Megan Rapinoe kind of owned me.
I’ll admit it.
I have a few good stories about my teammates for you, so I might as well embarrass myself first. It’s only right.
See, we had this World Cup kickoff meeting a few weeks ago, and everyone was sitting together in this big room. All the players, all the staff. The whole idea was to get us fired up for the long journey ahead. So you can imagine it. One of our coaches is running the PowerPoint, and she’s like, “This is the moment you’ve been dreaming about since you first kicked a ball.”
Then she served up the most awesome Throwback Thursday you’ve ever seen. I don’t know how she got the photos — I guess she secretly reached out to our families and they went deep into the archives — because it was epic.
It was this awesome slideshow of pictures from when were like eight or nine years old. You had all the different eras. The ’80s babies. The ’90s babies. The scrunchies. The bowl cuts. The Sambas. The missing front teeth.
Everybody’s looking adorable. Everybody’s killing it.
The cutest little kids you’ve ever seen.
Then, out of nowhere, there’s this picture of a girl sitting in her bedroom.
And this one’s a little different.
There’s Messi posters all over the walls. Messi jerseys everywhere. Big Barca flag. A quilt made from cut-up Messi shirts, plus a Justin Timberlake concert T-shirt as the center square, for some reason. There’s a stuffed panda pillow on the bed. Plus a very rare Justin Bieber calendar on the wall.
It was a lot to take in.
The whole room went silent for a good three or four seconds.
And then, of out nowhere, Rapinoe yells out, “Oh my God … Lindsey!!! That’s you.”
It was me.
But the thing is, I was not a little kid in the photo. I was not an adorable child with missing teeth. I was a full-grown human.
I guess my mom, bless her, misinterpreted the meaning of Throwback Thursday.
Rapinoe was beside herself. She goes, “Lindsey, you’re like 18 in that picture!!! That was taken like four years ago!!! Is that your bedroom?!”
The whole room turned to me. Mouths open, like, LINDSEY.
I just kind of threw my hands up like, Welp. Ya got me. I do love me some Messi.
The obsession with football didn’t actually start with Messi.
I wish I could say that I saw Barcelona playing on TV and fell in love with football instantly, but I’m from Colorado and Fox Soccer Channel was pretty expensive. It was a slow burn.
Everything started with my mom. When I was five, she asked me if I wanted to sign up for soccer, but I had some pretty wild contract demands.
“I’ll only play if you’re my coach.”
So my mom went to the library and brought home a bunch of books on how to coach soccer, and that was it. She was my first manager. And you can laugh, but I swear to God, she was a master of psychology. She was part Pep, part Klopp, part Wenger (except she won a lot, so maybe scratch that last one — heyyyyy, little Arsenal Joke).
Before our first practice, she gathered all the kids together in a circle and said, “Do you see what I have in my hands here? Pretty cool, huh? Well, I’m going to give this prize to one player at the end of every practice …
… And guess who that’s gonna be?
… The player who scores the most goals? (Dramatic pause) No!
… The player who gets the most assists? (Dramatic pause) No!
… I will give this to the player … (Dramatic pause) … who behaves the best.”
She was holding up a sheet of Christmas stickers from Walmart.
“You can put them on your shin guards,” she said. “Isn’t that nice?”
It wasn’t just nice. It was revolutionary. Sometimes they were dinosaur stickers. Sometimes they were Snoopy stickers. All kinds of cool stickers. It was amazing.
But did she ever once award me with the stickers?
No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I gave out there on the pitch, no stickers. I’m telling you, she was a psychological MASTER. I used to come home after school and open the drawer in the kitchen where she kept the stickers, like, One day … I’ll get you.
When I turned 11, I started playing more seriously for one of the big club’s teams, the Colorado Rush. And the coach who changed my life was Tim Schultz. One day after practice, he told me, “You really need to watch this Lionel Messi kid.”
At the time, Messi was only 17 or 18, and he had just started at Barca. I fell in love with his game right away. He was so small, but he was a genius. I know it’s kind of cliche to say Messi is your hero, but it was special for me because I was training with our boys’ team a lot in order to push myself. I was really inspired by the way Messi could still control a game despite being the smallest person on the pitch.
So the Messi posters started to go up all over my room.
It’s funny, I had always dreamed about playing at the World Cup, but after I fell in love with Barca, I started to dream about playing for the big clubs in Europe, too. And I actually said it out loud one time. I was maybe 14 or 15, and this regional coach who shall remain nameless asked all the players, “What are your dreams? What are your goals for the next few years?”
So everyone went around the room, and said their goals — become an all-state player, get a college scholarship, whatever.
And I said, “I want to play for the U.S. Women’s National Team, and I want to go pro in Europe.”
And the coach literally laughed out loud and said, “That ain’t gonna happen.”
I’m sure he had no idea how much it was going to piss me off. It seems insignificant now, but in the moment, it was everything. It was the extra little fire that I needed, like, Who are you to tell me what I can do?
The way he laughed, like he was so sure, I’ll never forget it.
