I am not an expert in what makes for a good soccer goalkeeper. In fact, I don’t pretend to be a soccer expert at all. What I am is a fan of the sport. And as a wise man once told me, sport is about people. And most days I like people enough to do, wahwt I hope to be, a fairly decent job telling their stories. So I’m not going to sit at my laptop and tout Ashlyn Harris as the best goalkeeper in Women’s Professional Soccer. (This was debated by some soccer writers in the press box at the WPS Championship game on Saturday afternoon.) But I will say this with full conviction: Ashlyn Harris is one of my all-time favorite athletes.
As a general rule, sportswriters don’t name favorite athletes because, well, we’re not supposed to have them. But writers who claim they don’t have favorite athletes are feeding you a line of bullshit. Because they do. Not in a hero/heroine worship kind of way or even in a rooting-interest type of way. Our favorite athletes are the ones we in the business label “good talkers.” They interact with the media. They speak in complete sentences. They actually offer you thoughts on the game, their team and their performance in a genuine and authentic way. It doesn’t have to be controversial to be insightful or entertaining. It just needs to be real.
Harris offered all of that this year. She was honest about her disappointment at being one of the final cuts from Team USA for the World Cup, but seemed genuine in her desire to use it as motivation. Perhaps the diss was exactly what she needed. She got past her disappointment and made the most of the opportunities she did have. What was in front of her? Her club team, the Western New York Flash, which was having a pretty darn good season as an expansion franchise in Women’s Professional Soccer. She would focus on getting better. She would realize all things happen for a reason. After all, she still was a professional soccer player and had a starting gig. There are worse places to land when things don’t work out as planned.
Then came the WPS league championship game. With the Flash leading 1-0 and time ticking down, it looked as if the title was wrapped up. But in the 87th minute — just three minutes left in regulation — Harris made a poor play and Philadelphia tied the game.
“That would have haunted me,” Harris said of that goal.
The game progressed to penalty kicks. Against the final Philadelphia shooter, Harris lunged left, knocking the ball away with her left hand giving Harris redemption in the game and the Flash the WPS championship. Not a bad metaphor for her entire season — disappointment followed by opportunity. It doesn’t matter what just happened, the goals you gave up, the near misses, the teams you failed to make. Even in disappointment, even after mistakes, there is another opportunity in front of you. The real question: What do you plan to do with this moment.
Seriously. How could I not like an athlete who challenges me to move past my own disappointments and make the most of my present opportunities? Also, I checked out her Twitter feed. She has multiple references to Nutella. I believe in the “favorite athlete” category that is game, set, match.