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Morgan Andrews Steps Up Her Game

U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team player Morgan Andrews had to step up her game in every way to survive and compete at a recent U-23 Women’s National Team camp. Now she’s bringing what she learned back to her team.

U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team player Morgan Andrews had to step up her game in every way to survive and compete at a recent U-23 Women’s National Team camp. Now she’s bringing what she learned back to her team.

Around the lunch table at last week’s U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team camp in Los Angeles, Morgan Andrews was back talking about things that 16-year-olds talk about: clothes, high school happenings, homecomings and prom dresses.

That was not the case a few weeks ago when she was the youngest player at the U.S. Under-23 Women’s National Team camp that featured some of the top college players in the country and some of the best young professionals from WPS.

“I was expecting a big change on the field,” said Andrews, “but it was kind of a shock walking into the meal room. The players were talking about getting signed to different pro teams, buying houses and getting married. I just sort of kept quiet.”

Andrews was called up to the U-23s in early October for a unique camp run by U.S. Soccer Women’s Development Director Jill Ellis, U.S. Soccer Women’s Technical Director April Heinrichs and U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Pia Sundhage. The event brought together some of the top under-23 talent in the United States and created one of the most competitive atmospheres for a camp at this age level in years.

Sundhage will bring four players from that camp into the U.S. Women’s National Team event commencing on Nov. 7 in Arizona. For Andrews, it was an eye-opening experience.

“Going against some of the top college forwards was awesome, but at the same time a little scary,” said Andrews, a junior at Milford High School in Milford, N.H.

At least Andrews had a friend at camp with whom she could talk the language of high school. U-17 goalkeeper Jane Campbell, who is just 36 days older, was also called in. Of course, being high school-aged, Campbell did not miss the opportunity to remind Andrews who the baby was.

Although Morgan hails from New Hampshire, she plays her club ball in Massachusetts, and as such, the Boston Breakers are her “home” team. She went from sitting in the stands and watching Keelin Winters, Nikki Marshall and Nikki Washington play for the Breakers in WPS matches to competing against them in trainings and games.

In every other country that excels in women’s soccer, teenagers play regularly with older players in their club environments. U.S. Women’s National Team defender Ali Krieger plays in Germany for FFC Frankfurt, where her squad regularly features full German National Team players and players in Germany’s U-20 and U-17 pools. This is not the case in the United States, where players often play in their age groups until college, and even there the range is just 18-21, where by the time you hit your junior year you are playing with mostly younger players.

“It’s great for all of our young players to see the next level,” said Heinrichs. “For some it might be playing with players who are just one year older, but for Morgan it was a six-year bump up. What we found in the camp was that the young players can thrive in many situations, but inevitably a weakness gets exposed. It’s a gentle reminder that they are not complete players yet. It’s both an honor and a humbling experience to be in a camp like that. It gives them a taste of what their futures could be like if they can continue to develop their individual games.”

Once she got over being a bit star-struck (she admits she only had a few conversations with Sundhage, made sure to thank her for the opportunity and said Pia was very “gracious”), Andrews went about learning as much as she could during the camp from the coaches and players.

“It opened my eyes to a whole new level,” Andrews admitted. “I learned how to push myself even more. The speed of play was insanely fast. You think you play quickly, but with those players you have to read the game so well so that you know where to play the ball before it gets to you. You are forced to play quick, one-and-two-touch soccer, and you have to be extremely tough. Every time you get to touch the ball or go into a tackle, you never get that moment back, so you have to make sure you do the best you can whenever you can on any particular play.”

Andrews, who has verbally committed to Boston College, where 2008 U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year Kristie Mewis plays, was particularly thrilled to compete with and against Mewis, whom she has been watching at BC games for the past three seasons. She also said she had her hands full with former U-20 star Sydney Leroux, a player who made her full WNT debut earlier this year.

“I think I did okay, but those players are so fast and strong,” said Andrews. “Leroux is as fast as lighting. You had to tackle her hard and just stop her from getting the ball and getting a step on you or it was all over. (North Carolina midfielder and U-17 and U-20 veteran) Amber Brooks was a beast, and I say that in every good way possible. I definitely want to become as strong as her, because nothing got by her. Having to play like that just makes you think much faster with and without the ball.”

Morgan got numerous calls and texts from her U-17 teammates during the U-23 camp, checking in to ask how it was going, what it was like and what she was learning. Since she’s back in with the U-17s, she’s tried to bring some of what she experienced to her age group.

“We have to go one hundred percent every single minute of every training,” said Andrews. “I’ve never been so challenged as stepping on the field with the U-23s and never been so sore stepping off the field. It’s that work ethic and focus we can have with the U-17s, so we maximize every practice we get together. We have to push each other to get better.”

The U.S. U-17s won’t enter qualifying for the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup until early spring, but Andrews is optimistic about the chances for her team to do great things.

“I think we have a fantastic team,” said Andrews. “I love all the girls, and we all respect each other. It’s one of the tightest groups I’ve been with. We’re like a family, and I think that shows on the field with our chemistry. I think that will help us push through any challenge that our coach (Albertin Montoya) or our opponents present to us.”

Andrews also knows nothing is given in the cutthroat world of international soccer, even at the U-17 level. She was watching on TV when the last cycle of U-17s failed to qualify for the Women’s World Cup despite outscoring its opponents at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament by a 38-0 margin. The USA lost in penalty kicks in the all-important semifinal match.

“I was in with that group a couple of times as one of the youngest players,” said Andrews. “It was heartbreaking to watch them go out like that. Even though I wasn’t there, I won’t forget that pain.”

As a team leader on the U-17s, Andrews plans on making it one of her jobs to help get her squad through the adversity that inevitably strikes a talented team on its journey to the top of the podium.

“Our group has a lot of heart,” said Andrews. “The skill level is amazing, and all the girls are so talented. I think if we continue to focus and express our individual skill,we can qualify and win the World Cup. You just can’t afford to tie a game at this level. This is where winning really counts.”

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