What a week it has been!
After my last blog post, I took off to spend a free weekend in Brussels, Belgium. Our league didn’t have matches because of scheduled international friendly games. Lucky for me, I don’t have to worry about national team duty, so I was free to do some exploring! Just another reason I feel super lucky to be playing soccer in Europe: when we have a couple days off, I can take the time to visit places and countries I have never been to before!
I left Yzeure bright and early Friday morning. When I arrived in Paris, I made my way to the Gare de Nord and departed for Belgium. With the high-speed TGV trains, it takes less than two hours to get to Brussels! I had done a little bit of research before I left on things to see and do in Brussels, and I was really looking forward to a weekend of exploring a new culture. After arriving in Brussels, I headed to the hostel I was staying at to drop off my stuff and pick up a map of the city. The first thing I managed to do was get myself incredibly turned around, but once I retraced my steps and realized where I was, I made my way to the Grote Markt, or the central square of Brussels.
When I finally made it the city center, I was simply in awe. The Grote Markt, also known as the Grand Place, is a square made up of buildings with incredible architecture and amazing details. I decided to grab a late lunch at one of the terraces in the Grand Place so I could continue enjoying the scenery. The square was busy with lots of tourists taking pictures, sampling the Belgian cuisine, and taking in the surprisingly good weather. After a delicious meal of Belgian sausage and stoemp, I spent the rest of the day exploring the city center. I had nothing but time and no agenda, so I just ambled through the streets. I managed to find Mannekin Pis, Jeanneke Pis, the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, Galeries Royales St-Hubert, as well as countless waffle stands and chocolate shops. I could have spent days just in the city center of Brussels alone; there are some amazing shops and museums in the area!
I was pretty spent from the early morning of traveling and a sightseeing filled afternoon, so I turned into my hostel at a reasonable hour. Saturday morning I woke up and went for a run in the city’s botanic gardens, located right near my hostel. I probably wouldn’t have had time to see them otherwise, so doing my morning running there was a great way to enjoy the scenery! I had found a self-guided walking tour of the “European Quarter” of Brussels, so that was my plan for Saturday. Brussels is one of the three seats of the European Parliament, so a lot of European-wide business is conducted in the city. The suggested route that I followed was awesome! Some of the highlights were the European Commission, the Parc de Cinquantenaire, Place Jourdan, and the European Parliament. There is a great (free!) visitors center called the Parliamentarium, perfect for a history buff such as myself. It is a really modern museum all about the integration of the European Union. I won’t tell you how long I spent in the museum, but let’s just say I left with a lot more knowledge than I entered with!
All in all I had an awesome weekend in Brussels! It was amazing to take in all of the sights, sample the local cuisine, and learn a lot of new facts about Brussels and its history (Shameless American confession: I also found a Starbucks, so I indulged myself with a Pumpkin Spice Latte. Definitely a highlight of the trip!) It was nice to take a couple days away from the soccer field to let my brain and body reset back to neutral. It was the perfect time for an off weekend. By the time Monday rolled around, I was itching to get back to training and start prepping for our upcoming match against Lyon.
All my teammates returned from the free weekend off wanting to continue the momentum of our previous match. It was our first win, and not only had we won but we had also played really well together, controlling the tempo of the match. Our focus during training was to have solid team shape and defend as a unit. One of Lyon’s biggest strengths (one of many) is their ability to switch the ball with speed and precision. It creates a lot of problems for opposing teams because defenses can’t shift quickly enough to withstand their offensive pressure. We wanted to disrupt their ability to switch the point of attack thus giving our team a better chance to defend “ensemble.” This was the prevailing theme through the week of training. We also had the opportunity to scrimmage a boy’s team from Yzeure: this was helpful because they were able to mimic the speed of play Lyon possesses. It was a hard week of training, but everyone one was focused and kept up a high level of intensity.
Fast forward to Sunday. GAMEDAY! My favorite day of the week! Two weeks of prepping, and the big match was finally here! Obviously, it’s Olympique Lyonnais. I get it, they are really good. Champions of France, UEFA Champions League Finalists, the list goes on. (Slight digression: It’s amazing; there players are like celebrities! Before, during, and especially after the match, they had so much fan support and people wanting pictures and autographs! They even brought their own camera crew from the OL television channel!) But at the same time, despite all of those things, it’s still just eleven players versus eleven players for ninety minutes. Maybe it’s my unbreakable optimism, maybe I have seen the movie Miracle one too many times, but I truly believe in every game my team has a chance to come away with a win. Even against Lyon. Already once this season they have shown they are not invincible: they won narrowly against Arras 3-2 a couple weeks ago. I was really looking forward to seeing what Yzeure was capable of doing!
It was an awesome day for a game! The weather decided to cooperate, and there was great energy from the large amount of supporters that had come out to watch the match. This was such a fun game for me to play in; I definitely will not forget it for a long, long time. I don’t think it truly hit me how big of a deal this game was until we were shaking hands before kick-off and I came face-to-face with Megan Rapinoe. She is one of the greatest American players to ever play the game, and she has had a huge impact on the landscape of women’s soccer in the USA. That moment snapped me into reality! It was game time! From the very first whistle the crowd was loud and involved in the match. Interestingly enough, while at the beginning of the match it seemed the majority of the fans were supporting Lyon, the longer we held them at scoreless the more the fans cheered for us!
Honestly, looking back, the game is kind of blur for me. During matches, I get really focused on the play of the game and directing traffic for my defense so it’s really hard for me to recall specific plays and events. A lot of my role is to be thinking about possible scenarios that could happen so I can give my team the best information and prevent dangerous situations from occurring, so there is a lot of mental concentration that goes along with the physical nature of the game. I get so mentally focused in the game for those ninety minutes that afterwards my brain just can’t remember all the little things that happened. It’s kind of weird. So sometimes when watching film a couple days after a match, it’s like seeing the game happen for the first time for me!
This is what I do remember: Yzeure battled for ninety minutes against a very good team. We did a great job of disrupting their game plan and making it really difficult for Lyon to try to execute their goals. So much so that in the second half they were forced to just send long balls over the top directly, trying to use the speed of their attackers to overpower our backline, instead of building rhythm through the midfield. We held them scoreless for seventy-minutes! In the entire match Lyon had 21 attempts on goal (which is A LOT for a ninety minute game!) We ended up losing, 1-0, but I am really proud of the way Yzeure fought and played. I don’t think a lot of people expected us to earn a result against Lyon, but we worked really hard and showed how far we have come since the beginning of the season.
Even though it’s another loss, it is a good result for our team. It showed my teammates that we can play with anyone in this league! When we play together and stick to our game plan, we can be very dangerous. We are going to use this result to keep building and improving as a unit. The season is far from over, and we have a couple games coming up in which we must get some results. We have another two weeks before our next game, so until then we will just keep training!
Peace, love, and thanks for reading,
Professional goalkeeper for ASPTT Albi in the French Division 1. Previous player at Foot Féminin Yzeure, Forfar Farmington FC (Scotland SWPL) and the Houston Aces (USA WPSL). Inquisitive adventurer uniting my first great love, football, with my passion for exploring. Proud alumna of Rice University (Go Owls!)