Every morning Allie Long rolls into the locker room with her headphones on and Starbucks in hand. She changes into her practice attire, laces up her cleats, and heads out to the field with Tobin Heath to mess around with the ball before practice.
Often times she’ll perform this routine without saying “hi” to anyone.
After warming up, practice almost always begins with a passing pattern.
If the ball isn’t passed hard enough, Allie will yell at you.
Next, we will perform a possession drill.
If the team is playing at slow tempo, Allie will demand you to play faster.
Practice ends with a small-sided game to goal.
If you don’t play Allie the ball when she’s wide open for a shot, she will fling her hands in the air and roll her eyes at you.
Practice will end, and Allie will sometimes gather a bag of balls to work on her shooting. Coach Paul Riley will urge Allie to rest her legs that day. Allie will argue with him and insist that she feels fine. They’ll come up with a mutual agreement and Paul will allot her a certain number of shots. Allie will agree.
To the unbiased bystander, Allie may come off as self-righteous or bratty, but that’s far from the truth.
To fully understand the meaning behind Allie’s mannerisms and actions, one must reflect back to her 22 year-old self and the the single most influential day of her life.
Coming off a national championship win with University of North Carolina, and performing well with the U-21 national team, Allie received a call into the the full national team.
Allie always dreamt of playing for the US national team, but with the team’s average age in the upper 20’s she was surprised when she received the invitation.
“I couldn’t believe it. It’s what I always dreamed of, but I thought I had to be older to get called up to the full team. It was one of the greatest feelings ever.”
Allie entered the camp not knowing what to expect, but was excited to find out.
In only her first practice, Allie suffered an MCL injury, sidelining her for the rest of camp.
Even though Allie competed in merely half of a training session, it was enough to give birth to an indescribable itch. An itch that confirmed, without a doubt, that reaching the highest level, playing for the U.S National team was her purpose and what she wanted. An itch to represent her country on the highest stage in the World Cup and Olympics.
And this itch has been the driving force behind her actions ever since.
Pre-itch Allie was on cruise-control and got by largely on talent. She worked on some aspects of her game, but not seriously.
Post-itch Allie didn’t want to have any weaknesses.
“Being in camp at 22 made the dream more of a reality. It made me want to give everything I had to get back there.”
Allie knew that in order to earn another shot with the national team she had to upgrade her game.
Every season Allie found ways to make herself uncomfortable and challenge herself. She practiced with boys teams, studied the absolute best players while watching the English Premier League. She ventured overseas to play with the world-class France team, Paris Saint Germain. She practiced every angle and type of shot imaginable-bent balls, driven balls, outside of the foot, left foot, right foot.
Year after year passed and Allie hadn’t heard a word from the national team.
From putting in this much work, one would expect to reap rewards. Yet Allie still hadn’t achieved her desired outcome.
“Sometimes I questioned myself. Is all this work worth anything? But I knew it was. I knew I had to keep going and give it my all.”
With each year that passed, Allie’s itch grew bigger. She had a burning desire to get back into the national team picture and knew she was good enough. Allie kept focusing on improving and performing well with her club team, the Portland Thorns.
After two exceptional seasons of being the most productive player on the pitch with the Thorns, Coach Jill Ellis finally took notice and invited Allie back to camp.
“When I opened up the email, I cried. I was so thankful and happy. I immediately thought back to a day when it was freezing cold and I was walking and dragging a bag of soccer balls 10 blocks to practice at a field. At that time, I remember thinking it would all be worth it.”
On May 14, 2014 in a stadium full of 28,255 fans in Winnipeg, Canada, Allie’s dream of playing for the national team came true. In the 68th minute, Allie replaced Morgan Brian with a surreal calmness.
“[Entering the game] was one of the greatest moments of my life. Everyone asked if I was neverous. I wasn’t. It felt like I was right where I was meant to be. I was in the zone for sure.”
Allie performed well and was repeatedly called back into camps throughout the next year.
Finally. Allie’s perseverance was paying off. But as the World Cup approached, Jill had to narrow down the roster to 23 players.
In the January camp, Allie admitted she wasn’t playing to her full potential.
As US national team mainstay Tobin Heath says, “at the national team level, you can’t just be good, you have to stand-out consistently. If you have a bad day, you have to quickly let it go or it’ll break you.”
Jill called Allie into her office, and told her that they were going to go with a more experienced player and she wouldn’t make the final cut.
Allie boarded the plane devastated. Years of dedication and she was coming home empty-handed. She missed her chance. Now what?
It was a long, sad flight home. And just when Allie though that maybe she wasn’t cut out for this team after all, the itch reemerged.
The itch that verified she was still hungry for more. The itch that told her she couldn’t live with herself if she gave up now.
So it was back to work. Back to yelling at her teammates, taking extra shots after practice, and strengthening her mental toughness.
Tobin claims “every time Allie leaves the national team, she uses it as a learning opportunity. She’s not just ok with being there. She know what she has to improve on and works on it.”
Despite not making the World Cup roster, Allie’s dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Allie is the all-time leader in points (most combined goals and assist for the Thorns. She’s a crucial component to the team’s offense and continuously comes up big time in clutch moments.
Yet even with consistent dominant performances, Allie consistently receives flack from social media users and her peers.
They’ll make comments questioning her ability and her attitude.
“I want to prove anyone who doubts me wrong. When I get tweets like that, I just have to laugh. Absolutely nothing has been handed to me….when my dreams come true, it will be the most satisfying achievement because I’ll know I earned it.”
Allie isn’t affected by those comments.She doesn’t care that she just turned 28 and the next World Cup cycle isn’t until another four years.
“As long as my body is functioning, I will keep going after my dreams.”
And it all comes back to the itch. The itch that grows bigger with each doubter, obstacle, and missed opportunity.
The itch that is sometimes conveyed through flamboyant hand gestures and verbal assaults.
“I’m passionate. I’m competitive. I want to win. I will do whatever it takes.”
As long as the itch remains, Allie will scream for more.