer is a game of imperfections and mistakes, and knowing how hard it is to find the open person, have a perfect touch, score a goal, and win a game; my focus was on where I would fit in and what I could do to help the team when I returned. We have a young team this season with many new players, so it is important for us to come together as quickly as possible, work as a unit and for each other while having fun and making this season a success. Looking in on the first game I knew that we had work to do and we were not quite a unit yet. For the second game of the season, we picked up our first win, but we had some of the same problems and we needed to figure things out quickly. Time is something that is not on our side for this season.
Actions speak louder than words. I have a great passion for this game, am extremely competitive, and do not take well to losing! One thing that I know our team needs is more leadership and communication. For me, that is one thing I struggle with due to the language barrier. People tell me that when you watch me train or play, you can see how much I enjoy myself and enjoy this game. In a serious game, or a fun drill in training, if something is funny I will laugh. I celebrate goals as if it is the last one that will ever be scored. I smile when something good happens, and I try to keep things positive on the field and always give everything I have. Through these actions is my way of leading and helping my teammates. It is my way of communicating to them without using words. The same goes for the way they can communicate with me. If I see the passion and the enjoyment they are getting from of this thing some call a game, it helps me as well. Having fun is something that will keep the passion, the love, and the game meaningful. It will make the sacrifices we each make worthwhile and the faults we have on and off the field, seem easier.
As the season went on game after game we had our ups and downs. We were 2-1-1 going into our next competition with our biggest rival. Not playing as a unit, we lost that game as well as the next bringing us to 2-3-1 with one game left before the mid-season break. When things are going well and we are winning games you can see the teamwork, the enjoyment, the passion, the love, the hard work and sacrifice paying off that brings us happiness and success in this game. Then there were when things were not going so great. In the table we were sitting towards the bottom and you can see the frustration building and the tension rising. If it were just a game, we would just move on and forget about the last and focus on the next, but clearly for Rossiyanka it is more than that. The smiles and laughter were no longer there and losing was not fun.
For me, it is not always just about playing the game. I know leaving home was a decision that I had to make, but sometimes it’s not always easy to be away. We weren’t just having a bad day; we were having a rough month. I was missing things at home that were important, and I wanted to be there for, but I couldn’t. Things weren’t going to plan, so I had to take a step back and realize what made me happy other than soccer. Coming to Russia lets me experience things that people only hope for. One of the things I got to do was go to see the track and field world championships. That experience was amazing. I can appreciate what it takes for those athletes to be able to perform at their best on a stage as big as that one. The atmosphere was inspiring and I took in all of the positive things I could from this experience. Seeing Usain Bolt run is something that I will probably never get to see again, and this game has brought me this opportunity. It is also bringing me the chance to see another country. In the round of 32 for champions league we drew a team from Serbia and I am excited for that new adventure.
As this past month brought hardships, there were also many positive moments. I scored my first professional goal after my ankle surgery. I also have an assist this season. We ended this half of the season with a much needed win moving us up to the middle of the table with a record of 3-3-1, and it is a bit easier to go into this break on a high note. Now we have a chance to regroup, start fresh, and bring back the positives that this game brings us. We can put the negatives in the past and focus on the future. It’s funny sometimes how much this game affects people and me especially. It can bring your mood up or down. It can bring you opportunities you’ve only dreamed of. It can turn your world into a much better place. There are better days ahead here in Russia for me and for Rossiyanka. As the rainy days have arrived and winter approaches, we can still smile, and enjoy the moments of magic and excitement. I am continuing to do what I love, and live this unique lifestyle. I am privileged that for me soccer is not just a game, it is much more than that!