When the U.S. women's national team takes the pitch for the first time in 2021 they will do so with veteran center back Becky Sauerbrunn as their captain. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski made the announcement on Sunday during his press conference ahead of the teams friendly against Colombia on Monday at 7 p.m. in Orlando.
Sauerbrunn captained the team during their final match of 2020 against the Netherlands back in November, the team's first match back after a months long absence from competition thanks to the ongoing pandemic. It was the first time she wore the armband for the team since 2017. The number one FIFA ranked team in the world holds some of the most prolific athletes and experienced leaders so in recent history, primarily during previous coach Jill Ellis's time in charge, the armband has typically moved from player to player throughout various matches.
But, as the USWNT begin their journey in 2021, with an Olympics on the horizon, they will do so with a set captain in Sauerbrunn. It's a role that has deep history, with players from Carla Overbeck to Abby Wambach having occupied the role previously. Sauerbrunn inherits the armband in part because for younger players on the team like Sam Mewis, she's typically a leader they look to emulate.
"Sometimes I look to Becky like my moral compass," Mewis said. "Like whatever she is doing is what I know is right, so I should probably do the same thing."
For Sauerbrunn, the honor comes with responsibilities not just on the pitch, but off of it as well. During the team's previous match against Netherlands, the team wore pre-match jackets in support of Black Lives Matter, and chose to participate in the anthem while wearing them with some players taking a knee in solidarity. Sauerbrunn believes that leadership includes conversations off the pitch as the team continues to navigate the pandemic and on going fights for social justice.
"I am not the leader, I am a leader...one of many. So, when it comes to these discussions, there are a lot of people that rely on one another and for these discussions we've gone from very broad to very specific and most recently talked about the attack on the capitol. That's something that we've centered discussions around, and something that leading into the game [on Monday]. We kind of have a a plan of how we want to respond."
The legacy of leadership among the U.S. women's national team stems across three decades, with various legends of the game sporting the armband and leading rosters on game days. Sauerbrunn looks to USWNT icon Overbeck as asource of inspiration, and hopes that her legacy can someday match the level of inspiration Overbeck has had on so many.
"I think about the people that have worn [the armband] and been the captain of this team, and I think about Carla Overbeck," Sauerbrunn said. "When I was younger, like 14, and watching her play, the respect that she commanded on the field. And then you hear players now talk about these moments that she had where her leadership was just so all-consuming that people wanted to just chant, like, 'Carla, Carla!' So, being in the same group as her, I can aspire to that type of leadership and [I] probably won't get anywhere close to Carla, but for me, I think she's that ideal."
"I think of the players like Christie Rampone and Abby Wambach, and most recently, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, like all these people have something about them that makes them phenomenal, and have such gravity about them. And so I only hope to have something about me that makes people feel inspired. So, I guess time will tell."