Playing Around the World.
Tiffany McCarty responds to questions from fans around the world in her latest blog on Women’s Soccer United, enjoy!
As a whole, did you enjoy your experience in Japan? If you had to describe it in one word, what would that word be?
Tiffany McCarty: Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Japan. It is a very peaceful country, and I had some of my most memorable experiences abroad in Japan. If I had to describe it in one word it would be “influential”.
What, aside from the language barrier, was the hardest thing for you to adjust to in Japanese football (or Japanese culture in general)?
Tiffany McCarty: I think that Japanese culture in general is really different from American culture. In addition to the culture, being the only American on the team made it more challenging. My coaches and team-mates tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible. I actually enjoyed Japanese football and the movements and possession style play is something that I think has really helped my game. Obviously, I think that the league is a little bit different compared to the American league as far as overall athleticism but anyone can benefit from the technical side of things.
Football or otherwise, what is your favorite memory of your time in Japan?
Tiffany McCarty: Good question. I think I can not talk about my favorite memory in Japan without mentioning the Empress Cup Final. I will remember that game for a very long time and as of now, it is one of my favorite soccer experiences ever.
Is there anything that you have learned from either playing or living in Japan that you have imparted or hope to impart on your team-mates in Houston?
Tiffany McCarty: I think that I have learned a different style playing in Japan. Anytime you get to experience a different culture, you tend to fuse some of the culture into your own. The technical aspect of my play has benefited from my experiences in Japan and that is what I think I would bring to any team. I even find myself speaking some Japanese on the field so I think I bring that too!
Even though your stints with Niigata were relatively brief, you made a very obvious impact on the team while you were there. Have you given any thought to going back to Niigata (or Japan in general) at some point in the future?
Tiffany McCarty: Thanks, I appreciate that! Yes, I had short periods that I played in Japan and watching the success of the team there, I would never rule it out in the future. If the opportunity presented itself to go back to Japan again and the stars aligned for it, absolutely.
You took your first overseas opportunity at a very young age, and excelled. Do you feel that being exposed to a different style or different level of play early on in one’s career is important to player growth? Or do you find that coming into your own domestically is more important for young players? In other words, given similar opportunities, would you recommend playing in other countries to peers of your age and younger?
Tiffany McCarty: I would definitely recommend playing overseas at some point in your career. Gaining knowledge and experience from another culture and playing style can only help you at parts to your game. I do think it is also important to find your way in your own league but you never know if playing overseas will help you if you don’t take that leap of faith.
With everything that you have learned in your career thus far, what is the biggest piece of advice you would give to a young footballer who is just starting out?
Tiffany McCarty: I would say believe in yourself and what you bring to the table. No matter how many coaches you grow through or how many players you come across, you bring something unique to the table and you have to present that the best way you can.
What was your impression of the Nadeshiko League fans, and of club presence and exposure, both in Niigata and around the country?
Tiffany McCarty: I absolutely loved the fans. They were so positive and passionate about our team and they made me feel so welcome to be there and play for that team. I could be bias because I played for Niigata but I think that they have the best fans.
You are still a very young player. Are there any ways you feel that specifically playing in Japan has helped your development?
Tiffany McCarty: Yes, I think that going to Japan after my rookie season helped me tremendously. I think my technique and awareness has only improved.
What do you feel is your strongest asset on the pitch? What do you feel is your weakest, or the one you hope to improve the most on as you get more experience?
Tiffany McCarty: I think my strongest asset on the pitch is finding spaces in the field and turning and running at players. I also think that finishing is a strength of mine. However, I think that as a striker you can never finish enough so I will continue to work on my finishing in and around the box.
How did you first come to the attention of Albirex Niigata?
Tiffany McCarty: I became aware of Niigata through my assistant college coach. He was very influential in my trial and decision in playing for Niigata. He and I spoke about where the best place would be for my development as a player and I found myself shortly after heading to Niigata.
What was your main reasons for saying ‘yes’ to Albirex?
Tiffany McCarty: I think my main reason for deciding to play in Niigata was the training environment, coaching staff, and quality players I could play with every single day. I loved the culture of the team as well, they made me feel extremely welcome.
How much soccer do you watch (TV live or replays) and do you have a watching preference for the men’s or women’s game?
Tiffany McCarty: I watch a lot of soccer. Probably a little less than when I was in high school when Fox Soccer channel played games in Europe at 6am. I watch both men and women play. I don’t have a team now that my favorite player has retired (Thierry Henry). I follow players in my position and watch their movements. I love to watch forwards separate from defenders in the box. The only women’s games I watch are the games in the NWSL, World Cup, and Olympics. I think it is beneficial to watch both.
Give us an idea of your typical routine on a training day, how long are the sessions?
Tiffany McCarty: Typically, the training sessions run no longer than two hours. Generally, we start with some type of agility warm up with cones or latter and then have some version of 2v2, 3v3, etc. An extended warm up of different passing patterns is usually after. The remainder of training consists of small sided games that gradually ends with a full 11v11 game for a select amount of time. Depending on who the upcoming opponent is determines what the focus of the practice will be.
Give us an idea of your typical routine on a ‘home’ match day.
Tiffany McCarty: A typical routine for a home match for me is first and foremost, eggs. I love eggs. I start my day off pretty much everyday with an omelet with spinach, tomatoes, and cheese with either yogurt or a homemade protein shake. Then, I stretch and wake myself up for the day and catching up on some of my favorite shows that I missed during the week. After, I do some cleaning around the house to kill time. By that time, it is time to really get my legs moving so I take a pre game walk and stretch. When I come back, I get about an hour power nap before I eat a pre-game meal. I try to drink at least two bottles of water by this point. Pregame meal is normally pasta with a light sauce and some type of fruit. I take shower to wake myself up before I leave the house. After that, it’s go time. This is my routine in the states.