Sometimes I wonder if God puts those people in your path for a reason. All the people who doubted that I could make it just fueled me all through high school.
Just a couple years after that coach laughed at my dreams, I was on a plane to France to go play for Paris Saint-Germain. I was 18 years old, I had just turned down a scholarship to play for UNC, and I didn’t speak a word of French. What could possibly go wrong?
At the time, it was kind of an unprecedented thing. Americans didn’t make that jump straight to Europe at 18, and I heard a lot of chatter from people who thought it was a terrible idea. But I just had to follow what I was feeling in my heart.
Your dreams are your dreams. Sometimes they don’t make sense to other people.
My mom was so terrified for my well-being that she flew out to Paris with me to make sure I was going to be alright. So we land at Charles de Gaulle Airport, and what you have to know about Charles de Gaulle is that they have these weird hamster-tube escalator things connecting terminals.
Picture an escalator. But there’s no steps. So it’s like a big conveyor belt. But for some reason, there’s only room for one person to go at a time. And also for some reason, the conveyor belts are closed in these clear plastic tubes.
Very weird, but O.K. In my head, I’m still trying to make this some epic moment: NEW PSG SIGNING LANDS IN PARIS (with her sweet mom). So I’m wearing these new sneakers that I just got for Christmas. And I’m rocking them with the laces untied, like a baller.
We get to the hamster tubes. My mom goes ahead of me. I go behind her.
And just as I get to the top of the ramp … Why do I feel like my foot is stuck?
My foot is definitely stuck. I can’t move my foot. I look down and my shoelace is caught in the HAMSTER TUBE OF DEATH.
Now I’ve got French people coming up the conveyor belt behind me, and there’s nowhere to go. They’re confused and panicking. They can’t stop. So we all get jammed up, and they’re screaming things in French at me, and I’m screaming things in English back.
This quickly turns into a catastrophe. The pile-up gets so bad that people are tumbling over me, and bags are flying everywhere, and people are yelling.
SACREBLEU! Bad times.
And the worst part is that my mom is standing like 10 feet away from me, just laughing. She thinks it’s the funniest thing ever. She’s like, “Just pull it, honey!”
And I’m like, “I AM PULLING IT!”
Finally, I’m so embarrassed and the situation is so crazy that I basically rip my entire shoe apart to escape. So then I’m limping through immigration with one good shoe, and everyone in the line is very unhappy with me. And I get to the counter, and the officer is like, “What is the purpose of your visit?”
“Uhh … I’m uhh … here to play for PSG.”
Most people told me not to go pro. Actually, a lot of people thought I was crazy for doing it.
The most sensible thing probably would’ve been to play college soccer. And I totally understand why most girls take that path. Honestly, there were so many times when I thought I had made a huge mistake. So many times when I was ready to quit and go home.
I had to give up my spot on the U.S. U-20 World Cup team in order to play for PSG, and I felt really sad that I wasn’t going to be there for my country. I’ll never forget before my first away game, I was sitting in the hotel lobby up in Guingamp, and I watched my friends beat Germany in the final on this tiny TV in the corner of the room. I had tears streaming down my face.
I was like, “What am I doing here?”
I was so homesick it was crazy.
I had to snap myself out of it and remind myself that I was in Paris for a reason — and that was to push myself as much as possible.
But honestly, it didn’t get any easier. Playing professionally is a different level, especially the intensity of the coaches. Getting cursed at every day in a mixture of French and broken English is an interesting character building experience. There were times — a lot of times, actually — when I would go home at night and Skype my mom in tears, like, “THEY HATE ME. I’M TERRIBLE.”
And it was extra sad because I’d have a bag of McDonald’s on the bed since I was too scared to go to the grocery store at first.
The thing that changed everything for me was when Tobin Heath showed up at PSG the next season.
Tobin was not just another American coming over.
Tobin was a legit hero of mine.
For me, it was like, there was Messi, and then there was Tobin. I looked up to her game so much. She is such a complete footballer.
So imagine you’re this super shy, super lonely kid in another country, and your hero comes over to play on your team.
I was so, so worried about coming off like a fangirl that I went completely the other way.
The way Tobin tells it, the first day of practice, all the French players came up to her right away and introduced themselves. But I was way off in the corner by myself, not even making eye contact.
So she actually had to come over to me, and I just gave her a nod, like, Oh hey, ’sup.
Meanwhile, inside, I was like, OMG TOBINNNNNNN.
I played it real cool for a few days. And the funny part was that we had so many rules at PSG. You had to do everything a certain way or the coaches frowned upon you. But they didn’t actually write any of this stuff down. It was all unspoken French rules.
So, you know, I didn’t want to be the nerd going up to Tobin, like, “Now remember, you can’t eat your cheeseburger with your hands. You need to use a knife and fork.”
That’s lame. I couldn’t be the hall monitor.
So I totally hung her out to dry. There was this unspoken rule for team dinners: You absolutely couldn’t get up and start serving yourself food until every player was seated.
And it was a whole four-course thing where everybody got up and got their soup first, and they ate their soup. Then everybody got up and got their salad, and they ate their salad.
