Wherever Becky Sauerbrunn plays soccer, her teams know they have a defender they can trust. She will be reliable. She will be consistent. She will be ready to play. Repeatedly.
It’s a reputation that’s well earned. Sauerbrunn has been stepping on the pitch and providing strong play for most of her life. From St. Louis to Charlottesville to the Olympics to the World Cup, she has earned the respect of her peers and coaches.
“Becky’s awesome. Incredible,” U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo told Joe Lyons in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “On the ball, she’s one of the most confident defenders I’ve ever played with. She’s smart, she’s tactical and she’s technical. She goes in hard for tackles; she’s just fun to play behind.”
That confidence and technical prowess on the international stage developed through experience. Sauerbrunn was the 2003 Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year out of Ladue High School while also earning All-American recognition. She also played for the U-16 and U-19 National Teams before coming to play for Steve Swanson at Virginia.
While suiting up for the Cavaliers, Sauerbrunn played every minute of her career. She missed the 2004 season while playing for the U-19 National Team, which took home third place at the World Championships. She played all 90 minutes in every game of the tournament.
In the professional soccer ranks, that reliability has continued. She started all 44 games for the Washington Freedom in the now-defunct WPS league in 2009 and 2010. She played every minute of every match of her WPS career. Sauerbrunn was the only player to play in every minute of the first two WPS regular seasons, a streak that only ended due to Women’s National Team duties at the 2011 World Cup. In 2013 with FC Kansas City of the NWSL, she again played every minute of all 19 games she started and received the NWSL Defender of the Year honor. In 2014, she repeated as that award winner and helped FC Kansas City win its first NWSL title.
Things aren’t any different even at the highest level of soccer. Now a key member of the defense on the Women’s National Team, Sauerbrunn started to gain more and more playing time in 2012. That year, she started nine times and made 22 appearances. She logged 1,255 minutes in total. In 2013, she started 10 of the 12 games she played and picked up 940 minutes, the third most on the entire team. In 2014, she started 20 of 22 games and recorded a career-high 1,757 minutes. That included playing every minute of all three CONCACAF matches that solidified a World Cup berth. So far in 2015, she’s the only player to start all 11 matches and she leads the team with 969 minutes.
Sauerbrunn said she has gained confidence with an increased role on the National Team.
“I definitely feel more established,” Sauerbrunn said. “Going into the 2011 World Cup, I had just made the team so I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time and I definitely knew my place as a reserve. My job was to push the starters to make them better. Now to be more established and playing a lot more, it gives you a certain amount of confidence to know that you’ve got a lot of international experience under your belt.”
In a 3-1 win against Australia in the World Cup opener Monday, Sauerbrunn started and came up with one of the key plays in the match with the scored tied at 1-1. Australia’s Sam Kerr used her top-notch speed to break free for a moment and could have created a good chance if left one on one with Solo. Sauerbrunn reeled her in, however, and then blocked a shot attempt to allow the US defense to reset.
Sauerbrunn figures to be a key figure the rest of the way for the US. The team’s next match is Friday (June 12) at 8 p.m. against Sweden and it will be televised on Fox and NBC Universo.
“Becky’s just grown and grown,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said in this NBC Sports article. “I think she is one of the best center backs in the world, probably a little bit underrated by our opponents in terms of what she gives us and what she can do. Without Christie [Rampone] being there, she’s now settled into a leadership role. But her individual defending, her ability to read attacks and snuff things out and chase things down – she’s tough. And she’s good with the ball in front of her and she’s good tracking down the ball from behind. She’s really become a mainstay. I’m just really pleased with her growth.”
Continued growth is one of Sauerbrunn’s most notable character traits. And that goes beyond the soccer field. She doesn’t lock down in a hotel room when traveling with the National Team to new places, but chooses instead to take in the local culture and any attractions. In New York for a final stop before the World Cup, she took in a Broadway show.
Sauerbrunn also loves to read, something that came hard to her when first learning as a child. Even when on trips with the National Team, she has books in tow. This pursuit of knowledge found a wonderful fit at the University of Virginia and it added fuel to the fire.
“Virginia was so gung-ho on continuing education and that it’s not a four-year thing but a life-long pursuit of learning and I think that really got to me and really sunk in,” Sauerbrunn said. “I was an English major at Virginia and that fostered my love of literature so I’m always reading and trying to learn. Then soccer – my time at Virginia, Steve really made it clear that this if something if that I want to pursue, then there are so many different avenues. Even if I hadn’t been called up to the National Team, I could have gone overseas and he would have tried to organize that for me. I owe Virginia a lot for all of those things.”
That’s one reason Sauerbrunn loves to say that she has the best job in the world. There aren’t many careers, after all, that will carry you around the world and provide enough free time to openly pursue other interests as well. At 30 years old, she is the prime of her career and not taking a second of any of it for granted. She plays a game she loves. She has a job that nurtures her professional and competitive side. Plus, she’s seeing the world and learning along the way too.
“Unbelievable,” Sauerbrunn said. “I mean I am so fortunate and so lucky to be doing this. To travel and to play a game I love and then also to have time experience everything in a city. I have like the best of three worlds right now.”