U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team defender Maddie Bauer carried a unique nickname into her youth international career, one that encompasses some of her qualities on the field but certainly not all. The cerebral defender is ready for the physical part of the game, but puts more importance on the mental and verbal aspects. Her play at the heart of the U.S. back line will be a key for the USA during the CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship.
Most teenage girls would probably be uncomfortable with the nickname “Mad Dog.”
But U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team defender Maddie Bauer is not most teenage girls.
The high school junior at Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif., carries a 4.2 GPA, as well as an air of calmness and maturity, both tremendously important qualities to her job of anchoring the center of a U.S. defense that has allowed only one goal in nine total matches this year.
So while Bauer wouldn’t have chosen the moniker herself, she’s fine with it.
“I guess it started when I was little, maybe 8 or 9, and I have two brothers who I played with all the time,” said Bauer. “I guess they brought out the tougher side in me, and that showed on the field. When I got to high school and played varsity as a freshman, my coach Matty West thought it fit and he ran with it – really ran with it. So now people call me that on the soccer field.”
The irony here is that “Mad Dog” does not really fit her playing style. Bauer is more in the mold of the legendary Carla Overbeck when it comes to U.S. center backs. She’s tall (5-foot-7, like Overbeck), slim and graceful with and without the ball, always seeming to have things under control in the back.
“The funny thing is I’m not really a mad person,” said Bauer. “But I guess I am extremely focused and that intensity comes out on the field. I don’t get intimated by situations and I want to always stay calm and make the best decisions for my team.”
That’s not to say she can’t lay down the hammer if necessary.
“I think it’s important to have a presence and a voice out there and if that means going in hard on a tackle, then that’s what has to happen,” said Bauer. “I actually like that part of the game. It keeps things exciting. I used to do other sports, but then I saw my brothers playing football and lacrosse and smacking people with sticks and hitting people with pads. There I was swimming laps in a pool or spending time in a dance studio. That just didn’t seem to fit me. The physical part of soccer makes it more intense and competitive and fun. Just because we are girls doesn’t mean we can’t have that, too.”
When she was 14, Bauer was participating in a U.S. Under-14 Girls’ National Team training camp two days before she would start her freshman year at Mater Dei. In the camp’s last scrimmage, she went up to clear a driven corner kick with her head, made solid contact, but then bit down hard and chipped her front tooth.
Legend has it that she bent down, picked up the chip, put it in her sock and continued playing. Bauer confirms this, but admits that the prospect of walking onto campus for her first day of high school with a chipped front tooth did not crystallize in her mind until halftime.
“Every player had cleared out of the box and I was still standing there looking for the piece that chipped off,” said Bauer. “I finally found this small white square in the grass. I really didn’t know what the dentist would do with it, but at the time it just seemed it would have some sort of use to him. Plus, it was pretty cool to have a piece of your tooth in your sock.”
Bauer came off the field at halftime and her teammates and a few staff members had a field day with the jokes.
“The trainers couldn’t do anything for me, of course, so I just went back out there and played,” said Bauer. “But I kept my mouth closed for the rest of the game. It was sort of hard to breathe.”
Since Bauer had missed freshman orientation while at camp, she had to attend the assemblies during the first two days of high school, which of course included “make-up picture day” for her school I.D.
“I was bawling on the way home,” said Bauer. “I was just thinking of high school and being forever known as the girl with the chipped tooth. Luckily, we are good friends with our dentist and fortunately he let us come in that night to get it fixed. I didn’t even shower. We went straight there. Picture day was saved!”
Despite that momentary breakdown, the Newport Beach, Calif., product is known to keep things very much under control for U.S. U-17 head coach Albertin Montoya’s side. In fact, she is the only player to have played every minute of each of the USA’s international matches this year.
“When I get on the field, I don’t like to over-think things,” said Bauer. “You have to have confidence in yourself and get over mistakes quickly. You can’t dwell on it or it will happen again. You just have to focus and stay in the moment. How do we handle the situation we are in defensively right now? How do we handle defending a set play right now? If you can stay in that moment it helps you stay focused and that helps you stay consistent.”
While midfielder Morgan Andrews is the captain of the U-17s, and usually wears the armband during the game, Bauer is a co-captain and an important leader for the team.
“I can see the field and I need to get us in the best shape, keep us calm and always be communicating,” said Bauer. “I have trust in my teammates and they have trust in me and my voice, so I do my best to organize and always be there for them to help us defend as a team so there won’t be any breakdowns. Communicating is so important on the field. Saying something at the right point in the game could be the difference between going to a World Cup and not going.”
Another one of her nicknames from her youth soccer days seems to fit the now 17-year-old Bauer a bit better. Her club coach with Slammers FC, Ziad Khoury, used to call her “The General.”
“My dad always used to joke with me that I should ‘lead, follow or get out of the way.’ I remember thinking, ‘well, I don’t want to follow, and I certainly don’t want to get out of the way, so I’m going to be a leader.’”
The Stanford-bound Bauer has certainly followed that path. She is looked up to by the rest of the squad and counted on by the coaching staff.
“She brings consistency to this team and she’s very valuable for us,” said Montoya. “We know what we are going to get out of Maddie every single game and that’s extremely important for someone who plays her position. She’s even-tempered, which is exactly what you want to see out of the center back, but at the same time she’s got a good bite to her. She never backs down from a challenge and is one of the first ones to put in that hard hit in order to start off a game and set that tone. I think she’s one of the best center backs in the country and I think she’s going to have a great tournament.”
“I just always want to stay focused, humble and hard-working,” said Bauer. “It means so much for me to be a part of this team and to be able to go on this journey with these girls. I’ve heard some of the full national team players talk about how they’ve made some of their best friends for life on the youth national teams. I can already tell that the girls I’m surrounded by will be some of my best friends forever, and like the full team, I hope we can make this journey a winning one.”
Now, does that sound like a Mad Dog?