… It was like a four-hour ordeal.
So Tobin shows up to the first team dinner, and she’s just going to town at the buffet. Everyone’s just starting to trickle into the dining room, and she’s already up there scooping out her pasta and grabbing rolls and everything, and I’m sitting there quietly at the table like, OH NO. TOBIN, NOOOOOOOOOOOO.
I swear, I think she even got fined for acting like an American barbarian, and then she was like, “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME, LINDSEY?”
Anyway, after that whole situation, she figured out that I was just being a weirdo, and she forced her friendship on me. And that was the best thing that ever happened to me, because she got me to come out of my shell.
This is so embarrassing to admit, but I was really into The Vampire Diaries at the time. So I kept telling Tobin, “You gotta come over and marathon The Vampire Diaries with me, it’s amazing.”
Tobin hates scary movies, but I was telling her, “It’s totally not scary. It’s for like … little kids basically.”
So she started coming over every day after training and we’d sit there for hours on my sofa drinking chai tea and watching The Vampire Diaries. And I swear to you …
… and I only say this because she is my idol …
TOBIN WOULD GET SO SCARED, MAN.
She’d have the blanket up over her eyes and everything.
That’s such a great memory for me, because here I am … 19 years old … and I’m sitting on a couch in Paris watching The Vampire Diaries with my hero. And now she’s my friend? It was the coolest thing.
It’s not like everything was perfect after that. There were a lot of ups and downs at PSG. But I started to really be myself after that and find my confidence.
I’ve never told this story before, and I probably shouldn’t tell it but hey why not.
We were all invited to watch PSG’s Champions League match against Barcelona in 2013, and I think we’ve already established that I was absolutely not going to that match as anything but a Barca fan.
So we sit down, and I’m wearing a jacket, and my one of teammates is like, “Lindsey, what are you wearing?”
She points to my shirt under my jacket, and she’s like, “You cannot wear that.”
I was rocking my Messi jersey underneath.
She’s like, “If any PSG staff see you, this is going to be a problem! Big problem!”
I was like, “I can do whatever I want!”
And she was like, “No, seriously, they’re going to kill you.”
So I zipped it back up.
But then Messi scored the first goal, and I couldn’t help myself. I did the Hulk Hogan thing where I tore the jacket off to reveal the Barca shirt underneath.
We’re surrounded by thousands of crazed PSG fans, and I’m yelling, “Messi! Messi!”
It was awesome. I don’t regret it.
That’s why I came to Europe in the first place — to get to experience moments like that. It was absolutely not easy. A lot of the time, it was miserable. But I think it made me grow up really quickly, and it pushed me to the limits of what I could handle.
I did the Hulk Hogan thing where I tore the jacket off to reveal the Barca shirt underneath.
Looking back, I actually loved my manager, but sometimes I say that what Tobin and I went through as the only Americans was almost like abuse ― emotionally and mentally. It was extremely intense, in a way that would probably surprise most people who only follow the women’s game from afar.
There was always going to be that question in the back of my mind: Did I choose the right path? Should I have just gone the NCAA route?
In the end, everything that I was doing and learning in Paris was to get me to be the best player I could be, so that I could earn a spot on the USWNT and play in a World Cup.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way in 2015. I felt like I was playing well enough to get a call into camp before the World Cup, but it just never came. Then I ended up picking up a knee injury that kept me out seven months. It was a rough time, but it ended up being really important for me because I actually went up to Canada to watch the semifinal match between the U.S. and Sweden.
I’ll never forget being in the stands as the national anthem started to play, just looking down onto the field, and seeing all the women with their hands over their hearts, and I mean … I lost it.
I wanted to be out there so bad that I actually started to cry.
I was devastated, but it was probably the most important thing to happen in my life since I told that random coach my true dreams when I was 14 and he just laughed and said, “That ain’t gonna happen.”
I loved seeing my friends and my country win, but it was an excruciating 90 minutes.
I’ve kept that memory in my brain for the last four years, and that’s what has been pushing me when I need it the most. That was a big part of my decision to return to the States to play for the Portland Thorns, in front of the GREATEST fans in soccer. Holy cow, you guys are the best. I valued my time at PSG so much, but playing in front of 17,000 screaming fans in Portland is simply the coolest thing I’ve ever been apart of.
Looking up into the family section and seeing my dad screaming his head off, and seeing my adorable little mom waving to me, that’s the best feeling. I missed that for so long. They gave up a lot to let me chase my dreams abroad.
BUT THEY DID KEEP MY BEDROOM EXACTLY THE SAME. THANKS, GUYS.
I want to be on the plane for the 2019 World Cup in France. I want to be out there on the pitch my hand over my heart, hearing the national anthem, looking for my parents in the crowd. That’s been my dream my entire life.
If we land at Charles de Gaulle for the World Cup next summer, you know I’m gonna be ready this time. I’m not messing around. I’m gonna have the sneakies laced up TIGHT.
And when the officer at the immigration booth asks, “What is the purpose of your trip?”
… You already know the answer.