What about ‘away’ matches, are some clubs so far away that Albirex sends the team by plane?
Tiffany McCarty: Yeah of course. Away matches consists of team breakfast, free time, and a team meeting before we head out to the game. I would say in Japan, the routines are a lot more structured.
What is the biggest difference in your diet while in Japan?
Tiffany McCarty: I think the difference would definitely be the portion sizes and just the all out healthier lifestyle. I ate a lot of miso soup, rice, and fish. That alone could have you losing a few pounds already.
How well are you able to understand everyone and be understood?
Tiffany McCarty: I think for the most part I could be understood with simple Japanese phrases. However, when it came to more complex conversations I think most time I was unable to say what I meant and most were unable to understand what I was saying. With that being said though, I learned a lot of Japanese from my team-mates and they taught me many Japanese rhymes and jokes which made it easier.
From personal experience rather than any preconceptions you would have had, what would you say are the differences between soccer in Japan and the US? Have you adapted your game to accommodate these differences? (Rather than the obvious technical vs physical aspects of each style, have you found there were other differences which only became apparent after you started playing for Albi?
Tiffany McCarty: The main difference is the style of play, and with the style of play there comes a different mindset. I find that the players I played with in Japan pick and chose the times when they want to press whereas I feel overall the American style is not that. It is full force, and high pressure in every part of the field.
I guess that reaching the Empress’ Cup final and then losing in the final on PKs covers both the greatest and the most disappointing moment of your time at Albi. What other footballing highs and lows do you particularly remember while you have been in Japan?
Tiffany McCarty: To be honest, I don’t think I can think of any other high that I had in Japan that quite topped the Empress Cup final. However, if I had to choose, it would be the first game I played with Niigata. I was excited to get to play with a different team and a different style of soccer. I think a low would have to be seeing how disappointed my team-mates were in the multiple games that we lost in the league and possibly on the verge of being relegated.
Since you first arrived, what has surprised you most about Japan?
Tiffany McCarty: I would definitely say the food. I loved the food and I didn’t think I would grow so attached to it.
Do you feel that a number of Albirex players want to make the NT squad, or instead most don’t believe they are good enough
Tiffany McCarty: I think that probably all of my team-mates wanted to play for their country but I think that playing the game you love regardless of that aspect, is what they appreciate the most.
Did you manage to learn some Japanese while there, and is it an easy or hard language to speak?
Tiffany McCarty: I learned a lot of Japanese while I was in Japan but it is a difficult language to understand. After speaking it everyday, there are words and phrases that just become part of your daily language, which is what happened to me.
Which players of Albirex impressed you most on the pitch?
Tiffany McCarty: I would have to say that Megumi Kamionobe, Kana Kitahara, Tomoko Ichitani, Yuri Saito, Aya Saeki, and Marumi Yamazaki. I have respect for all of my teammates but if I had to choose, I would say these players.
Also, who are/were the strongest players in Nadeshiko League, in your opinion, in the seasons you played there?
Tiffany McCarty: Homare Sawa and Aya Miyama are probably the most dominant players that I saw.
Which Nadeshiko League clubs did you find more difficult to play against?
Tiffany McCarty: I thought that Sendai was always a pretty even match for us but I think that NTV Beleza, INAC Kobe, and Urawa Reds were always tough matches for us.
Do you recall any defender in particular who gave you a hard time?
Tiffany McCarty: I don’t remember specifically which defenders gave a hard time but I would like to think all of them.
Are there parts of your game, such as fitness, technical skills, positional sense, etc that you feel improved due to your two short seasons in Japan?
Tiffany McCarty: I think I improved in all of those areas while I was in Japan but I would say the most is the positional aspect and finding pockets of space to get the ball and turn.
What are your best memories from the 2013 Empress Cup Final, which sensationally went to Extra-Time and then a PSO? Can I find game highlights on YouTube?
Tiffany McCarty: I can’t talk about that game without talking about the fight that my team had to come back and tie that game up. Scoring the two goals was nice but what I will remember is the fight.
Did the Albirex players have opinions that more from their club should be selected by Sasaki for the NT squad, or for tryouts? Or do they feel he is biased towards other clubs?
Tiffany McCarty: I can’t really say since I am not at their camps but I think it all depends on your perspective. I believe the players in Niigata will get their chance.
How involved are Albirex players in game strategy/planning, such as for counter-attacks, offside traps, set-pieces, etc? Or are these just coach decisions?
Tiffany McCarty: I think that there is a little bit of feedback from the players but ultimately, I think our coach did a good job playing to our overall team strengths.
How do you rate the Albirex wing players?
Tiffany McCarty: I would rate them pretty good. I think all of our wingers are crafty and have a good touch on the ball.
Are each of the Albirex players concerned about, or working on, individual playing weaknesses, in order to improve?
Tiffany McCarty: Yes, I think every player is. We did a lot of extra training to work on those weaknesses.
Would you strongly recommend that other players go to Japan?
Tiffany McCarty: Yes, I think Japan is a great place to play. Adding some of the Japanese style of play to your game can only help you in a positive way.
Did you feel that Albirex was at the same, higher or lower level than an NWSL team?
Tiffany McCarty: I thought that Niigata was at a level of some teams in the NWSL.
Tiffany McCarty is a forward who plays for Houston Dash in the NWSL. She has recently returned from Japan where she was on loan to Albirex Niigata Ladies of the Japanese L. League.