We have just arrived at the stadium. We walk off the bus and I can feel all the eyes of the people on the streets staring at us. I'm so focused that all I see is a blur of people and the light at the end of the tunnel for where our game awaits. The feeling of walking through the tunnel and into the stadium is one of pure bliss. My whole life I've been training for this moment. 20 years of kicking a ball and I am here. I am playing at the international level. This is the first step for the chance at the World Cup. If we win the next three games we will be in the Asian football cup. If we can place 5 or better of 8 teams we will qualify! What was once a dream has now become a tangible reality.
As I enter the stadium, I see our competition in front of me checking out the field. Iran is dressed in pink warmups wearing white headress. No skin whatsoever is showing except their faces and hands. Are they really going to play fully covered in this heat at 4pm!? Definitely respect them. I can only imagine what obstacles they have to overcome to be here. I know playing women's sports in this side of the world is tough. There's not even close to the amount of the money that then women get compared to the men and far less supporters. Yet today the people of Bangladesh are the biggest supporters. There are hundreds of bangladeshians that have come to watch the games tonight! I don't think I've played in front of this many people before. Who would have thought that our biggest crowd would be in Bangladesh (well, so far!)
We continue to the locker room. Our girls are all in zone listening to their iPods. For many, this will be their first international cap ever! I remember that feeling myself and I know they are too excited to be nervous. The vibe is so good in this room. We are ready to prove ourselves.
We have a great warmup and we are ready to go. The sun is starting to go down and so is the temperature. This is perfect soccer weather. We have all gotten used to the Manila heat so we are ready to go. The FIFA song plays as we walk out holding hands. We greet the kids who will walk out with us. They are so happy to be here as well. They are all smiles and so adorable. First, the anthem of Iran plays. I look into the crowd. I take in this moment. Ahhh, I live for this. How lucky I am to not have only found my passion, but am able to have the opportunity to pursue it.
This takes me back to when I visited El Salvador. The son in the family I stayed with was just a few years younger than me. I asked him what he wanted to be after school and he couldn't answer it. He said, "What do you mean? I will graduate and live here next to my parents. I will farm and provide for my future family." I will never forget Mario. He too plays soccer, but will never get to do anything with it. How sad it is to be in a life where you can't dream because you know it will never come true. And for this reason, when I am out on the field, it is so much more than playing because I love it. It's for God who gave me this gift. It's for my family who have supported me, for my country, and for those that don't get the chance. Be thankful for everything that you have. Being here, I have certainly realized my blessings. This trip is really opening my eyes! From being spoiled playing soccer in America to competing here in Bangladesh; I am still kicking a ball, but the experiences are completely different!
"And now the national anthem of Philippines"
I stare at our flag. This is my third year representing the Philippines. I hadn't even visited or seen that side of my family until I was 18. I have learned so much about my background and roots by being able to play for this country. There was something missing all along and finally I put in that puzzle piece.
Game time is about to begin. We say our last prayers and then our last cheer, "Malditas! Laban!"
The whistle blows. Jesse taps the ball to Jo. Jo launches it towards Iran's goal. Is this ball going to go in!? The keeper barely gets a hand on it and it's a corner kick. Tasha sets it up. I think this will go far post like we practiced. I am ready for it. The ball is in the air and going in my direction. Perfectly placed on my head, it sails in the goal past the defender and keeper. Did that really just go in!? Omg! It really just went in! One minute into the game and we have scored! Great start!
Two minutes later. Fabulous possession by us. We are really feeling it today. Finally we are against girls (normally we only scrimmage guys in the Philippines) and we have so much time on the ball. We are actually faster than our opponent for once. And bam goal by Megan. Another minute goes by and again goal Philippines by Jesse! 3 goals in under 5 minutes! Wow!
Another two goals before halftime.
We start the second half. These Iranians are picking up their game. They are starting to get more aggressive. Though, their fouls are too obvious and the ref is handing out yellow cards. I respect these women though. I mean right now they look like ninjas dressed in all white, and they got that fight in them. I slide with one of the Iranian ninjas to attempt to get a cross off. My leg starts to cramp because apparently four bananas today was not enough! The next play that same girl comes up to me and during the set up of our free kick. She smacks my stomach. Thump. Wtf! Umm yes? She says something along the lines of nice try on the last play. I guess this is playful banter! And I just nod and she taps me one last time on my shoulder and smiles. I chuckle on the inside. Did she really just do that? Kinda funny now that I think about it. This is so foreign to me! I am so intrigued by their culture! Crazy how this sport we play connects all of us.
The game continues.
Final score 6-0.
Step one complete! We walk off the field and the crowd is wild. I think they are really having fun. I don't think they get foreign visitors often so they are all so excited! So many people waving at us. All these photographers taking pictures of us. This feels awesome! Our first game and our first win. Game 1 down. Two to go. We can do this! #believe #malditas#teampilipinas #laban